We had so many great conversations with both emerging and established UK coffee shop owners while at Host Milan and Caffe Culture over the last few weeks, discussing everything from the energy efficiency of the latest espresso machines to the rising number of mergers and consolidations in the sector.

Above all, we heard a lot of people talk of uncertainty in the coffee market and what might happen next over the coming year.

James Hoffman, Founder of Square Mile Coffee Roasters, perfectly summed up a lot of people’s perceptions during his talk at Caffe Culture.

James charted the extraordinary growth of the coffee industry over the past decade but also predicted the sector will enter a period of decline over the next year. He added that this would then move into a cyclical 3-year pattern of growth and decline, similar to that seen in the brewing sector.

Not to be too disheartening James also highlighted that despite this period of economic uncertainty, there would still be a lot of opportunities for coffee shops to thrive in the market if they differentiate themselves and create a compelling offering to retain and entice customers.

We’re strong believers that even if the industry takes a slump there will remain opportunities to thrive in our vibrant marketplace. So, what tactics can you use to ensure your coffee shop flourishes?

1. Build outstanding experiences your customers will remember

We’ve talked about it before but we’ll talk about it again - customers are becoming ever more discerning and it’s so important to remember that even the simplest things can impact their decision on which coffee shop they choose to visit.

Peter Dore-Smith, Founder and Director of the prestigious London café, Kaffeine, recently commented “Our entire concept is based on people being indulged and looked after. We do that by making specialty coffee, but also by offering friendly, proficient service.”

So how do you create a standout experience for customers? Above all, it’s important to start with the basics and make sure every customer that steps through your door feels welcomed and appreciated.

If you can remember their order from a past visit then that’s great, but if you can remember their name too then you’re on to a winner.

Making your communication with customers feel real and authentic is also very important. If a loyal customer walks in and asks for their regular order, why don’t you offer it to them on the house as a thank you? They will undoubtedly appreciate it, helping to solidify their allegiance far more than any loyalty card scheme you setup.

Lastly, we know that the practicalities of achieving consistent, high-quality service can be hard when you have a big staff roster. But what we’ve learnt the hard way is that investing in regular staff training and hiring staff that are passionate about your product is key to achieving a great experience. Do this and you will go a long way to set yourself apart from others on the high street.

2. Perfectly align your brand with what your customers want

Coffee Shop Interior and lights
Hypha Coffee Shop

Your brand is so much more than your logo printed on signage and coffee cups. It should embody what you stand for and most importantly reflect your customers and their values.

First off make sure you’ve got a clear idea of who you’re trying to target. Are you focussed on families, freelance workers, tourists or another group?

Each has distinct criteria for what makes the perfect place to visit. You need to understand them in great detail and build a space that keeps them coming back, again and again.

If you’re struggling to work out who this is, speak to your existing customers, ask them what could make your space better. Alternatively, do a little research into the local area. Are you in a busy commercial area or a market town with lots of schools nearby? Each small snippet of information will begin to paint a picture.

Once you understand your customers you can then focus on aligning your brand, values and interior design for them. Whether that’s promoting your sustainable credentials, upgrading your lighting or creating cosy corners for quiet chats.

Creating a space that is different and Instagram-able is also super important in a time when customer-generated content is key to raising awareness of your brand and increasing footfall.

It doesn’t need to be very costly either, maybe you could find a unique range of cups, customise your coffee machine or upcycle quirky furniture. Pinterest is always a great source of design for us and full of so many unique ideas.

Understanding your customers and building a space that perfectly aligns with what they want is essential to drive footfall and keep customers coming back.

3. Collaborate and build a community 

Coffee shop community

Coffee shops that act as the centre point for their community quickly build a loyal following.

If your local area isn’t a hive for specialty coffee, why not host a cupping session, latte art throwdown or if you’re feeling more confident even a workshop or panel discussion?

Opening up your doors to others and bringing people together will go a long way to creating a supportive community for your shop. Add us to the list too, we’d certainly love to collaborate and get involved!

Thinking wider, you could reach out to retail enterprises or event organisers to offer your space in the evenings for partnership opportunities or collabs. As long as your values and brand align, it will be a great opportunity for both parties to cross-promote and benefit.

We won’t deny that fostering a community isn’t a quick fix, but if you get it right, your loyal fan base will support your business if times get hard.

What do you make of the specialty coffee market at the moment? Would you add anything else to our list of recommendations? Get in touch, we’d love to hear your thoughts.