America’s love affair with coffee and coffee shops has made joining the ranks of coffee shop owners a highly attractive proposition. However, like all operators, coffee shop owners face certain common problems – many of which are, fortunately enough, quite preventable. Let’s discuss four of these problems and how you can stave them off at the pass.
Problem #1: Lack of identity and a dull competitive edge
Coffee shops can be found on seemingly every corner, so it’s important for coffee shop owners to establish an identity for their establishments. This means identifying the type of customers you want to attract. For example, do you aim to cater primarily to the “hipster” crowd, the “stroller brigade” of young parents looking for a place to congregate with friends, or people who work in nearby offices? Once you’ve determined who your target audience is, prevent an “identity crisis” by doing everything – from choosing a name and location, to setting a menu – with that audience in mind.
Meanwhile, coffee shop owners can easily guard against a dull competitive edge with a unique value proposition—i.e., doing something competitors simply don’t, or doing something exceptionally well. Possibilities here can range from roasting coffee beans in-house and/or offering baked goods made from scratch, keeping a stash of board games customers can play while enjoying a beverage and a bite to eat, or even maintaining an “express line” for commuters in a rush.
Problem #2: The “wrong” menu
Just as independent retailers sometimes carry only the merchandise they themselves like, coffee shop owners may be tempted to limit their menu so it jibes with their personal preferences. This is a bad idea, as it has strong potential to alienate customers.
To get the menu right, keep target customers’ tastes in mind when designing and refining it. If you’re catering to coffee connoisseurs, consider offering a wide variety of coffee drinks and coffees brewed from a wide range of beans. If your coffee shop attracts a lunchtime office worker clientele, think about putting signature “grab-and-go” sandwiches on the menu. If many customers come to your coffee shop with children in tow, include some kid-friendly food and beverage options.
It doesn’t hurt coffee shop owners to solicit customer feedback in order to stay on the right menu “path.” Request feedback on social media, via comment cards, through informal chats with patrons, and even by holding focus groups. A viable POS system can also help here. Review your POS data to determine which items are popular and which are not—and make adjustments that reflect this information.
Problem #3: Inventory and pricing snafus
Running out of inventory—be it coffee beans or otherwise—is a surefire way for coffee shops and coffee shop owners to disappoint customers and put a crimp in business. In the same vein, inappropriate pricing does the opposite of perking up the bottom line.
Again, the POS system is the antidote here. A good POS system has an inventory control module that tracks inventory quantities and generates alerts and/or automatic re-orders when quantities reach pre-defined levels. Such a system also allows coffee shop owners to compare the price of beans and other inventory with profits while also helping them determine necessary pricing or promotional adjustments.
Problem #4: Overall management and customer service headaches
One common management-related problem faced by coffee shop owners is slow service, especially in establishments that offer many customized coffee preparations. The solution once more is an efficient POS system which, because it is designed for use in foodservice environments (and preferably, can be configured specifically for coffee shops), delivers on the promise of speed. The best POS systems also make management hassle-free by tracking customer information, using traffic patterns to forecast staffing needs, adjusting pricing, generating reports that contain actionable information, facilitating tip reconciliation, and integrating with other solutions, such as accounting software.
Coffee shop ownership yields many rewards. The harder coffee shop owners work to prevent the problems discussed above, the greater their chance of reaping them.