Coffee Shop Culture: How your independent can rise above the chains
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Coffee Shop Culture: How your independent can rise above the chains

Coffee culture is fairly new to us Brits, but it’s becoming an increasingly large part of our daily lives. “The coffee sector has been in growth for 16 consecutive years and is one of the most successful in the UK economy”, according to the Allegra World Coffee Portal’s 2014 report on the industry. It’s now the norm for people to buy coffee before work, meet with friends and family over a caramel latte, or go on a date to the nearest coffee place – they’ve become the social centre of the high street.

This may seem great for independent coffee retailers, but they face one major problem, and that goes by the name of Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero. These chains are everywhere, and most people don’t consider going anywhere else for their daily caffeine boost, partly because of the convenience and the fact that they know exactly what they’re going to get.

And the chains are growing too, “market leader Costa added 151 UK outlets and achieved 15% sales growth in 2014”. An independent business will own one, maybe two different cafes – so how do they stand out?

Despite the fact that coffee chains are rapidly taking over every town and city  in the UK, they are being praised by some for increasing the number of regular coffee drinkers. Not only this, but they have also made it the norm for people to enjoy hot drinks socially; at a shop rather than at home. As more and more people become accustomed to visiting these places, you need be proactive and draw them to yours.

One advantage you have over big chains, is that your quality of coffee should be much better because you aren’t trying to serve long queues of customers quickly, so you can really take the time to get to know people’s tastes, and perfect the flavour of the coffee. This also goes a long way in upholding amazing customer service. Some local coffee shops make it a personal mission to know all of their customers by name, and also what they drink. If you do this – you can ensure that your regulars stay regular, and, when word gets out about your amazing drinks and service, new people will soon be flooding through your doors.

Another tip, you have to think about everything that a chain offers and make it your mission to provide something different. For example, why not put on some live music, or offer a book corner, this way people can have a chance to relax in a different way – go above and beyond the chains, who provide a standardised, homogenised service that’s the same throughout the country. Through thinking of innovative methods to make your shop different, you will attract a varied customer base.

Waterstones boss James Daunt decided to shake up the book industry a couple of years ago in order to compete with Amazon. Though this is high street chain vs. internet giant, similar principles still apply, it’s about David taking on Goliath. Daunt realised that success was about “adapt(ing) to new market conditions”, as just selling books wasn’t going to cut it anymore if Amazon could do it cheaper and the e-reader became ever more popular. So they started stocking e-readers themselves, improving their online service, and making the stores themselves more welcoming. “Bookselling today is about bright lighting, friendly staff…an espresso coffee machine behind the checkout counter…and many unbookish things such as novelty items.” Waterstones expanded beyond just books, became a pleasant place to be and have seen their sales rise unexpectedly as a result, defying those who assumed there would be Waterstones closing all over Britain.

Independent coffee shops that find themselves struggling could learn a lot from this approach. They have a lot on their side compared to huge chains – individuality, quirkiness, and the ability to offer a more personal service. Pulling people in with a small gift shop, a special afternoon tea, or being able to claim you have the most varied selection of coffees in the area will put an independent head and shoulders above a chain.

There’s so much competition between different businesses, and as an owner, it is in your hands to ensure you stand out. Whether you’re up against big chains, other industries, or similar local companies, by using innovations you can thrive in 2015. Renovation, expanding your stock, developing product lines and investing in new furniture will help to pull people in, so if you’d like any funding to help your business stand out from competitors, please have a look at United Kapital’s merchant cash advance and how we can make your business ventures a reality. We can help you fund creative advertising campaigns, purchase new equipment or hire additional staff. We offer finance to independent businesses and have a flexible repayment scheme that works in line with your business activity.