Archive for the ‘selling’ 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” 🙂

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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One of the things I preach endlessly to clients is to make a big issue out of stories. To keep the customer educated on the detail of how you do what you do. The glamour of running any coffee business quickly recedes in our minds as we deal with the relentless daily tasks of hiring/firing, disciplining, chasing suppliers, making sure the toilets are clean etc. etc. but most of our customers never realise that.

They actually see the running of a cafe (or any coffee business) as a wonderfully exciting and liberating thing to do. They see the production of a cup of coffee as a wonderfully exciting and almost magical process. And regardless of what you may think they still have little understanding of how it all comes together. You must keep educating them, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so, about how much effort you put into creating great products. If you bake all your food items on site then for goodness sake make sure they know this.

McDonalds have recently employed housewives to investigate what they do and blog about it. They discovered that many customers thought that most of their products were frozen and then microwaved to order.

Full Story here

As ever many of you will be thinking “Oh that’s McDonalds – we’re a million miles away from what they do” but you’d be wrong. I never fail to be surprised at how many customers have a totally warped view of what happens in food and coffee businesses at every level. Some customers assume we have incredible suppliers who provide “catering” food at a fraction of a price that they pay and in a form that requires almost no processing to be served. Whilst there are a few revolting examples of this occasionally touted by the frozen food suppliers we all know just how disgusting they are and how little they actually sell.

You need to keep reinforcing how much care and passion you out into your food and coffee and how much you still love what you do. Creating a blog of your own about your business is actually a great idea so that your customers can see how much thought and effort you put into the menu and making sure your offer is great. Just make sure you keep in mind that you are selling the glamour and not the “toilet cleaning” side of the business.


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Now that I’m not actually employing anyone or not actually directly managing any coffee business myself I tend to look back and think “am I making it all too simple?” I wonder am I forgetting just how much hassle it is to employ people, to deal with the EHO, to ensure that rotas are efficient and that the bills get paid.

And then I realise that it is simple. That you just have to keep moving yourself above those factors and keep focusing on moving the business forward and stop the day to day “doing it”.

Today there was a great example of this. I chose to work from home this morning and at about 11.00 a.m. my wife came home, busied herself in the kitchen, and then brought me over a plate of bread and butter with two words “try this”

I did – and it was absolutely delicious. Truly wonderful. It was a wheaten bread from our local home bakery with added seeds and made with organic yoghurt from the local Clandeboye Estate. And how do I know this? Because they told her. And why did she buy it? Because they were sampling it and she couldn’t resist.

It’s that simple. Stand back from the day to day hassles (via training and systems) and focus on what you love about the business and what drove you into it in the first place.

  • Create great products.
  • And then tell the customer.
  • And then give them a sample.

It works – time and time again I’ve proved it. But it’ll never work if you don’t keep trying and testing new ideas.

And everybody wins. The bakery wins because they are continuing to develop new and exciting products which keeps it interesting for them and their bakers and they sell more! The customer wins because they get something new and delicious.

It IS that simple and don’t let anyone (including yourself) convince you otherwise.

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I remain convinced that one of the key skills you need to set up and create a successful business is ability to be totally immune to criticism. In fact it pretty much applies to every part of life.

I sat with my nine year old daughter yesterday and noticed she was wearing her little gold ring for the first time in ages. I asked her why she didn’t wear it much and she replied that, even though she really liked it, one of her best friends had told her it looked stupid and she didn’t feel brave enough to keep wearing it. I reiterated to her, as I have done so many times in the past, just how important it is to be “yourself” and not care what others are thinking – how important it is to not go with the crowd at all times just because it’s easy.

But exactly the same thing happens within our businesses and especially when we are setting them up. I have set up so many businesses in my life and now do it for clients that I just sit back and love to observe the comments. Hugo and I are working on a turn key solution for a client at the moment and recently had to endure the classic “it’ll never work” from one of the people involved. It’s not even worth questioning these opinions because it simply doesn’t serve you. I’ve even learnt to ignore the opinions of long term industry veterans in terms of what will and won’t work since most of the time they’re wrong too.

The classic example I always quote is sitting in front of my bank manager nearly 20 years ago while he explained in intricate detail to me how a shop selling just sandwiches could never work. Or the fishmonger who told me that the market had changed and that the site we had chosen for our new fish and chip shop would never be successful. I chose not to remind him of this point when we were voted the best fish and chip shop in Ireland and were handing him a cheque for many thousands of pounds every month for fish supply. It’s just not worth it – all that really matters in business is what the customer does with his money – not even what he thinks.

The odd thing is that often even your own opinion doesn’t matter. Often I’ve tried a few marketing techniques in a couple of sites even though I doubted they would work. I just wanted to try them out. But sometimes they do work and you can’t really fathom why. But you’d never have found out if you didn’t try.

So when you’re setting up your business or thinking of making some changes then be very, very careful of taking advice from others – especially friends and family. Just put the head down and get on with it and if it doesn’t work initially then work on it. Tweak it, change it, amend it and keep at it until it does work.

If you believe in what you are doing, then let nothing hold you up in your work. Much of the best work of the world has been done against seeming impossibilities. The thing is to get the work done.” — Dale Carnegie

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…… so what are doing to keep them ?

Most of us know that we need new customers …. in fact, most people devote the vast majority of their time, money and energy on acquiring new customers and all but ignoring existing business … a huge mistake.

There are only 3 ways outside of new business to grow ….

  1. Increasing the average spend
  2. Increasing the amount of visits/spend
  3. Increasing the loyalty or life of that customer

Lets take average spend as £3 (a tall cappuccino and a muffin in Starbucks would be £3.34). If I have 100 customers a day then my turnover would be around £100,000 p/a.

  • If I can increase the average spend by only 50p I would add another £15,000 …. and just think of how many ways you could do that.
  • If I can get 10 customers a day to come back again an extra time a week I add another £9,000.
  • If I can increase the loyalty of an average customer from 12 months to 15 months I add another £25,000.
  • Do all three together and double turnover and its much easier because these people already know, trust & like you – and we all buy from people we like!

As you can see, increasing each one of these – or all three – by a small amount produces dramatic results. So, in addition to acquiring profitable new customers look for ways to grow your business using the customers you already have and focus your marketing activity directly at them.

You have to be thinking the business bit all the time …. because now you have mastered the quality bit … your coffee already tastes great … doesn’t it ? 


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Last nights “The Apprentice” highlighted once again the tremendous power of sampling.

280px-sir_alan_sugar.jpg“Ere, let us have a little bit of that to try mate? – go on – I’ll give you a job if you do

For those who didn’t see it the teams were dispatched to France with British food (of their chosing) to try and sell to the French at a local market. The local team decided, in a quite wonderful move of stupidity, to buy some revolting cheese from Makro and try and tempt the french with it. They failed. But more interestingly and potentially far more successfully they also bought some high quality sausages and tried to sell these. The sausage producers suggested that they offer samples since this helped sales. Simple stuff, you would have thought, and very logic.

But the team leader, an ex-army type, created a ludicrous little stove out of a baked bean can and some flammable gel. In the end they couldn’t get the sausages to cook properly and they ended up trying to sell them at cost to local restaurants. But one gobby member of the team wouldn’t stop trying. She badgered a local restaurant and managed to borrow their cooker. She cooked the sausages, cut them up and offered the samples to the market visitors.

And surprise, surprise they sold. It’s such a simple trick and it is so often ignored in so many cafes. It follows so logically on from my last post about asking for the sale.

“Would you like something to eat with your coffee?” – is a great start but….

“Would you like something to eat with your coffee? We have these brownies which are delicious – would you like to try a piece?”

…is ten times more powerful. I have proved countless times both in my own businesses and with clients that this improves sales.

You may not necessarily just improve your brownie sales (or whatever you are sampling) but you will also improve general sales through the law of reciprocity (from Cialdini’s Influence). Which in it’s simplest form means that if I offer you something for free you feel slightly beholden to me and will want to give me something back. It’s a strategy as old as the hills and used in many, many industries but often overlooked in the coffee business.

So whey not try a little scientific study this week. Look at last weeks sales of a specific product and then decide to sample it this week. Play around with a few different items and analyse the sales increases. As ever, test, test, test. Keep testing and keep trying until you have consistent strategies that work for you and help to increase profits. And with this strategy you increase profits and give your customers a better experience. Win-win.

Incidentally the seminal book on how to influence customer behaviour (ethically) is Robert Cialdini’s Influence – The Psychology of persuasion It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most important marekting book I have read.


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Here’s a fascinating experiment.

Go to Amazon.com and type in “Selling” You will find there are more than 297,000 books on offer to do with selling or the selling process. I have no doubt that some of them are very good and I’ve even read a few of them myself but sometimes in the coffee business we just make it all far, far too complicated.

Here is the simplified version of what we should focus on when a customer comes into our business and it’s just one word.


  • Just ask them would like like something more?
  • Would they like something to eat with their coffee?
  • Would they like something to drink with their food?
  • Would they like a large coffee instead of a regular?

I was waiting for a client a few days ago in a local Costa Coffee. I went in with no intention of having anything more than my usual Americano since I had just eaten my lunch. I stood at the till prepared to hand over my money and the barrista offered the magic words “would you like something to eat with that?” Deep down I wanted to say no but there on the counter were some biscotti and I just knew my coffee and my happiness would be a wee fraction improved with a biscotti so I said “Yes”

And do you know what? It was all “win-win”. I had a better experience and they got more money in the till.

So often when I’m training either my own staff or staff for a client we meet the same resistance. “I don’t want to be pushy”, “I hate aggressive selling”, “if the customer wants something they’ll ask for it” – all of which are nonsense and have no basis on fact. But worst of all so many of these arguments come from the owners of the business themselves. They seem to have a slightly warped view that ultimately they are there just to provide a nice pleasant sitting area for their customers. A service to the local community if you like.

So ask your customers and put in a clear asking process as part of your training and for goodness sake makes sure you grasp the concept that providing more of what you do is actually better for the customer too!


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