Seven Ways to Compete with a Big Coffee Chain

Believe it or not, you have a huge advantage over your local chain coffee house. Your very independence is one of your biggest assets. If you walk into a chain coffee shop anywhere in the country you’ll likely get the same thing, as there is not much innovation that goes on at the store level. Want a cookie to go with that coffee? You’ll get two or three choices, mass produced to have a long shelf life and exactly match the cookies in other chain locations. You have the flexibility to test out new offerings and see what your clientele goes for – and what they don’t. And of course we at Java Bean Plus (www.javabeanplus.com) are here to help.

Incorporate a few of the following ideas into your marketing plan to grow you customer base one cup at a time.

Offer a Personal Touch – In any industry, personal service sells. There’s a reason a big corporation selling everything from pharmaceuticals to baby formula hires local people to visit customers personally. Their customers relate to and recognize “their” salesperson and begin to develop a relationship. Having a relationship with your clientele can keep them loyally and habitually coming back for more, and will make your work environment a friendly, cheerful place.

Get to know your customers in different ways: Have friendly front line staff, greet customers by name and remember their favorite blends or bakery items. Hire full-time, regular staff if you can so your employees can get to know your customers as well. With a high-employee turnover, your local chain shop may not be as adept at making customers feel like they are welcomed guests. Make your customers feel at home and they’ll keep coming back for more.

Build a Brand – Come up with a recognizable logo and use it on everything from your staff aprons and Facebook page to your cups and bags. If you don’t already have a great logo, consider hiring a graphic designer to create one. It is worth investing money into your image and, with a good quality logo, you’ll only have to pay for design services once. Use the image on everything you print or order and you’ll build brand recognition.

Use plain white cups and you may save a few pennies – but you’ll miss out big time on free marketing. When one of your customers stops in and picks up her latte to go in branded cup, she’ll take that cup with her to the grocery store, playground or office. Other people in her circle will see the cup – with your logo –giving you a little marketing boost with every sip. Taking the time, energy and cash to build your brand shows your customers you care about your business and that you don’t cut corners.

Offer Something Special – From offering your own house blend to featuring exotic coffees and teas from different international origins, give your customers something special. Make sure your employees know a bit about the coffee and what makes it special or put the information about the coffees and teas you feature in your newsletter. Use your flexibility as a small, independent shop to serve up something special your clients can’t get elsewhere, and they’ll come back for more.

If you want to build a reputation as a coffee or tea expert, consider offering classes or tastings that promote your newest or featured blend, along with a snippet of information about the coffee and why you chose it. Don’t overlook the accompaniments, from exotic syrups and flavorings to non-dairy creamer options and toppings. Offer something your big chain competitor doesn’t and you’ll give customers a reason to stop in regularly.

Get Involved – Get involved with your community whenever possible. If your community has a farmers’ market, it may be worth getting a booth and both selling full-sized coffee and giving samples. Why? Because the people who venture to the farmers’ market already value local items, so they represent some of your ideal demographic. You’ll also be at the right place at the right time since farmer’s markets open early in the morning, prime time for a cup of premium coffee. Farmer’s markets are seasonal and space is generally inexpensive as well – and don’t forget to bring along some used grounds for recycling – your customers and fellow sellers will snap these right up for composting.

Use other initiatives to get customers to come to you. Display art from local artists on a rotating basis and you’ll benefit in several ways. The artists themselves will send customers your way – to see the art. You’ll also benefit from any media promotion the artists are doing since your business will be listed as a place to spot the work. Get a reputation for supporting artists and you’ll soon have them lining up to show off their wares and build your community awareness at the same time. You’ll also stand out from the big chain down the street, since they likely display only corporate approved art.

Don’t forget schools and churches. Consider offering a fundraising evening or weekend, where a percentage of every cup sold benefits the school or charity. The charity can then promote this for you to their members, making it a winning proposition for everyone.

Promote a Product – Select a special item to be the “Coffee of the Month.” It could be a new private label blend or something that fits in with the season. Offer iced tea in June and spiced lattes in December and watch the promoted item fly out of the shop. You can offer a discount if you’d like or simply feature the chosen item in your newsletter and advertising. Order a little extra of this product when it is featured, since you’ll likely sell more of it.

Big chains offer seasonal specials as well, but while they offer a single product that will appeal to most shops across the country, you can time yours to match what’s going on in your community. You can choose a gingerbread blend to match your town’s famous gingerbread house competition or name a coffee after the local high school team. Think about how you can appeal on a personal level and take advantage of your local status to build your customer base.

A member’s card can be a great promotion as well: Use a simple business card with your logo (remember the branding) and areas to punch out using a unique punch. When customers reach a certain number of cappuccinos or lattes, they can turn in the card and get their next cup for free. Offer a free coupon for birthdays via your email list and customers will sign up for the freebie – and you’ll be able to send them your newsletter via email as well.

Upsell Items – The average amount a customer spends on coffee at a big chain store is $4.05. How does your average stack up? Can you get your customers to switch from a medium to a large or tempt them to add a bagel or pastry with that cup? Upselling your customers to a bigger size is a great way to increase your profit, since you can charge more, but only add a few pennies to your cost. Sometimes, simply asking what size a customer wants is enough, but offering bite-sized samples of a featured pastry will help, too. Consider making your medium size the “default” and have customers ask for small if they want it; once your customer has come through the door, they’ve already made the decision to buy. Boosting the amount you sell them each time will help you catch up to – or pass – that chain store down the street.

Make your shop accessible and easy to use and more customers will follow. Fast and friendly service, top-quality coffee and mixers and a presence in your local community will go a long way towards allowing to you to compete with the chain across the street.

Please visit us at http://www.javabeanplus.com and either e-mail us or drop us a line so we can continue the conversation!

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