By Greg Stermolle
So, you have a coffee business. Congratulations! What keeps your lights on throughout the day? Obviously our coffee culture has taken a drastic turn and this is no longer simply a breakfast beverage. If you are a big chain you have rotating drinks, seasonal offerings, roasts from around the world to keep customers coming back. However, if you are small and starting out, you probably do one thing REALLY well. And keep doing that! But what do you do to keep business going through the afternoon lull? Need some ideas … well fear not because here are a few to ponder.
Most recently I visited a coffee joint here in Austin, Caffe Yolly. The café is located in a strip mall off the street a bit, but close to a major thoroughfare. It is not near schools or large businesses, so they probably do not attract many students or professionals. The surrounding neighborhood is filled with soccer moms and school age kids. So what did they add? Frozen Yogurt! The shop is two distinct sides. One side is the outward facing self-serve yogurt dispensers and topping station. The other side has a barista and an espresso machine with some specialty beans in colorful, attractive bags. The espresso is not fantastic, but the staff is knowledgeable about the items on the menu. All of this brings together a fun atmosphere that is perfectly appropriate for the location.
Another of my morning favorites is Angel Coffee and Deserts. It is not a hard stretch to put donuts with coffee; however, they also offer some other homemade desserts that are not bad. It feels more like a dessert shop that threw an espresso maker on the counter. However, they do have several options for cold brew that are tasty. Do not get the Vietnamese coffee. I am a big fan of strong coffee with condensed milk, but that is not what this was. However, the model works well. If you can find a baker to team-up with, this can be a very lucrative combination.
Kick-Butt Coffee, also located in Austin, also has a unique vibe. This café is located closer to the city center and obviously caters more to the nightlife and late night crowds. Master Gohring has plastered his own Kung-Fu style all over the walls. The big TV along the back wall plays a constant blend of new and vintage martial arts films. Amid the Kung-Fu fan memorabilia you will find a myriad of concert and music posters. Most acts make a stop at Kick-Butt. This translates to a fun and kitschy vibe during the day, and transforms to an intimate, pocket sized music and poetry venue streaming late into the night. The website lists closing time at 2am Friday and Saturday.
In earlier posts I have talked about placement inside other venues such as hospitals, bookstores, and sporting events. Most of those will be out of reach for those of us starting out and trying to get a foothold in the business. However, several years ago I watched as Stinson’s put a small food/coffee truck up in front of a dilapidated car repair shop. They offered a small selection of caffeine delivery solutions and several carbohydrate transfer vehicles. The location was great, right on the corner of two high traffic boulevards. It sat two blocks from a major hospital and one block from several large condominium complexes. But, I could not help but wonder why they chose the front of this gross looking garage. The paint was peeling; the roll-up doors were badly misshapen, so much so that they had trouble keeping out the local wildlife. Their little truck sat there on the corner for almost a year. Little by little business was increasing. Foot traffic increased and eventually the parking lot was a regular stopping point for local caffeinators. Finally, the building got a make-over and now they have a thriving coffee/lunch restraint run out of this unique building that was a previous community eyesore. By taking their time and building a business with the trailer, a very low-overhead option; they were able to hit the ground running with the brick and mortar location. Some would look down their noses at the food truck, but I think it is a fantastic to build a business without worrying about the huge overhead.
Beans and Franks is a small café in Stephenville, Texas. The name pretty much says it all. The coffee is lackluster, the hotdogs are passable but they do have a wall-full of options. Of course, the majority of those options have to do with the amount or variety of condiments, not an actual change to ingredients or preparation. However, this is a college town. Literally, the only reason for this town exists at all is to support Tarleton State University. And this establishment happens to be across the street from the front of the college. Fantastic placement! The caffeine distribution is limited to one Starbucks, Cowboy Coffee, and Beans and Franks so the offerings to not need to be terribly varied or fantastically inspired.
The last example I will give is not from Austin. This is a small building tucked inside a strip mall in a fairly upscale neighborhood. The surrounding establishments are a yoga studio, nail salon, a cross-fit gym, and a taco joint. The name of this charming little piece of commerce is Bean&Juice. The name seems fairly innocuous name beckoning all to come in for a look. Once you venture through the doors you find a wall-to-wall tribute to 90’s rap artists including a shrine to the Snoop D O double G. Inside is a small espresso station with a wide assortment of syrups and fairly large juice advertisement. I am half convinced the coffee is only there for its place on the billboard. The juice carries the load in both space and quality. However, it is a great location to have both offerings. A friend was happy to announce her recent pregnancy. The next day she was coming down from her caffeine detox and lamenting about her morning ritual. Well, this would be a great way to get customers in the door and keep them there regardless of the latest nutrition trends.
All of this to say there are more options that Jake can shake a stick at … and Jake is very good at shaking sticks! Anyone who has anything to do with real estate will tell you that location is king. And this is true for any business. Do your research; know what is coming to your area. Reach out to your local chamber of commerce. I know Mike and Jake have mentioned this in the podcast as well, but networking is so essential to a new business. Once you have a grasp on your location and the clientele you are likely to get, find out what is NOT there. If you want to do coffee and only coffee, good for you! While you are taking the coffee world and watching it beg for mercy as you apply pressure to the Kimura, do not forget to look outside the box. See what is missing; see what others are blind to. What you find may surprise you!