Archive for the ‘Coffee Marketing’ Category

I’m just back from nearly three weeks in the US and spent considerable time in New York – it is, as ever, just about the most stimulating city on the planet.

I saw some amazing retailing and some inspirational restaurants but I have to say the quality of the coffee bars (that I saw anyway) wasn’t going to set the world on fire. But one of the things that Hugo and I preach endlessly is to take ideas from other industries and see how they might work in our industry and specifically in your business.

The Abercrombie and Fitch store on Fifth Avenue is the most breathtaking example of a business understanding exactly who their customers are that I think I have ever seen. And, it’s worth bearing in mind, at the age of 41 – I ain’t one of their target customers! But i still walked around in awe at what they were doing and the level of thought that had gone into it.

Basically the store is laid out and created like a nightclub. You have to queue to get in at any time of the day but this is nothing more than the classic nightclub policy of making the place look busier than it actually is. The twenty or so people queueing outside could easily be accomodated within the four floors. The queue moves very quickly. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t busy – it is. Very.

The “doormen” are model boys and girls, with one of the boys standing with his shirt off showing off a body like you might find on the front of Men’s Health. These boys and girls are so beautiful that some of the customers are asking to have their photos taken with them. Inside it’s a similar theme – lots of beautiful but extremely pleasant and friendly model boys and girls welcoming you and manning the tills. At the top of each flight of stairs there is another model waiting to greet you in a genuinely friendly fashion. The music is loud – nightclub loud and the lights are so low you really can’t even see the colours of the clothes. To someone in their forties it’s irritating and seems pointless but to an aspirational teens and twenty something it is amazing and boy were those tills working.

Have a look at their “casting video” here and you can see just how deep this concept goes. You can’t be an Abercrombie model usless you actually work in the stores. So in today’s model and fame obsessed world they must have the beautiful people lining up to work for them and perhaps taste their “fifteen minutes”. All the plain and normal customers are just lining up to buy and take away a little slice of this lifestyle. Even my wife and the wife of my friend were going in to “just have a look at the boys” – in my twenties I’d have been in every day in life to look at the girls. The only reason I wouldn’t do it now is for fear of being branded a “dirty old man” ūüôā

This clearly didn’t happen by accident – there has been some incredibly detailed work going on in the background to help create this experience to support the sales of clothes.

  • How hard do you work to create a really great experience for your customers?
  • How well do you actually know exactly who your customers are or are you trying to be all things to everyone?
  • Have you really sat down and worked out how to attract great staff or are you just doing what everyone else is doing?

Food for thought.


Interested in free one hour consultation? Every week I offer two free one hour consultations where we can deal with any aspect of your business that is causing you problems. If you’d like to get on the waiting list please email me at John@thecoffeeboys.com and briefly list out your biggest challenge. I’ll get back you as soon as possible with some potential dates.


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I’m increasingly obsessed with this concept since it applies to such a large extent in so much of our lives.

Why does Tiger Woods want to keep getting better at golf for example? What drove Michael Schumacher, despite so many years at the top of Formula One, to still work harder than anyone else and even in his last year still be fitter than any of the other guys? Why is one coffee shop owner happy with one site while another needs to grow a huge chain to be content?

Recently I seem to have come across a disproportionate amount of people who regard life in the Coffee Business as the ultimate goal for their lives. It can take some fairly harsh questioning to discover the real “reason why” they are setting up their business and make them understand that the reality is very different from the dream whilst still trying to help them keep their enthusiasm.

The reality is we all have different motivators and different “reasons why” we do anything. But ultimately if you don’t have a strong “reason why” for your customers to visit then they won’t. And your idyllic dream will be brutally shattered.

The harsh reality is that most people think they have a decent reason for customers to visit but they simply don’t.¬† Too many operators expect to be able to offer mediocrity and get away with it and with a potential “tough time” ahead of us in the market they simply won’t survive.

So here is my, by no means exhaustive, list of “reasons why” customers might want to visit you – and keep visiting!

  • Location – a great location is always a bonus but is not, as I often preach, essential. But generally make life easy for yourself with a great location. But NOT if you end up having to pay huge rent and rates bills.
  • Great Coffee – obvious really. But these days it has to be really great to stand out from the crowd. And you really need to have exceptional consistency too.
  • Great food – again it’s obvious but so often overlooked in the coffee bar business. Sometimes there is this perception that focusing on great food takes the emphasis away from great coffee. Which is, of course, total and utter elitist nonsense.
  • Great staff – people who really care about the product AND care about remembering the customer’s name and their drink. It’s probably the biggest challenge we all face but the clients who really care about recruiting, training and retaining great people are always those with the best businesses. (I’ll give you some tips on this in the next few days too)
  • A great atmosphere – do you provide somewhere that is really special? Do you have an environment that people instantly relax in?
  • A great story – is your business one that people can really “buy into”? A coffee shop stands for so much more than somewhere just to get a drink in many people’s eyes. Increasingly I find with clients, all around the UK, that locals are using them almost like a Post Office or a classic English “local” pub. Do you help to provide this?
  • Something genuinely new and different – do you have something properly unique about your business? How many star products do you have that people talk about and become “raving fans” of? If you don’t have something that is unique and really fires up your customers then you’re doomed to failure unless you have an exceptional location. I have the “mother of all star products” to show you in the next few days from one inspirational client who operates down a little alleyway off the High Street in their town.

You don’t need to be perfect on all counts but you do have to tick a few of these boxes. It’s not about being all things to all people but you have to have a few key areas that really provide a strong reason for customers to visit in the first place, return a second and third time and ideally tell their friends about you.

Why should customers visit your business? What do you do that is so great that they might tell their friends?


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Every coffee business of almost any type (even the unsuccessful ones) manages to generate some fiercely loyal customers. These customers very often visit every day and sometimes will visit several times a day. Occasionally they can be irritating and offer you all sorts of advice that you could easily do without. But ignore them at your peril because most of us never sit down to calculate just how important these people are to our business and to our own ability to pay the mortgage!

I learnt this to my cost when I was to busy opening new businesses and ignoring the concerns of one key long term customer in my last coffee shop. The story is fully documented in our book but only when I lost these customers to a competitor (now client) did I calculate just how much money they brought into the business every week, month and year. More than enough to pay my mortgage for a two months.

Of course your circumstances will be different and your mortgage payments will be at different levels but you’ll still have those same key customers who represent a huge amount of your turnover and ultimately profit.

So here’s the question…

  • What did you do for your “mortgage customers” this Christmas as a thankyou?
  • What did you do to make sure they stay loyal to you this year?
  • What did you do to make them feel special?

Do you buy them anything? A little gift, or a few free coffees? Maybe a free lunch or perhaps some vouchers? Or did you even take the time to look them squarely in the eye and say “Thankyou – I really appreciate your business and hope you’ll be with us as much next year”

My guess is that you didn’t. Because so few people do. We get so caught up in running the business and making sure that we prepare for our own Christmas that we forget who it is that is actually paying for our Christmas and that of our team.

So make sure that in the new year you do something a little extra for those top 20% of your customers. It’s an awful lot easier to look after an existing customer than it is to try and get new ones.

So with that myself and Hugh would like to thank all our clients and everyone who bought our book. It has been an amazing success and we currently sit at number 20 on Amazon for business strategy. It is consistently the highest selling book on running coffee bars and we are delighted that so many people have enjoyed it. It’s been a great year for us and we will be doing a lot more speaking next year so hopefully we’ll see you at some of these events.

Many thanks

Johnnie Richardson

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Coming through Edinburgh airport for the second time in as many weeks I was again struck by just how superb a job the West Cornwall Pasty Company do. They have the last stand in a long line of food and coffee operations but their branding and use of great images is so brilliant that you feel compelled to walk all the way along to sample their offer. But it’s stronger than that – you actually want to be part of what they do. Of course, surf culture very compelling – goodness knows how much surf gear has been sold to people who never have and never will hold a surf board but so is coffee culture so don’t immediately dismiss it as being “different” from what we do.

At the start of the line you are met with this:

West Cornwall Pasty Co 1

Your attention is grabbed but you still have a long way to go.

But in the distance, past Caffe Nero, EAT and the bar you can see this…

West Cornwall Pasty Camper Van

Now that clearly wasn’t cheap and clearly wasn’t easy to do. In fact I bet it was one of those situations where they went to a variety of shopfitters and were told point blank “it can’t be done“. But it was – and more to the point they did it.

So there it is – a super-sized Volkswagen Camper Van housing a fully functional Cornish Pasty shop – just brilliant. Utterly brilliant.

But they didn’t stop there. The branding extended to many other areas. They had cool old surf photos on the fridge and the menus was listed on a surf board. All the staff wore surf wear and even looked like surfers.

West Cornwall Pasty menu

even the lights were in the shape of a surf board…

West Cornwall Pasty lights

And they were busy and the company seems to be growing at a ferocious rate:


So how does your branding compare?

How hard are you working at making sure you have something wow that lures people in?

Success in what we do is part of a long and complex equation but you need to get all the parts right. You simply can’t reply on a great product any more. Or great people and a great location. You need to have all parts of the jigsaw slotted together and a crucial piece of that jigsaw is branding. Creating a clear, coherent and compelling brand that actually drives people to want to be part of what you do. And never forget that applies to bankers, potential employees and suppliers as much as customers.

Have you bought our book yet? It’s available through Amazon here:

Coffee Boys Book

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Its easy to make this point, and I¬†realise like many things we all know the adage that ‘Show me your friends and I’ll tell you what sort of a person you are’,¬†however, it is very difficult to convey the profound meaning of it and in the business of coffee like many others it is a fact that ;

You are your customer/client list.

Call it many things ; Selective sell, 80/20 rule, Individualisation, PR strategy, Focus, Niche , VIP or (God forbid) Key Witness Account the bottom line is that You are your Client portfolio. You are professionally defined by who you do business with.

So make your customer list count. Spend time planning it. Take great care deciding who. And be prepared to say No. Those businesses who grow by acquiring the wrong type of customers are never going to become great.¬†Think about how this very obvious strategy can apply to your business¬†…. yes its about location and taste and quality and service and on and on but your secret weapon can be¬†serving the right people …. every ¬£1 is not equal …


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“Believe nothing just because a so-called wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”


Buddha“Just an espresso for me. I don’t want to get hyper”

One of the keys to starting or running any business is the ability to ignore the vast quantity of ill-informed (but often well-meaning) advice. Friends, family, suppliers and even customers are all only too eager to offer advice. I’ve lost count of the number of times a customer has said to me

What you should do is…

Whereas what you should do is actually ignore what they’re saying and only do the things that YOU really know to be true and to work for your business. The reality is that our customers (and we as consumers) very often don’t know what we want and aren’t very good at articulating it truthfully when asked. I’ve conducted focus groups over the years and, if I’m honest, learnt very little of any real value from pure discussions.

As Henry Ford memorably said:

“If I had listened to what my customers believed they wanted…I would have made a faster horse”

In the coffee business this translates into testing and trying out a variety of products and ideas and judging the results, not by customer or staff reactions, but by the money in the till. Ultimately that is what counts. That is what, to paraphrase Buddha, brings you to a state where you can judge the truth.

I watched a fascinating talk by Malcolm Gladwell entitled “What you can learn about spaghetti sauce” which explains this very point. The gist of the talk is that only by actually trying a huge variety of spaghetti sauces on consumers did they come up with the concept of an “extra chunky” spaghetti sauce. The consumer would argue that they wanted spaghetti sauce just like the Italians eat it but only by really testing did they discover that this is simply not the case. And lo they sold $600 million of chunky spaghetti sauces in 10 years.

$600 million from testing and trying new stuff and not just by asking!

He also makes some interesting points about coffee. Not least of which is the fact that when questioned most people say they like a dark, rich, hearty roast. The reality is very different – most people like a weak milky coffee. But obviously that doesn’t sound as good as saying “dark, rich, hearty roast”.
We need to be very careful about forcing our opinions and tastes on our customers. And we need to be very careful and really make a big effort to ensure that our customers really are drinking a coffee they really love.

We need to spend time with them to help work that out.

And once we have helped them to work that out – we need to remember it.

And once we’ve remembered their coffee we need to remember their name… (but that’s for another post)

We need to, as Gladwell eloquently puts it, create coffee that makes them “deliriously happy“.

Johnnie Richardson

More great tips in The Coffee Boys book available at Amazon:

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According to a recent Mintel report the market for branded coffee shops will increase by 52% from 2006 to 2011.  The profile it follows will be something like this.

  • 2006 – ¬£675 million
  • 2007 – ¬£736 million
  • 2008 – ¬£801 million
  • 2009 – ¬£874 million
  • 2010 – ¬£948 million
  • 2011 – ¬£1.02 billion

The big three – Starbucks, Costa and Caffe Nero currently make up nearly 60% of the shops and I see no reason why they won’t continue this split as we move forward.¬† But that only provides a bigger opportunity for small local cafes and small chains to prosper.¬† The joy of being small is you can move faster, work more creatively and provide a friendlier option for the coffee consumer – but, and it’s a big “but” only if you can manage to stand back and work hard on your business and not work in it relentlessly.

The Big Three are simply going to get better at what they do.  They are going to improve every aspect of their business since they have whole departments dedicated to this.  Their human resource departments are working hard to train and retain better staff, the marketing departments are working hard to keep the brand in front of the customer and the finance and buying departments are constantly striving to buy cheaper and put more money to the bottom line.  Whether you have one, two or twenty sites you must keep thinking the same way.

So that’s the good news – those are the good facts about our growing industry.¬† The bad facts are that small operators are closing down every day and, although there are no clear statistics for this yet, we have to assume that our closure and success rates are very similar to the classic restaurant business.¬† i.e. 85% – 90% of them will fail.

So once again you have to make sure this isn’t you by working your business all the time.¬† You must stand back and realise that it is a business and not a hobby.¬† The first three chapters in our book drum this home and then drum it home again.

Make sure you are part of the ¬£1 billion statistic in 2011 and not part of the 90% failure statistic.¬† Failing in business isn’t fun.¬† I know.


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