How Coffee Businesses Can Stay Afloat In Today’s Crowded Marketplace

If you run a coffee shop, provide a subscription, or sell any coffee-related gear these days, chances are — at least on the business side of things — your company is fighting for its life. With nearly two decades of third wave coffee craziness under our collective belts and quality java as wildly popular as it’s ever been before, it’s safe to say that the market has been saturated. In fact, in some caffeine hot spots like Seattle, it’s been straight-up flooded.

With “artisanal” java shops popping up on every street corner for years now, it can be challenging to stand out from the crowd. If you find that you’re one of those shops trying your best to stay afloat, there are a few coffee-focused marketing and business tips to help you create a business that rises above the competition.

As a word of warning, none of these are surefire solutions. There is no magic bullet that will bring you instant success, especially when you’re vying for a sliver of a saturated market brimming with other passionate fellow businessmen. However, if you invest time and effort into a genuine marketing strategy that incorporates some of the following suggestions, chances are, you’ll be able to pull away from the crowd.

Cultivate an Audience

It’s a tale as old as time. If you have a core following that will support you through thick and thin, you’ll be set up to succeed. Here are a few ways to cultivate a following in the crowded coffee scene.

Know your brand: It’s easy to create a snappy logo, but a full-fledged brand is a completely different animal. A well-crafted brand sums up who you are and why you do what you do. A good brand differentiates a company from the competition and brings a level of consistency to your message and your operation in general.

Know your audience: While having a strong brand is important, it’s also crucial that you know the audience you’re trying to reach. It’s important to take time to study your ideal customer base and define the niche of the market you’re pursuing to better differentiate your brand from others. This allows you to tailor your message to appeal to their emotions and beliefs.

Build your outreach capabilities: When Facebook dramatically changed its algorithms in early 2018 to focus on individual conversation rather than business promotion, it tanked many companies that were overly dependant on the social media platform. While it’s still important to use social media as a part of your outreach strategy — for example, it can be an excellent way to build trust, promote your brand, and serve as a customer service platform — it’s also a good idea to build an email list that remains in your control. A group of people who have willingly opted into an email list that you and you alone possess is invaluable. It allows you to continue to interact with your core audience regardless of changes on social media platforms.

Create an Experience

While it’s a priority for any coffee business to keep the java flowing, it is helpful to focus on the experience you provide as well. A major part of the evolution of coffee culture is the shift of the coffee shop into a “third place” — a neutral meeting ground designed for community, conversation, and creativity. Make sure that the ambiance of your shop, the music you play, and even the tone of your interactions all line up with the unique experience you want to provide.

Another way to accentuate your customers’ experience is to create your own products. This can manifest in multiple ways. For example, if you’re ambitious, you can start roasting in house and create your own line of coffee beans.

Another simpler option is to create things like shirts, cups or even coffee sleeves to go along with the coffee you sell. From in-house roasting to coffee paraphernalia, it’s important to spice things up with products that enhance the experience that you want to provide for your customers.

For example, the enormously popular subscription provided by Angel’s Cup has turned the concept of a coffee subscription into a unique blind tasting experience. Their Black Box subscription delivers mysteriously unlabeled coffees, inviting fellow coffee drinkers not only to enjoy a good cuppa but also to expand their coffee knowledge in the process.

Be a Source of Authority

From a coffee blog to informed baristas, make sure you wreathe your operation with the aura of coffee expertise. The third wave coffee movement significantly raised the bar on how knowledgeable the average coffee business owner needed to be in order to run a successful business. Whether you’re explaining what Fair Trade means, defining the Swiss Water Process for decaffeination, or you’re digging into the health benefits of coffee in the treatment of Rosacea, knowing your coffee facts can leave a lasting impression on customers.

Take a look at the best coffee shops in the U.S. for excellent examples of companies that have excelled at establishing themselves as coffee experts, complete with extensively detailed websites, blogs, and videos.

Focus on What’s Working

Don’t be afraid to keep things simple. If you started a blog and your post linking coffee to a longer life went viral, consider capitalizing on and building from your initial success. On the other hand, if a new roast you created won a competition or your nitro-brew products are selling like hot cakes, don’t hesitate to follow what works. Resist the need to be a “well-rounded” coffee company that covers all their bases. Instead, find your niche, pinpoint what’s working, and chase it.

Cultivating a brand and niche audience, creating a memorable experience, minting your own products, setting yourself up as a source of authority in the coffee world — there are plenty of ways to help your operation stand out from the crowd. While the competition may seem fierce, the truth is, it still is very possible to succeed in the coffee arena, especially if you’re as committed to a winning business strategy as you are to brewing the perfect cup of joe.


Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest who enjoys covering topics related to social justice, the changing workplace, and technology.

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