Most of what I am going to talk about in this article is geared towards the new coffee shop. However, it can be utilized and directed towards an established shop.
Outside of your regulars, coffee is an impulse buy because the customer saw your sign. Aside from your regulars, most folks do not set out to 'go to the coffee shop' like they would to a restaurant (unless you ask them to so more on this later). You need a steady stream of customers outside of your normal morning commute business.
The morning commuters are your bread and butter, the rest helps fill in the revenue holes. These are your impulse buyers. They are going to come to you mainly via your sign outside, so instead of sending out 10,000 post cards to your neighborhood residents, spend that money on a premium location, visible sign and branding your image. You'll be glad you did:
As far as your signage, get one that is AS BIG AS POSSIBLE. That is, as allowable by your city ordinance and landlord, without being tacky! The bigger the sign is, the more visible it is.
By branding your image, you are identifying your existence within your community. Be sure you have a unique logo. If you cannot design it, get one custom made by a professional! I have seen a lot of cheap looking logos that do not help the image.
Another step in branding your image is to secure your shop's name on the world wide web by registering the domain name. Try to get all the domain tags: .com, .net, .org, etc. This is for email, and your website. You will be glad you did because it gives you a more professional image. Remember, the more common your business name is, the more difficult getting it registered online is going to be because the name may be taken.
As for your website, get one! If you can do this on your own, more power to you here too. I know just enough to be dangerous but you can get a nice website, even with online sales capabilities done economically. Check around locally, I bet there are a few web gurus in your area.
Here is where you have the chance to have every customer take your name with them when they leave allowing others to see it. Whether you have sleeves custom printed or you use stickers and put one on each cup or protective sleeve, they are all part of your branding. Be sure the design is clear and defines your shop well.
The same goes for stamps. You can have a rubber stamp made to stamp your whole bean coffee bags with. Note that the brown Kraft paper bags are what you'd need for this. If you use the foil bags, your stickers will work well for this too.
Press releases are an inexpensive way to tell the world what you are doing. A carefully crafted press release sent to the right person at the right news outlet can be the best form of advertising for you. Just be sure that whomever is on the press release as the contact person is actually available to be contacted.
Another great form of marketing is your use of tee shirts, caps and other wearable's. These are walking billboards for you courtesy of the folks that buy them. You can give them away if you want, it's all good advertising. Yes, they are expensive but I consider this great advertising and an expense under that category. Better, yes if you can make up the cost on them. But put this cost into your advertising budget. See if you can get them locally, if not there are several reputable companies on the internet. You will pay about $15.00 each in the end, but again the investment is very well worth it.
Where would we be without business cards? Think about it: how many people have you run into that do not have a business card for whatever it is they do for a living? Not many that I can remember. This is your time to tell everyone you meet that you are in the coffee business. Everyone you meet should get one of these and a few to spare. Do not be shy about handing them out!
Menus are a great example of simple marketing. These are the take out type so try to keep it simple. Under four pages, printed on an 8.5"x11" sheet of BRIGHT colored paper and folded in half is best. You can leave them at area businesses if they allow it. You can also put them on your counter by the checkout and anywhere else your customers will see and take them. You can have them copied at any copy place, or see if you can have a local copy shop do them. They should cost about .10-.15 cents each. All you need is a place to make them on a copy machine. Menus printed on a printing press will be more expensive in most cases.
Support materials are also a good way to advertise your products. You can usually get POS materials FREE from any supplier you are using. This goes for tent cards to put on your counter to full color posters to hang in your windows. Check with your distributor. If they do not keep these kinds of materials on hand, a call to the manufacturer can usually get them in your hands relatively quickly.
Vinyl lettering on your vehicle is another form of advertising, and another type of moving billboard. There are several places online that will allow you to use a particular vehicle template to design your lettering. Again, check around locally for better service and pricing. I had vehicle lettering made for my SUV: rear window and both rear side windows or under $100.00. Your vehicle will essentially become a moving billboard.
Vinyl lettering can be gotten for your store windows too, which will be similar to your vehicle lettering. Check with the same source.
Word of mouth is an excellent source of marketing. Customers can be your biggest and best marketing source for you. It can also backfire on you if you tick someone off or if a customer ends up having a bad experience at your shop, for whatever reason.
Make every effort that all customers are satisfied before they walk out of your door. You may never have the chance to do it again and everyone that that dissatisfied customer meets may be told of the unfortunate incident at your store. They may not come to your store if there was ever that chance they would.
Talk to the world online via your blog. This has got to be the best invention since a website and the internet itself started. Where else can you talk about nearly anything and let the world read it? You may just develop a following not only locally, but around the world.
Have event nights. This is great for weekends and 'dead' times. Earlier, I spoke about customers coming to your shop if you asked them to. This is where you have that chance. Events that will bring in business are almost plentiful. A few examples are trivia night, open mikes, singer-songwriter and other music performances, book signings and poetry. It can also be just about anything else you can think of that is of interest to others.
A word of caution about playing DVD's and TV/cable shows: Most of these are copyright protected and although you may not think you are breaking any laws, it can be construed as such. It's a royalty issue because you are making money on your beverages, in your establishment showing a DVD bought for 'personal' use. Just be careful here.
It's been my experience that this coupon mailers are usually a waste of money in the specialty coffee industry. There are way too many coupons in most of these mailers and most recipients throw them out. I know I do.
Internet advertising is good if you can limit to advertising locally using your zip code. You can reach a captive audience on the internet. It's relatively inexpensive because you choose what to spend on each ad and only pay per click. This is also good if you choose to sell whole beans online, however if you do not roast in-house this may be cost and inventory prohibitive.
Be careful when using coupons in any form. Coupons tend to cheapen the specialty coffee industry so I do not recommend using them. Bogo's (buy one get one) are ok for some advertising, like opening a new coffee shop but, you will get your bargain seekers that wait for those coupons in order to patronize you. You could create more monsters!
You will also, occasionally get regulars that bring in the coupons. Even though they are as deserving of the coupon as anyone else is, your aim is to get NEW customers so the 'coupon' doesn't always work. The only way I recommend a coupon is for a first time customer. You can usually get mailing addresses of new residents from your chamber of commerce and do a select, targeted mailing to the new residents only. So there are some easy, mostly economic ways to effectively advertise and market your coffee shop.
Remember, your customer service and quality will always have to be top notch but you can skimp on some advertising dollars by being crafty and conservative.
Tony DiCorpo is a coffee shop owner, operator, barista and entrepreneur. He is also a coffee shop business consultant. He has authored many articles on the specialty coffee business and a business plan package that can be found at [http://www.tonys-coffee-shop-business-plan.com]tonys-coffee-shop-business-plan.com
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