So You Want a Coffee Shop?

Before You Grind

“I want to own my own coffee shop” or “I wish I had a coffee shop”. This is usually how it all starts for many independent retailers, and is how it all started for me. This article seeks to share the knowledge and journey through my experience of opening a retail store with character and substance. Hopefully it will inspire and prepare those that may be thinking of getting into the coffee retail business.

Let me just say that I am not what many people consider the norm when it comes to owning a coffee focused retail business, as I am an African-American man born and raised in Baltimore’s inner city. But having a 25+ year I.T. career, poet, DJ, event promoter, and having a bunch of artists friends & acquaintances gave me the people skills needed when creating a new brand and coffee shop, DIY style. Let me share some small pieces of advice I feel will be helpful to anyone beginning a journey to open a store.

If you want to create a unique and genuine brand for your business integrate your passions into it. In the early 2000’s my life would revolve around going to open-mic/poetry events, art shows, dance parties, or large chain coffee shops. But something was missing from all of those places and I felt like I could tie all of my passions into one coffee shop. Also, make sure you have a passion for the coffee business. This will be a driving force for all you do. Once you figure out how you want people to view your brand you should write a comprehensive business plan. Then keep refining and updating it. You are going to want to keep referring back to it, if you get off track, to remind yourself what some of your ideas were.

Having good coffee should be your number one goal. You should do coffee tastings with several coffee roasters before you choose and settle on who will provide your choice of coffee offerings. I was big into branding before opening my coffee shop and did not want to go the easy route of selling coffee from popular national roasters that will require me to market their brand in my store. I wanted people to associate great tasting coffee with whatever my store was selling. Another really big thing I discovered was that other coffee shops nearby were not my competitors. They, for me, are just a part of the coffee community. But your main competitor may be places that sell food. You could sell great coffee, but if you don’t have some type of good food item you may not be a first destination for customers.

In any business having credibility and knowledge gives you an edge over others that may not have the same level of passion and commitment to the profession. Make sure you go to as many coffee industry conventions as you can. Or just the best one. You will meet contacts, learn from seminars, view competitions, and more. Also please visit coffee farms in one of the coffee growing countries in the world. This will give you hands-on insight into life of coffee from the tree to the cup. 

Here are also some random real world tips I found useful to know. When it comes to rent/leasing I would highly recommend trying to buy the location that you do business at, as opposed to renting. At least you will have an asset if you decide to close your business in 5 or 6 years. If you rent, make sure you understand what things like “triple net” mean and learn how to negotiate amenities (free rent, parking, etc.). As far as creating logos, décor, etc. don’t worry about spending tons of money. Bartering works. Offering free coffee/tea to an artist for a year goes a long way. As far as equipment there are a few items where you do not want to be cheap. Make sure you get the following good quality items above all else: espresso machine, grinder, coffee brewer, blender, ice machine, refrigerator/freezer, and something to keep pastries safe. If you want to play music in your store please look into getting a streaming music service, or be prepared to have what feels like salespeople representing BMI or Ascap irritating you for licensing fees.

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