Before you open your doors to customers, you need to do a lot of planning, researching and preparation. A goal can only be accomplished if you have a plan of action to follow.

To prepare, you need to ask yourself some tough questions. You also need to research and understand the local competition. Finally, you need to flesh out your vision for your coffee shop.

Preparation

Preparation is the key to success when running a business. You need a plan, a vision, a goal. You also need to be mentally prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Running any business takes guts, patience and a willingness to grow and adapt.

It's easy to get caught up in the romance of opening a coffee shop. You envision running a swanky little joint with comfortable seats, where everyone knows each other and you spend the afternoon chatting with the regulars. But there's a lot of work in between these rewarding moments.

It's important to remember that a coffee shop is still a business.

So, before you run out and lease a space, ask yourself these important questions:

Why Do You Want to Open a Coffee Shop?

There are many great reasons to open a coffee shop. What's yours?

Some people want an outlet for their creative side, while others love the idea of being able to meet new people. Others just have a passion for coffee and a desire to share that passion with other coffee lovers. Maybe your dream is to run a profitable business and you already have experience in the coffee shop industry.

It doesn't matter the reason – you just have to find one. That reason will give you purpose. When the going gets tough, that purpose will keep you on track.

Are You Ready for the Challenge of Running a Coffee Shop?

Running a coffee shop is hard work. Don't believe me? Spend a few hours at your local coffee shop and pay attention to how the staff works.

Many people open shops with all of the hope in the world. They put their life's savings into their dream, only to close it down a few months later. Nine times out of ten, their reason for closing is because they had no clue what they were getting themselves into.

Experience can make or break your business.

That's why I recommend working in a coffee shop for at least six months before you fully commit to your plan of launching your own shop. You'll gain invaluable experience and learn first-hand what it takes to run a successful coffee shop.

Along with first-hand experience, you might consider subscribing to coffee periodicals, like Coffee Talk, Barista Magazine, Fresh Cup, Specialty Coffee Retailer and The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Attend trade shows, like NYC's Coffee & Tea Festival or CoffeeCon.

If you don't have the time or opportunity to work at a coffee shop, visit several shops in your area. Pretend you own the shop. Pay attention to the activity of the staff. Consider any challenges the owner or manager might face. Observe the customers and their engagement.

Could you envision yourself taking on the role of owner or manager? The social aspects of the job are attractive, but the business aspects can be stressful. You'll have to juggle and delegate tasks. There won't be enough hours in the day to get everything done. Even after a late night, you still have to get up early the next day and do it all over again. After a few months, you'll be asking yourself "what is a weekend?"

Profitable coffee shops open early. You have to be there even earlier – like 4 am or 5 am. Sure, you may have employees, but you're always on call. If something goes wrong, you need to step in and fix it.

Aside from day-to-day operations, you will also need to plan and prepare for:

  • Accounting

  • Payroll

  • Ordering vendor supplies

  • Marketing

  • Making bank deposits

  • Ensuring your beans are delivered on time

  • Health department visits

  • Worker's compensation insurance

  • Taxes

  • Rent

  • Business insurance

  • Utility bills

We're not asking you to think about these questions to scare you away from starting your own coffee shop. We just want you to be prepared so that you succeed and know what you're up against.

Research the Competition and Laws

You have the heart, guts and determination to open your own coffee shop (we knew you had it in you). What's the next step?

Research. Yes, research.

Start with researching local laws and regulations related to the coffee shop industry. What permits do you need? What type of license do you need? Obtaining the appropriate licenses and permits are important first steps in getting your coffee shop off the ground.

Along with local laws, you'll also need to research the competition. This is key. You can't beat the competition if you don't know anything about them.

Create detailed profiles on your competitors so that you can understand their business practices. The more information you have, the better. Here are some key things to look at:

  • Pricing

  • Quality of customer service

  • Speediness

  • Quality of coffee and food (if applicable)

  • Marketing material

  • Unique selling points

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors so that you can build on their strengths and offer solutions to their weaknesses.

A lot of this information can be found online through your competitors' websites and social media sites.

Researching the competition and understanding the local market can provide you with a lot of insight and may even make you rethink your decision to target a particular market. If the local market is saturated, you may want to consider another location. If Main Street already has three coffee shops and foot traffic is light most mornings, maybe opening a shop on the other side of town would be a better option.

Vision

Here's the fun part – coming up with ideas for your shop. What is your vision for your shop?

When most people envision their coffee shop ideas, they imagine big shops with lots of seating and a busy counter. But if you're just getting started, smaller may be better.

Think outside of the box. There are so many unique coffee shop ideas that can work in just about every town – big or small.

Here are a few small coffee shop ideas:

Farmer's Market Stands

I love going to the local farmer's market on Saturday morning. But I don't like missing my morning cup of coffee. Sure, I could swing by the Starbucks drive-thru, but I'd rather not miss my chance to get all of the good produce before it's gone (have you seen the line at Starbucks on the weekend?).

The first year I moved to my city, I suffered through Saturday mornings without coffee. The following year, I noticed a long line at the market entrance. Someone had the bright idea of putting a coffee stand right at the start of the market.

And that stand was busy – without fail – every Saturday morning. They easily served a few hundred people in those 2-3 hours the market was open.

The best part? He didn't have much – just a banner, some brewers, cups, sugar and milk. Each cup was $2. He was the only one working the stand.

Think about it – if he served 300 people at $2 a pop, that's $600 for a few hours of work.

If your town or a nearby town has a busy farmer's market, you can capitalize on an opportunity to start small and gain a lot of exposure for your brand. Sure, you don't have a physical shop – yet – but you'll build a reputation in the community. When you finally do open your shop, people will already know your name and love your coffee.

Mobile Coffee Trucks

One of the most innovative business ideas for coffee shop. We have food trucks and ice cream trucks. I've even seen a few pie trucks. What about a coffee truck?

This is a low-cost, unique way to launch a coffee shop business. And what's great about this idea is that you can move your shop anywhere.

You'll need to research local laws and regulations, but this idea is one way to get your shop up and running without having to invest a small fortune.

Drive-Thru Stands

If your town already has a few small coffee shops, a drive-thru stand will give you a unique selling point.

Drive-thru stands are small, so there's no need to worry about cleaning tables. They also give customers a convenient way to get their coffee fix.

It's still a big undertaking to open one, but the costs are much lower than opening a full-fledged coffee shop.

A Shop Within a Business

If you still want that coffee shop feel but don't have the budget to open your own shop, you might consider opening your business within another business.

For example, you might open your coffee business inside a:

  • Boutique

  • Laundromat

  • Co-working space

  • Hair salon

  • Flower shop

  • Book store

  • Music store

  • Newspaper stand

  • Art gallery

These are just a few small coffee shop business ideas to help you start brainstorming. You might already have a clear vision for your shop. Take the time to write down your vision so that you have a direction for your business.

 

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