Why serve speciality coffee?
Why not use the beans from a large international coffee chain for your customers?
The big brand chains are incredibly successful, and they have not gained this success by serving bad coffee. Much though we love speciality coffee we all know that what is served in Costa, Starbucks, Café Nero and their peers does a good job. Millions of people who drink their coffee every day enjoy what they are served and are loyal, intelligent customers. These customers demand a predictable, familiar experience served quickly and efficiently and the beans and brewing processes are standardised and automated on a massive, industrial scale to facilitate this across the world. If you intend to open hundreds or even thousands of shops (Starbucks currently has approximately 30,000 locations worldwide) then this is definitely the business model for you.
If, however, you want to succeed as a restaurant or bar that serves coffee, or as a small, independent coffee shop or even a small chain of coffee shops, the key is to do something that the big coffee chains can’t do. At the heart of a truly successful independent coffee shop is great coffee, and serving speciality coffee, and serving it well, is what defines truly great coffee. The sourcing, roasting, brewing and serving of speciality coffee is something the big industry players can’t do, and don’t want to do. This leaves the field open for offerings from smaller players who can sit on the same street at the chains and still succeed, precisely because they aren’t competing with them: they are offering something completely different.
Customers buying a coffee from you are aware of the existence of the world of speciality coffee, and they will be aware if you are not selling it. They may not be complaining or even measurably unhappy about it, but they know that there is something special available which you aren’t offering them. Speciality coffee is a luxury, artisan experience but at a price which uniquely can be afforded weekly, if not daily. Offering this to your customers elevates what they already perceive as a treat to a new level and makes them value and appreciate the experience more. It also raises their sense of the respect you feel for them.
The level of customer involvement in the shop deepens as conversations take place about the coffee, where it came from, what flavours are to be discovered and how it is best served. Serving coffee becomes an interaction with customers making them more engaged with the shop, making them feel that they are more important to the shop and making them more loyal too. This would encourage current customers to visit more often and stay longer and spend more. This regular repeat custom is further encouraged by taking the opportunity to regularly change your house coffee or to offer guest coffees to provide variety and a greater breadth of experience.
Serving speciality coffee doesn’t just impact on your current customers, it wins new customers too. The best thing to do over a coffee is to talk and fans of speciality coffee have learned to be very good at talking: they Facebook, they blog, they tweet, they snapchat, they post on Instagram, they gossip and they review. Nobody does this when a shop starts serving coffee beans from a chain but when somebody starts serving speciality coffee the grapevine begins to hum and the word soon spreads. Speciality coffee fans are always looking out for somewhere new to drink or somewhere to visit in an area which previously didn’t offer an opportunity to drink great coffee.
This combination of re-engaging your traditional customers and spreading your customer-base to new patrons is a double victory. Not only are your traditional customers visiting more regularly and staying longer and as a result spending more but also you have brand new customers whose loyalty you are winning and whose patronage you are making a regular part of your business. This is how serving speciality coffee can result in more customers who make more visits, stay longer, buy more coffee and more cakes and sandwiches and excitedly tell more people about their experience. So not only are you winning custom and customers, but you are boosting your profits at the same time.
Selling speciality coffee also means that you can make a direct impact on the lives of farmers and farming communities across the world. Coffee is traded on the commodities market and this has divorced the price of coffee completely from the realities of farming and producing coffee beans and has jeopardised the sustainability of farming communities. In Central and South America, for example, whole communities are abandoning coffee farming because the business is no longer economically viable. Instead of buying beans from coffee traders, speciality roasters can buy green beans directly from farmers and negotiate prices which compensate them for the true cost of producing the high-quality beans which go to make speciality coffees.
Providing your customers with directly sourced coffee means that not only can you be confident that the farmers are being supported but you can tell your customers about the individual farms and families who have laboured to produce the coffee which they are drinking, adding further value to their experience. The money spent with farmers can also come with provisions for sustainable and ethical farming practices meaning that the ecological impact of the farming and preparation can be minimised though individual specialist farmers already have a much smaller impact than agribusiness farmers providing the millions of pounds of coffee beans used by each of the chains every year.
The impact of serving speciality coffee is so easily overlooked but the cumulative effect can’t be overestimated. It isn’t simply a matter of what your customer is drinking, though believe me I could wax lyrical for hours about the aromas, flavours and aftertaste of my favourite beans! It is a statement about how you value your customers and respect them, how you want them to join you in a journey, how you want new customers to become as excited as you are by the discoveries of new flavours, how you want customers to be a part of your business not just a method for delivering money to the till. It is a way of making the coffee the centre of their experience and one which they want to enjoy more often and longer. It is also a way of making a meaningful difference in the lives of farming communities struggling to survive around the world so that we can drink our coffee every day and making their lives better as well as the lives of your customers. It wins customers, boosts profits and benefits farmers: not a bad effort for a bag of beans!
Well, I rest my case on that one.