Make Or Steal

Make Or Steal

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people who’ve opened cafes. One of the key ideas I’ve brought up early on is that for a new cafe, every single one of your customers currently buys their coffee from someone else. If you subscribe to Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans idea 1, then you need to find around 1,000 people to become your regular customers. They won’t come everyday necessarily, but if you’ve got a 1,000 loyal customers then I think your coffee business will be fine.

An important thing to think about is this: Changing where you buy coffee is changing the very routine of your life. It might affect your route to work, which public transport stop you get off at, or even what time you wake up in the morning. People are generally slow to change their lives. Owners of new cafes often get frustrated that in the first weeks of opening people come and say the drink they just had was, perhaps, the best coffee of their lives. Then you don’t see them for another week. Why haven’t they immediately made the switch, given that this is the best coffee they’ve ever tasted!? As I said, it takes time to change someone’s life.

This isn’t really what I want to write about now, but something related. What I want to talk about is what I see as a change in the dynamics of the coffee market in London, that raises a new question for me. Over the last seven or so years the market in London has changed dramatically. There has been a huge boom in the number of cafes trying to compete on the quality of their coffee. What has changed more recently is that the rate of new cafes opening has outstripped the growth in consumers for higher quality coffee. The market is becoming more competitive and cafes are beginning to actively engage in doing their best to capture and retain as many existing quality focused consumers. However, this means every new opening increases the competitive pressure on the market and the challenge of being successful is harder for each new cafe than for the last. I’m not saying for a minute that it was ever easy, but I do think that the attitude was a little different in the past than in the marketplace now.

All this does presume a fixed pool of consumers to draw from. Which, while technically true, is the wrong way to look at it. I think more effort needs to be made on creating more customers who would value better coffee.

Looking back, perhaps through rose tinted glasses, it seemed like there was a coherent movement in London to market the idea of better coffee. Not to market individual businesses, though that’s always going to be important, but to collectively promote and celebrate all that is good in delicious coffee – right through the value chain. Be it community events, coherent messages in the media, things like the Disloyalty Card – all of these contributed to the idea that better coffee was a good thing for everyone. I don’t see that coherent drive now, and I believe it is needed now more than ever.

Creating our customers, and not just stealing them from competitors, is vital for our industry’s longevity. I think many of the coffee roasting companies I respect are good at this. Taking the business of supply from another quality focused roaster does little to develop a marketplace, but working with new businesses to help them do more definitely does. I think this is worth considering in marketing strategy regardless of where in the coffee supply chain you lie.

This isn’t written as criticism of the way coffee businesses are marketing now. I want to highlight that there can be another message, or approach that could be more valuable to both businesses and the industry in reaching these new customers and a wider market. It is something I will be thinking more about, and trying to incorporate into the work that I do.

  1. I know I’ve linked here several times before…  ↩︎