They say the truth can set you free. What they don’t say is that it might sting a little bit! 

I’ve spent pretty much all of my adult life in the coffee business, and the question I get asked more than any other is “how can I increase my sales and my customer visits?”  My typical, in-a-hurry, vendor-esque answer is to tell them to promote a drink special through social media or to create another incentive elusive customers can take advantage of.

But what I really want to tell them is that there is no quick fix! So let’s talk about the hard stuff. Let’s talk about the reasons so many businesses find themselves plateaued:

  • They have no identity or buzz around their brand, and therefore offer nothing for customers to get excited about (other than a real good cup of Java! Java! coffee).
  • They have a great menu, but no idea how to sell it.  
  • They make great coffee, but they aren’t investing in relationships with their customers.

The truth is that I am doing a disservice to both my customers and to my business when I throw hurried ideas out there like “do a drink promotion!” because I know that incentives are only a piece of the puzzle and -- until they address the aforementioned pitfalls -- that won’t create a path to long-term success.

So the real answer to that question requires a reboot in how we define success in the coffee business. So many business owners are coasting on “good enough,” and need to take some time contemplating what they can do to be great; because good enough tends to create apathy in everything it touches, and it’s noticeable by everyone except the person who has the power to make it great!

Rant aside, here’s what you can do to turn your good coffee business into a great one:

Be consistent.

Simple, right? You’d be surprised. Consistency isn’t just about what’s in your cup, it’s about what’s going on inside your four walls. How you hire, who you hire, your hours, your dress code, codes of conduct, drink prep, keeping a clean space, engaging with customers and more are all included in this. Doing something right once in awhile is a sure way to lose customers, and it’s up to you to set clear expectations for your employees on what consistency looks and feels like in your store. Customers LOVE consistency.

Practice quality in everything you do.

I’ll say this over and over again, but it’s really about more than just what’s in your cup.  It’s asking yourself, “is this decision I’m about to make going to make my business better?” Sometimes we think there might be a shortcut to the finish line, but history tells us that quality service, products and people will always win the race.

Clean...and then clean some more.

We always tell our employees, “if there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.” They might hate the saying, but a clean, well organized coffee shop is so important in helping make a great first impression. Clutter, personal belongings, and a dirty store will immediately tell anyone walking through the door that they probably shouldn’t expect much from you or your employees. But when customers see baristas cleaning when they’re not busy behind the counter, it lets them know that you care about their experience at your store.

Ask questions.

Who is in a better position to tell you what’s great (and what could use some work) than your customers? Ask them how their coffee is, how your employees manage when you’re not around, or what other products they would be interested in. What I’ve learned in over 25 years in business is that most customers won’t complain about something, they’ll just go somewhere else. However, if you ask them, you can empower them to speak up about things that might have them on the fence. When you recognize that a customer complaint is as valuable as gold, you’ll learn to reach out and listen to your customers, and when you “fix” the problem, you’ve instilled in them a sense of loyalty and gratitude that no amount of advertising can replicate.

Ask for help.

As a coffee roaster, I love it when my customers ask us for help. It means that our relationship is built on trust and not just a good price per pound of coffee. It also gives us the opportunity to show off a little and let our customers see that we really are experts in all facets of the coffee business!  The bottom line is that all of  your vendors should value your business enough to want to help. If they don’t, maybe it’s time to look at other options.