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Coffee Shop

How to Run a Coffee Shop

Running a successful coffee shop goes far beyond brewing a quality cup of Joe.

Whether you’re considering buying a coffee shop or you’ve already closed the deal, now you need to know how to run it so you can maximize the return on your investment. You’ve come to the right place.

One of the key lessons you should take away from this article is the fact that running a coffee shop is just like running any other small business: it takes skill, hard work, strategic planning, and a little bit of luck. Some entrepreneurs jump into this kind of business assuming it’s going to be simple and that it is guaranteed to succeed simply because coffee shops are so popular. But, in reality, that’s not the case.

The following tips outline the core responsibilities you need to fulfill to make your new coffee shop a success.

Extend your “due diligence” period

If you’ve already purchased a coffee shop, we’re hoping you took the time to thoroughly investigate the business’s records, practices, and the physical building and equipment you were paying for. This process is called due diligence

Coffee shop

As you start down the path of running the shop day to day, it’s important to put what you learned during the due diligence period to good use. For instance, you may have recognized some areas where processes could be improved, or where employees could use some more training. Maybe you determined the shop could benefit from upgraded equipment or seeking out a new supplier.

Whatever lessons came out of the due diligence period, now is the time to prioritize your action plan and start taking steps to improve. And, make sure you continue to evaluate your situation regularly as time passes. The maxim says, “whatever is measured can be improved,” so it pays to continually measure the results of your activities and keep improving how the business runs over time.

Here are just a few areas of the business you should have reviewed during due diligence, and that you should continue to monitor closely as you run your coffee shop:

  • The vehicle and/or foot traffic situation and any local circumstances that may affect it.
  • Your staff’s commitment to excellent customer service and any training needs that become apparent.
  • Customer feedback, whether positive or negative, and feedback about your competition.
  • Product pricing decisions and potential additions to (or subtractions from) the menu.
  • The systems and processes around the financial minutiae that ensures the shop remains profitable over the long term.

Handling the day-to-day “grind”

Running a successful coffee shop requires putting in far more hours each day than you’re likely to be open for business. And, unless you intend to hire adequate staff and management to handle 100 percent of the daily tasks required, you’re probably going to spend most of your time involved in basic activities like:

  • Organizing supplies and keeping inventory
  • Cleaning the shop and equipment
  • Serving customers and handling the occasional customer service issue
  • Managing, training, and coaching staff
  • Interacting with suppliers, deliveries, and vendors
  • And, just about anything else you can imagine coming up in a coffee shop

Coffee shop table

The key to success is to never allow the day-to-day work to keep you from attacking your higher priority responsibilities as owner of the shop. These include:

  • Marketing your business effectively
  • Keeping your finger on the pulse of the local business climate, competition, and larger industry trends
  • Maintaining financial records and thinking strategically about how to optimize and improve your situation
  • Hiring and firing staff and management as needed to build the best possible team
  • Making plans for strategic growth and/or guiding the business effectively toward your exit strategy

Striking that balance that allows you to keep payroll expenses under control while also leaving yourself enough time and energy to devote to these important considerations isn’t easy, but it’s vital to the success of your coffee shop.

Prioritize marketing

The importance of continually marketing your coffee shop cannot be overstated. You’re in a highly competitive industry and your customers are only going to remain loyal to you as long as it’s convenient and beneficial for them. That’s why a coffee shop owner needs to prioritize marketing efforts aimed at both finding and retaining customers.

Finding new customers

To keep a steady stream of new customers coming through your doors, experiment with a mixture of these recommendations:

  • Invest in traditional advertising in local print media and radio to build and maintain a recognizable brand.
  • Take full advantage of your Google My Business listing as well as Yelp and other similar online directories and review sites.
  • Invest in paid local search and social advertising.
  • Establish business profiles on social media channels and actively reach out to the local community to form connections.
  • Organize events like poetry readings, live music, or community gaming evenings and use all the marketing channels at your disposal to create buzz around them.

Retaining existing customers

A strong loyalty program that offers real value in exchange for repeat business is the backbone of your customer-retention strategy. It can be as simple as a card that customers present each time they buy a coffee that they can then turn in for a free product after a set number of purchases. Or, you can get endlessly creative with your loyalty program.

The main limitation you need to recognize is that your loyalty program can only be effective if your customer truly views it as an incentive to adapt their behavior. If they see little value in the reward you’re offering, or if the program makes them jump through too many hoops, they’ll probably ignore it and it will do you no good.

Coffee cup

Other customer-retention strategies that can augment a solid loyalty program include:

  • Running fun contests and giveaways for existing customers, either online or in person
  • Building and supporting an engaging online community made up of existing customers to extend the experience beyond your doors
  • Building an opt-in email and/or text marketing list to regularly send existing customers exclusive offers, birthday coupons, etc.
  • Making a point of personally getting to know your “regulars” and thanking them sincerely for their business

Armed with these tips, you will find that owning and operating your coffee shop can be personally and professionally rewarding — as well as financially lucrative. If you haven’t bought your coffee shop yet, why not browse the current listings to see what’s available near you?

Bruce Hakutizwi

About the author

USA and International Manager for, a global online marketplace for buying and selling small medium size businesses. The website has over 60,000 business listings and attracts over 1.5 million buyers to the site every month.