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Start a coffee shop

Consultant and cafe owner Sadie gives 10 tips on starting a coffee shop.

So, you want to open your own coffee shop?

The good news is, the UK café culture is still booming, with the World Barista Championships being held at Caffe Culture in London this year bringing specialty coffee to the forefront of the market.

The bad news? There are currently over 11,000 coffee shops in the UK, with that figure set to rise. So how do you ensure your business stands out from the crowd?

Read on for my 10 top tips.

1. Know your market - Who are your customers? Research into what they want from their cafes. For example, commuters want quick service and pre-wrapped snacks, whereas stay at home mums prefer open spaces, easy access and healthy food.

2. Understand competition - Coffee shops are one of the few retail businesses which benefit from being clustered together, it helps to create a buzz and a "scene".

Go into other coffee houses. Chat casually to the staff and owners - in such a social job, usually staff are willing to talk about what they do and why. Visit at all times of the day, to get an understanding of customer peaks (e.g. lunchtimes, end of the school day, after work etc).

Consider your business plan when looking for premises and make sure your location matches it

3. Premises and premises use - The right premises can make or break the venture. Consider your business plan when looking for premises, make sure your location matches it. Also consider the "use" which has been applied to the premises by the council. Cafes selling basic food usually require A3 premises usage. General shop units are A1, and if you wish to open a café in what has previously been a shop you may have to apply for "change of use".

There are also no guarantees it will be permitted, so try to look for property which already has A3 if possible. If not, befriend the local planners on the council and invite them to look round any potential unit you want a change of use on - a friendly chat can often save you time and expense.

4. Budget - Don't be tempted to overspend. Keeping your set up and running costs as low as possible gives you a better chance of making a profit.

Spend the money in the right places; on the décor, good quality equipment, sturdy furniture - spend only what you have to on rent deposits, business rates and legal bills.

5. Potential income - Working out potential income is always difficult on a brand new business. But there are formulas you can apply. By working out how many you can seat, then what percentage you expect the café on average to be full, you can apply an average spend per head and work out gross income from there.

It's not foolproof, but it will give you an idea of whether your premise is realistically affordable. Just make sure your calculations are realistic and based on your research.

6. Consider quality and price - With any food based business, it is imperative to get the best possible product for the best possible price. Look into what prices your competition charge, and pitch yourself realistically. Keep the quality of the food and drinks high, and charge what you can get away with, no more, no less.

7. Attend training courses - There are dozens of training courses, consultancies and barista trainers who can help you stand out in the marketplace. If you have no previous experience, get some from the experts!

8. Understand your product - If you are new to the industry, research your products. Coffee is the world's second biggest traded commodity, and there are a wealth of books, documentaries, websites and even competitions in the world based around the bean. Where does it come from? How is it grown and traded? What is ethical trading? Have an understanding of coffee beyond serving it.

9. Devise a USP to stand out - Maybe you will sell a range of gluten free food, or will serve coffee antipodean style rather than Italian style. Create a niche for yourself; don't try to muscle in on someone else's.

10. Café layout - In every premises you look round do a rough sketch of where your serving area will go, how many tables you can fit in and how many "covers" you can fit in. This will help you work out how many staff you need and what kind of income is realistic (as mentioned earlier).

Pay attention to space for your customers to queue and move around. Plan your kitchen area with military precision - every inch of space must be utilized well. Like your kitchen at home, always ensure you have a "perfect triangle" between coffee machine, sink and fridge. Later when you are working in the environment, you will be thankful that you did.

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Sadie Hopkins

About the author

Sadie is the owner of York Coffee Emporium, a boutique roasters and supplier to the cafe industry. She also runs Slave to the Grind coffee consultancy, where she offers advice on anything to do with coffee.

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