Many businesses look at marketing with blinders on. They think of media in terms of what it buys, i.e. how to or whether to design a flyer to drive business. Marketing is one area where many specialty beverage businesses fall short – by doing it improperly or not al all — even while doing an amazing job in other areas of their operation.
Understanding the importance of layout and design and that a good lease and location can make or break an operation are good places to start. But marketing can have as much of an impact on a business as the preplanning stages. Everything you do is marketing, and you need to continue to market throughout the life of your business. If marketing didn’t work, it wouldn’t exist. Every successful company — large or small — needs to set attainable marketing goals and allocate dollars to reach not only new customers but to retain its existing customer base.
To be effective, you must know whom you are trying to reach. Marketing 101, day one, hour one is to attract and fulfill the needs of your customer. But who is your customer? And if you don’t know, how do you find out? The answer is research, and whether you hold focus groups or study demographics, it is important to learn who constitutes your customer base and whom you might want to attract. Knowing exactly who your customers are will allow you to make good decisions and spend your marketing dollars wisely.
The following aspects of your business are types of marketing, whether they appear to be or not:.
• Your menu will be dictated by who it is you want to serve and where you are located. You will need to develop a very different menu for a coffee operation in Scottsdale, Arizona, an area that is sunny more than 300 days a year and where residents have a high average income, than you would in small town in northern Nebraska, where most of your customers will have lower incomes and the weather is much cooler during most of the year.
• Your employees are your frontline marketers and represent who you are and what you stand for. If they can’t explain your products or possess little passion for coffee or tea, they will be unable to convince customers that your business is special and different. Most chains do only an average job of training their employees, so this is an area in which you can shine if you hire the right people and train them properly.
• The design and layout of your operation and the materials you use in construction are a major component of your ambiance. Along with great customer service and excellent product quality, ambiance is one of the most important features that will bring people in and keep them coming back. You should develop different seating areas for different types of customers and use color and lighting to make your operation comfortable and pleasing.
• Your overall image is usually referred to as “branding.” Make sure you use your logo everywhere you can. It should be on your cups, employee aprons, all in-store signage, to-go mugs, T-shirts, etc. Don’t forget to cross-market, whether that means sponsoring a soccer team, donating to a good cause or working with another small business in the same area. Get your name out in the community and let people know what you stand for. More importantly, spread the word that you are a local business steeped in quality, knowledge and passion for your product.
• Use the Internet. No matter how simple, develop a Web site featuring your specials and what products or entertainment you have to offer each month. Devote a section to teach your customers about coffee and/or tea, showing them the penchant for quality your operation possesses.
• Think creatively about special promotions and consider holding events in your café year round. Many of these can be tied to national holidays. Or create your very own holiday/event that will generate press from the local press.
As our industry matures, it will become increasingly important to maximize every aspect of your business. Each year, more and more national and regional chains open stores, and as an independent, you must know how to market against them effectively.
Remain confident that if you do everything right and truly understand coffee and/or tea and the business behind it, you can succeed and, in reality, have an advantage.
It doesn’t matter if you are new to the business or have been open for a number of years — it is never too late to step back and look at your operation, to get out from behind the counter and market your business. It will be the one aspect that will make the difference between either just getting by or becoming a huge specialty beverage success story.
Bruce Milletto is president of Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup and founder of the American Barista & Coffee School.