Business is all about momentum and there is real truth in the old adage that “if you aren’t moving forward, you are going backwards”.
Recently, for reasons beyond all our control, we have had to lose a lot of that momentum and almost come to a complete stop. So, what can we do to recapture that hard-fought-for forward drive?
Embrace the Take-Out
The take-out drink or meal has always been an important part of the business of coffee shops and cafés and since lockdown it has become a symbol of the determination of every café and coffee-shop owner. It has also become a reminder to every customer of how much such simple pleasures can mean to us all.
For some time to come there will be varying degrees of legislation and restriction about how our businesses can run, but the take-out will remain the last, thin, coffee-stained line of defence. There is also going to be an emotional impact on many customers who for some time are likely to not feel entirely comfortable with the eat-in or drink-in experience.
The combined effect of these two factors is that the take-out can become more than just a feature of café or coffee-shop business but a key element in maintaining consistent turnover and developing new, sustainable growth. By promoting the service and making it smoother for the customer, and by seeing it as an experience as important as that of sitting-in, this income stream can steadily grow and make larger and larger contributions to your business.
Create a Relationship
During the incredible challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic an important shift happened in the public perception of independent businesses. Hairdressers, beauticians, garden centres, restaurants, bistros, cafés and coffee shops lost their anonymity. As these businesses fought first to retain as many of their employees as possible and then fought to protect their very existence, the deeply personal reality of their businesses became painfully apparent. As they made pleas to government, appeals to customers, started crowd-funding campaigns, attempted to create business models which provided an income during lockdown and even found ways to support the NHS and carers, the humanity of the people behind those businesses became clear.
This transformed perception is a gift for any independent business. Once a business’ relationship with its customer loses its lower case ‘r’ and becomes a ‘Relationship’, the interaction with the customer changes massively, as does the customer’s loyalty and commitment to the business. Maintaining and developing this perception of your business as an organic, human thing, means customers become aware that they have a connection with real people who have morals, values, commitments and responsibilities and their custom starts to feel more than a contribution to somebody’s bottom line. Their custom becomes a contribution to providing employment for local people, an income for a family who took a gamble to run their dream coffee-shop and to a business which supports charities, social enterprises, or other small businesses.
This changed perception is a fantastic starting point to developing interactions and ties with customers which are genuine and constructive. They will also naturally develop not only into greater long-term loyalty but also into increased spend and invaluable word-of-mouth promotion from customers who are proud to feel that they are a part of your business. This can be done through social media: blogs, tweets, Instagram posts, all of which help create that living identity. It isn’t all about the internet though: learning customers’ names, staff biographies on notice boards, personal recommendation notes on products (“Sadia thinks this cake better than her Nan made”) makes the owner and team feel more real, which in turn makes a customer’s experience more personal and more enjoyable.
Be Part of the Community
The tightening of everybody’s horizons happened when there was already a popular movement away from global brands to more regional suppliers. The slow-food movement had for some time been promoting more appreciation of local, quality food, carefully sourced and lovingly prepared. The world was becoming increasingly more aware of, and concerned about, the vast total of air-miles involved in our consumer culture. All this was already happening before lockdown, as was the drive it created to defend and develop local high streets buzzing with local businesses rather than empty properties, charity shops and the occasional multinational burger outlet. To do this, investment was already going into the support and creation of businesses firmly based within local communities.
Once it became impossible to travel far-afield, for so many people the importance of having these kinds of facilities and opportunities on their own doorstep came into crystal clear focus. This means that now, small independent businesses, and bigger ones too, can make even more effective use of this growing localism. By firmly placing yourself in the community through ties with other local businesses and community projects, you can develop new avenues for promotion, new business-links, and new streams of custom and income. Very quickly, your shop or café could be become cemented into people’s perception of their community and your success and growth could come to represent a sense of personal success for those in your region and something with which they, and local councils, would be proud to be involved and to which they would be eager to contribute.
So, get out there, work with a local bookshop to hold a book club on your premises, promote food and drinks from small local producers, have pop-up sales with local craftspeople. Coffee shops and cafes have always had the potential to become the hubs of local communities and when they succeed, they reap the benefits. Now, possibly more than ever, people need a sense of belonging and community and to have safe places to be. Fulfilling those needs would be a major step toward not only regaining the ground lost during Covid-19 but also to going on and developing new business.
Finally, think about how you can add something extra to what your customer buys. In the modern world of coffee, the opportunity to add value to what you serve is unparalleled. What they drink becomes a story in itself. To be able to share with your customers where their coffee was grown, maybe even the name of the farmer who grew it, to talk about how it was roasted, and why, adds extra dimensions to their drink. The ability to change coffees seasonally to keep customer interest in your coffee or to even give them the opportunity to contribute to choosing your next guest coffee transforms the depth and enjoyment of the experience they have in your shop. This also gives you the opportunity to show how your coffee is ethically sourced, and how it contributes to the welfare of other small communities across the world.
As you can see, there are many ways in which you can bring your business back up to full speed and beyond, in this world of the “new normal”. None of these methods are especially new nor do any of them manage to reach beyond the normal. In fact, they are business tools which have always had some role in the coffee-shop owner’s armoury. However, what has changed is the extent of the impact which they can have on your business as the rolling effect of Covid-19 and lockdown echoes on throughout all our lives. As people’s lives and priorities have changed, how businesses use these tools, and which they choose to prioritise has changed as well.