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?



Tomorrow evening in the US Starbucks are closing all their stores to retrain their baristas.  They’ve pulled together some nifty new milk frothing techniques and changed a couple of the rules in terms of pulling shots.  It’s their latest attempt to get themselves back on track after a pretty dismal year.

All round the world cool baristas are sniggering behind their hands in their cool coffee bars and thinking – “How much training do they need to push a button?” but, as ever, we should underestimate Starbucks at our peril.  With Howard Schulz back in the CEO position it’s very likely that they’ll get back on track sooner rather than later.  But we should also never underestimate just how slowly a big company like this reacts in comparison to your business.  While many operators out there simply fold and die in the light of an incoming Starbucks onslaught or indeed any of the big chains others knuckle down and really focus on being the best in their niche but also, more imporantly, stick on their marketing wizard hat and open the big bag of marketing tricks.


Coffee Klatch Roasting, a two site operation in Southern California, has chosen to offer free coffee during those three hours to highlight what they do.  Since they are the home of the current US barista champion Heather Perry you have to assume that they have a good grasp at what they do and will almost certainly retain customers after this little exercise.  But such is the fascination for the little guy standing up the big guy they’ve also generated a TON of publicity.  That publicity is available to you too.  You local papers love this type of story so sit back and think how you can use ideas like this to generate new customers and also make your existing customers proud to be a part of your business.

More tomorrow when I finally get round to giving you your “reason whys” …

 Johnnie Richardson

On Sunday and Monday of this week Hugo and I were speaking at the Hotelympia show in London.  Ultimately both talks went very well and we had good audiences at both but it was a graphic illustration of the need to have a strong “reason why” in terms of promotion.   There had been very little promotion for the talk and we were simply billed as “Ireland’s Coffee Boys – John Richardson and Hugh Gilmartin“.  The first days talks were all delayed and we ended up speaking nearly an hour after our billed time.  This meant that people who had specifically come to see us had to rearrange their day to fit in with the disrupted schedule.

But we were the lucky ones.  The lack of “reason why” meant that the previous speaker ended up speaking to the grand total of two people.  When you’re Donald Trump you can rely on people turning up for your name alone but for the rest of us you must provide some clear benefit to spending the time to sit and listen.  Our “reason why” is that we help people to make more profits with less time working in the business of coffee and when clearly articulated it’s a strong message.

But exactly the same principle applies in your business too.  You have to provided a clear, articulate message about why customers should visit you.  We spoke to a great many people at the show who simply weren’t busy enough in their businesses.  We put together a questionnaire to establish what the main problems operators are having and I will be publishing the results of it on here in the very near future.  A quick glance on the plane back home revealed no surprises though.  The big issues are:

  1.  Not busy enough.  Not enough customers, not enough turnover, not enough profit.
  2.  A difficulty in recruiting and keeping great people.

In both cases “reason why” is a big issue.  When pushed and questioned more closely most of the people we talked to clearly were not providing their customers with a strong enough “reason why” to spend money or a strong enough “reason why” for great people to come and work for them.

Times may very well be tough for the next year or two but even as it stands it is a very competitive marketplace out there for coffee bars.  You simply won’t survive if you don’t provide a clear reason for people to visit and spend money with you on a consistent basis.  Likewise it is impossible to expect great people to work for you if you don’t provide a great job and your expectation is that they should be lucky to have a job at all and that you pay 10p more than the average rate.  Those days are long gone.

So why should people visit your business?  What is it that differentiates you from the competition?  What is it that you do so well that the sales rep makes a 5 mile detour just to get the chance to buy?  What is it that you sell that is so great that the office worker in the building across the road cannot concentrate on her work because she can’t stop thinking about the taste of it?  What is it that makes people walk past Starbucks in their prime location to visit you in your location which is a little bit further down the road?

And likewise why would somebody want to work for you?  What is it that makes your business a great place to spend eight hours a day?  What do you provide that makes the person working in the big chain down the road think “I’m fed up here, I’m just a number, I’m going to see if XXXXXX have any jobs – apparently they’re a great place to work”

I’ll give some examples of great “reason whys” in the next couple of days but in between the frantic “doing, doing, doing” of today try to grab five minutes and watch your customers to observe why they might give you money.  Also ask your staff why they like working for you.

Johnnie Richardson 

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

I have been on my travels in the last 6 weeks and thinking of my trip am reminded of a brilliant comment a Brazillian made to me ;  

Coffee is like Sex …. Everybody wants it but not many know what good is! 

Businesses spend a lot of time and energy extolling the virtue of their coffee. Its always exceptional quality, can be hand selected, roasted, brewed and is usually always better than the rest.  

The truth is that it is generally mediocre and the main reason for this is that the operators and resellers of every kind simply don’t invest enough time into their coffee service or solution.

Probably the number one thing that all of us selling coffee need to focus on is that it is a business …… and we have all heard somebody sometime say that any business has to sell something and to do that you need to know your product and know your customer. Wise words indeed. It is probably not that surprising then that most coffee salesmen (and that is probably you!) don’t heed those wise words. Many are selling coffee and know very little about it and even less about how to prepare it properly. 

Coffee is most likely the biggest margin product you will sell and so should command a significant part of your planning and execution time. To make good profits you need to hook and addict the customer with a fantastic tasting product and that means that you have to control the brewing factors.  Don’t know what they are or how to do this ….. then get hold of a good coffee supplier and ask the right questions. They are out there … but you have to do a bit of homework to find the good ones!  

More on how soon ….. 


One of the biggest issues within the coffee business and the hospitality industry in general is the fact that many of our managers are very young. People get promoted into manager positions at a very young age, often just because they happen to be good at their job.

I do a lot of young manager training and mentoring and the main aspect that I focus on is trying to get them to assertively deal with their staff. Not just problem employees but day to day motivation and communication. Generally they do one of two things.

1. They shrink back from assertive communication and either just do the job themselves or communicate weakly and without clarity or…

2. They become “shouty” managers and rant and rave to get the job done.

Neither solution works but it’s often hard for managers, in their mid-twenties, to properly deal with seasoned veterans who may be ten or twenty years older. Much of what I teach involves changing tone, body language and going through a variety of exercises to help create confidence and explain how to communicate effectively.

The issue of body language is huge for assertive manager communication and I came across a little bit of video on Youtube that very clearly explains the difference between a weak manager and a strong assertive manager. It’s when Clark decides he’s going to come clean to Lois and then chickens out. You see this huge change in body language and tone as he shifts between the two parts of his character.

The issue is to try and get our staff (and indeed ourselves) to act and communicate much more like Superman and much less like Clark Kent.

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