Last week I was walking to the office and saw a friend of mine who owns a local coffee shop and stopped by to chat. Over the years we’ve had many conversations around why he feels that he is not as busy as he should be. I’ve offered literally hours of suggestions as simple as 

  • Clean up the dust bunnies around the edges of the room
  • Replace the moulding that is missing
  • Clean the HVAC vent covers
  • Replace or reface the chipped up, worn cabinet doors that were put in over a decade ago with something fresh and new.
  • And today was no different at all…

You see, I had been into said shop probably a week before, for a meeting with another client. It was at that time that I realized one of the basic things that was missing…the smell of coffee. Shouldn’t a coffee shop smell like freshly ground beans? Instead, the staff were making the day’s supply of empanadas – yes, I said empanadas – so it kind of smelled like slightly greasy pastries. No, I’m not talking about the smell of fresh baked bread or croissants…Who could ever argue with that?!?

Long story short, the place is a complete mess and his reasoning for it (again…) was an even bigger mess.

I spent about thirty minutes after talking about what our kids are doing, giving him some free guidance on business, branding, and marketing. He’s a nice guy, so I felt compelled to try and help him. The following are the steps I quickly walked him through. 

Step 1: Identify your customer. Narrow this group down to a small audience you can target. What are their wants, needs, and desires? What makes them like each other and different from everyone else? For example, a prime target for them could be the local “coffee snob” that knows the difference between a traditional Macchiato and the caramel version that Starbucks serves – and wouldn’t touch the latter with a ten foot pole.

Step 2: Define the problem you solve. Build a product offering that solves a problem instead of building a product offering and then trying to find a problem to solve. Let’s stick with our previous example. Determine if you desire to serve the coffee connoisseur or the sugar-addled teenager that is looking for more syrup and milk than coffee – or would love to see a blended energy drink on the menu. While you can serve both audiences wasn’t it a Confucius quote that went something like – If you try to catch two rabbits they will both get away – 

Step 3: Focus on one point of differentiation. Decide what’s going to make you the best option to solve your customer’s problem and be willing to sacrifice in other areas to make it happen if necessary. This shop can’t be the biggest, fanciest, or cheapest, but they can be the most consistent in the area with the most carefully sourced and roasted beans. This is a clear point of differentiation that can spread throughout the community and drive people to their location. 

Step 4: Clarify your message. Create  a brand script that you repeat across every form of communication. Say the same thing with the same language until your message sticks in the head of your audience.

We help _____ do _____ .

That’s the prompt I tell everyone to use for coming up with a simple brand one-liner. You can use this as your script. For this company, they could easily say,

Our expertly trained baristas help the Bend community enjoy the perfect coffee beverage and take the time to find the perfect roast, varietal or blend to suit their refined tastes.

Step 5: Provide a remarkable retail experience. Be the expert in your area. If you’re going to be a high end coffee shop, be the most knowledgeable, reliable, and consistent high end coffee shop on the planet. Make your space the Apple store of coffee shops. Remove all of the other crap and do one thing remarkably well. Be so incredible that customers feel compelled to refer you to friends. 

Step 6: Saturate the market. Be everywhere your little niche looks. Run social campaigns, Google Ads, be in the publications they read, in their mailbox, and everywhere else they go. Make your brand synonymous with coffee in your little corner of the world. If you’ve narrowed your niche small enough, saturation is feasible. 

Step 7: Build a customer list and continuously deliver value. Add every customer possible to your email list. Do it online, in person, and at events. BUT, don’t send sale coupons and ask, ask, ask in all of your communication. Showcase your coffee knowledge and share, share, share. Develop a relationship where you’re the expert your customers turn to when they have a coffee need. Send weekly emails and remind them that you exist. A big part of winning customers is reminding them that you exist. 

This is a step-by-step guide any business can follow. Of course it needs tweaking for different industries, but it’s a fairly solid base regardless of what you do.

I’m hopeful some of you put it to use because I’m highly skeptical the well intentioned coffee shop owner I met with earlier this week will. Sadly, I see some serious issues in his future if he doesn’t connect the dots (or pick up the pieces) and make some massive changes.