When you’re running a coffee shop, competition can be fierce.
If you’re not fighting for first place on the high street, you’re fighting to become the go-to coffee shop in your local community. And if you’re not ready to really fight for it, you can’t expect to keep your seats full all week long.
You’re not selling a proprietary technology. You’re selling a commodity. And that means you need to try out every trick in the book if you want to stand out against the massive coffee corporations.
We’ve put together 10 ideas to get your marketing strategy off the ground: starting from your own premises and working outwards to the wider community.
Inside the shop
1. Don’t skimp on the low-cost conveniences
Great coffee is important. But if you want loyal customers, creating a homely environment is crucial.
First, you’ll need fast and stable Wi-Fi. Like it or not, a large portion of your customers are more interested in the internet than the drinks. So make sure every table has a good signal, and make sure their connections are still speedy when you’ve got a full house.
Second, you’ll want plenty of power sockets. People come to you to rest and recharge: both figuratively and literally. So have a few extra wall sockets installed near as many tables as possible, ideally with modern USB slots. And if you really want to make them feel welcome, invest in a few low-cost phone and tablet charging cables that you can lend out to customers when they need them.
Finally, you’ll want a broad range of stuff to read. Keep a steady supply of recent fashion, music and health magazines lying around, as well as the more popular tabloids and broadsheets. And if you’ve got the space for it, you can raid your local charity shop to fill up your shelves with classic novels and books with quirky subjects.
2. Revamp your menus to make more from each customer
There’s a lot more to a menu than just a list of products and prices. The words, layout and colours you choose can all have a big impact on your customers’ spending habits. So if you want to covertly push your most profitable items, get a new menu designed that follows a few of these psychological marketing tricks:
- Catching the eye means catching a sale. Surround your most profitable products with extra white space, and use bold colours like red and yellow to draw your customers’ attention to them.
- List the products you want to sell more of first. Most diners will subconsciously order the top two items in a section more often than the other items in that section.
- Design your menu around the “Golden Triangle”. When we first open a menu, our eyes usually start at the centre, before moving to the top right corner and then the top left. So if you want them to see your most rewarding special offers first, these three positions are the places to put them.
- Remove the currency symbols from your prices. By using a bare number (“4” instead of “£4”) your customers are encouraged to disassociate the number from an actual real-world amount of money – and the price of your products becomes less of a real-world worry.
- Create an emotional response with creative product names. You might take your strongest espresso and name it “The Godfather”. Or you could turn your most decadent slice of cake into “The Marie Antoinette”. These simple cultural references can tap into your customers’ nostalgia, getting them excited about a coffee or a cake before they’ve even seen or tasted it.
The best part? Menus don’t last forever. That means that every month or two, you’ll be spending the same money on getting new menus printed – so it’s a perfect chance to regularly try out some new designs, new items, or new product names. Folded leaflet menus have always been the mainstay for most restuarants, yet most coffee shops are these days opting for flat non folded designs, A5 flyer size being the most common.
3. Create life-long customers with rewarding loyalty cards
There’s a reason we’ve seen cards like these in just about every retail shop or casual eatery.
It’s because they work.
When customers have so many other convenient places to get a coffee or a bite to eat, you need to give them a solid reason to come back to your particular business.
Loyalty cards do just that. Every time a customer buys a coffee in your shop, they get a stamp or a hole punched on their card. Every ten coffees they buy gets them the eleventh one for free. Simple.
Now for the interesting part.
Once someone has a loyalty card, they’re walking around with an advert for your coffee shop in their wallet. Every time they use a cash machine or buy something in another shop, they’re reminded of your business, and the fact that they’ve almost earned a free coffee.
On top of that, their friends and family have a chance to see your card every time that person opens their wallet. So if you treat your loyalty card like a traditional poster or advert, you have a real opportunity to get the attention of new customers, without spending a penny on buying advertising space.
Of course, if you’re going to use a customer’s wallet for advertising space, you’ll need a card that’s tough enough to survive and still look smart after a few months of use – like a card with which is gloss laminated one side for extra durability, the other side is uncoated so perfect for rubber stamping.
Design a durable, colourful and eye-catching loyalty card with your special offers and address on the back, and let your current customers do your marketing for you.
4. Promote your offers (and your style) with high-quality posters
Most coffee shop customers won’t pore through the whole menu to calculate the best deals. They’re not buying a new car – they’re just here for a drink and a bite.
So when they arrive, they’ll often go for the first attractive thing they see. And that means you have a real opportunity to put your highest-profit drinks and special offers right under their noses.
Get some big, bright and colourful posters that push the deals and offers you’d like to sell more of, and put them up in the places where a visitor’s eye falls to first – in the central window of your front door, above and behind where your baristas work, and next to the door to your toilets.
With small batches of printed posters every month or so, you can keep on experimenting with different offers and deals until you find the ones that work best. And it’s also a chance to keep rotating some low-cost decorations, with vibrant designs and styles that match the ambience or theme of your coffee shop.
5. Create a low-cost special offer with free refills
This one may sound counter-intuitive – giving away free coffee doesn’t seem like much of a business plan. But stick with us.
First, you can use cups that are half the size, while still charging the same price. Even when refills are free, most people won’t go past their second cup of coffee – and some won’t even have a second one at all.
That means you’ve got an enticing offer (unlimited coffee) to put on your flyers and displays, while providing a better product (coffee that stays fresh and hot in smaller servings) and making more money per customer (giving out an average of less than two half-cups, but always charging for one full cup).
Of course, you need some kind of reasonable limits in place. You could limit the free refills to the parts of the day when your shop is empty (like 2pm to 4pm), or just put a one-hour limit on the offer.
6. Capture their emails with prize-winning feedback cards
The most successful coffee shops are the ones that learn how to earn repeat business and sustain it. That means keeping the same regular customers happy, while drawing in new ones and learning how to keep them happy, too.
The easiest way to do this is to talk to your customers. Find out what they like and don’t like, and ask them about the changes they’d love to see.
In reality, though, most customers are far too polite to tell you to your face that you have rubbish coffee and rude baristas. Instead, encouraging feedback through cards can help you to gather honest and direct opinions.
Of course, we’re not going to pass up an opportunity to give our marketing a little extra boost at the same time.
With every submitted feedback card, you can enter that customer into a prize draw to win something fun – like free coffee for a week, or a big bag of your most exclusive beans.
And with every submitted feedback card, you’re also able to capture a customer’s email – which means you have a non-invasive way of promoting your coffee shop’s special offers, new products or upcoming events. Keep it simple, an A6 size card will do, so as not to make the customer feel overwhelmed with too many questions.
Outside your coffee shop
7. Reel them in with free samples
Choose your most confident and positive member of staff, load them up with a tray of espresso-sized paper cups, and place them outside the front of your shop where they can accost passers-by with free products.
Offer samples of your staple coffee products, but don’t forget to include a few samples of things that could set you apart from your competitors. Gluten-free cakes, frozen yoghurts, exotic syrup flavours – anything that’s different enough to get you noticed.
Unless someone was already looking for a coffee shop at that moment, they’ll probably just keep on walking after they’ve had a taste. So make sure you’ve armed your perky employee with some business cards, loyalty cards or flyers so that people who are interested can walk away with a hard copy of your address and your special offers.
8. Create a snappy pavement sign for people in a hurry
If you’ve ever seen a street fundraiser at work, you know that most people don’t like to be stopped on the street.
So as well as (or instead of) someone handing out free samples, put out an A-board on the pavement in the best spot to get noticed by passers-by.
Just remember that you only have a few seconds to pique someone’s interest before they move on and forget all about your coffee shop. That means your sign needs to:
- Get their attention – say something unexpected, or try out a light-hearted joke
- Be brief and punchy – as few words as you can get away with, written in as large a font as you have space for
- Be instantly understood – either a clear and simple offer, or an attractive sentiment with mainstream appeal.
Some coffee shops will go for a blackboard-style sign written in chalk. It’s a great way to test out a few different ideas or to rotate your daily special offers. But once you’ve found a winning formula for your sign’s message or concept, you can step up to a more professional A2 or A1 printed poster.
With this higher resolution, you’ll be able to fit in some smaller details for people who have time to stop and look – like photos of your coffee shop’s interior, or a price list of a few of your products.
In the local community
9. Focus on high-traffic areas with low-cost flyers
Not every business is lucky enough to have a premises next to a train station or a shopping centre.
But if your coffee shop is within walking distance of a busy area, you can redirect some of that traffic with a little persistence.
Print some flyers that show off your best special offers, along with some photos of the coffee shop and a clear map to your location. Then find out which parts of your local area have the highest foot traffic, and get one of your staff members down there for an hour or two each day.
And if you’re feeling clever, we can start to make things really efficient. You can tell the passers-by – or have it printed on your flyer – that handing in the flyer gets them a discount at your coffee shop. That could mean a free espresso, a buy-one-get-one-free coffee, or a free slice of cake when they buy a large coffee.
The important part is that they need to bring the flyer back to you to get the discount. So you’ve brought in a new customer, and you’ve got a flyer that you can use again the next day – which means you won’t have to spend as much money printing new ones.
10. Start a real relationship with your local businesses
If you want a coffee shop that’s built to last, you’ll need repeat business from regular customers.
And one of the best ways to get that is by getting directly involved with the local community.
That could be as simple as dropping off a few complimentary coffees to the staff in the retail stores next to yours, or volunteering to provide the refreshments at your town’s local societies, meetings or special events. Of course, you’ll be serving up your free coffees along with business cards and flyers. But the locals will still appreciate your business getting involved – even if they know it’s a marketing ploy.
You could even organise some raid-style visits on the local offices. Just phone up a few local businesses in advance to arrange a time, and then make a short trip to their place of work to hand out a few free samples and some menus. While you’re there handing out free coffee, it’s also the perfect time to offer the management a group discount if they hold their regular breakfast meetings in your shop.
Most businesses will gladly welcome some free festivities into their workplaces, and their employees will feel obliged to repay the favour by popping into your coffee shop to give you a try. And once you’ve got them in the door, they could start coming to you during every lunch break
So what’s next?
The best time to start promoting your coffee shop is now.
There are countless different ways to get customers through the doors, and you’ll need to try a few different methods before you find what works best with your market and your way of doing business.
But in general, remember to:
- Focus on repeat business – use loyalty cards, and target commuters and local shoppers
- Capture people on your own doorstep – offer free samples, and test out a few snappy pavement signs
- Bring the busiest areas to you – look for nearby train stations and supermarkets, hand out flyers with maps and directions, and keep at it every day
- Get stuck in with the locals – volunteer for community events, and bring some freebies to businesses in your area.
Promoting your coffee shop doesn’t need a big budget, and there are plenty of old-school, local methods you can try.
But however you go about it, you’ll need some high-quality prints if you want them to remember you after you’ve had your say – so have a look through some of our flyers, cards and posters to see how we can help you get more traffic through your doors.