March 15, 2012

Building on the Foundation

I've been thinking about business lately. This is not to imply that I've never cared about it before, or that I have any particular impetus to care about it now. But it's there, sitting nearer the front of my mind than before. Perhaps it's the allure of newness, or rather the opposite. Perhaps, now that my drinks and various other things have achieved whatever arbitrary standard I set in the past, it's time to set financial goals.

That's an odd sentiment for me, in and of itself. I've always approached coffee bar work as fundamentally simple. If you make good drinks and are pleasant, the cash will come in, and things will function as they ought. This has basically been the case. Though I won't bore you with the numbers, I have looked them over, and they are fine. We're in the black, which is good - and was not wholly the case prior to my managerial tenure.

Of course, I don't pretend to have made any brilliant business moves. I cut the hours a bit, as we were open too late, and luckily happened upon a small staff that cares about this sort of thing as much as I do. Costs went down, and with all respect to the previous baristas, the drinks got better. (I was a customer were I now work for several years previous to my being hired.)

Still, the work before me was very good, and the brand is well established. I owe the previous staff an awful lot, and most of my job has simply been staying the course. That, and emphasizing the two things I mentioned previously: Making the best drinks I can, and generally, trying to be a decent guy to interact with.

I plan on continuing to do those things. But I wonder, are those things enough? I don't have the answer here, so much as I'm just letting my thoughts air themselves out in this forum. If you have any insight, please contribute. Clearly, for a coffee shop to make money, the baristas have to be inviting, and the drinks must be good. After that, you try and watch frivolous expenses. This is the foundation, which I feel rather confident is solidly built at this point.

But what, if anything, should be added? Those previous things are necessary conditions for success, but are they sufficient? Again, I don't know for sure. But it's something I'm thinking about, and trying to work out for myself. I feel confident in my abilities as a barista. It's a skill set I'm passionate about and practiced in. But as a manager? I'm still quite new at that, and sometimes, I feel it. This, if it's not obvious enough, is one such time.


  1. I don't know how businessy you want to get, but you may think of promotional activities. For example, your competitor upstairs is sending out a newsletter with coupons in it, to retain their customers and promote new drinks. You may also survey why people go to the competitors (e.g., what's the difference between your clientele and theirs) and develop ways to counteract that. If your products are good enough then marketing may be the key.. (Although I do think that for a lot of people who are not picky about coffee the more convenient location of the other place makes them go there.)
    Reading your post reminds me that I should take business classes or educate myself some other way, as I do aim to become a self-employed artist..

    1. Things to consider, certainly. An email list is a bit too corporate for me, however. In the past, I've always found it tricky to convince people to hand over their emails. And in any case, Dave (the owner) doesn't do coupons, ever. I do agree that it's worth considering why people go elsewhere, however, and what can be done about that. If it's just location, well, that is what it is. But if it's more? Then there may be something to be done. As it stands, I am happy enough simply being better.

  2. In my past considerations to open a coffee shop "the basics", as you described them, were inherent. I was more concerned with the CULTURE of the shop, whiich is generated through a number of factors. I always considered WHO I would want to be the primary customers and tried to appeal to their interests through store aesthetics, promotional avenues, collaborations, etc. I know that's what attracts ME to certain coffee shops over others. I mean, I can go into Starbucks for a tolerable espresso drink and a friendly barista (no matter how forced by damocle's sword), but that's only a small part of why I frequent coffee shops. I'd rather go for the association and cultural connection to the shop. It is, for better or worse, an extension of my identity - which is why I avoid the sterile, corporate-wannabe starbucks-like shops and go more for the quirky, vegan-friendly, honest shops that hang good art, pay attention to detail and, if I lived in utopia, catered to my running/cycling interests.

    Ultimately, I view creating/selling the culture of a coffee shop as important as good drinks and friendly service.

    Then again, I've never completed the process of actually opening a I could be giving you disasterous advice! :)


    1. Man, a coffee shop that catered to endurance sports would be something like my ideal. We'd sell sweet potatoes with almond butter instead of pastries, and all would be right in my world.

      I do agree that the culture matters a great deal; I just don't think it's wholly separate from drink quality and the personality of the staff. To me, culture is more about the people you deal with than anything else. Still, further cultivation of the aesthetic is something I admittedly have not done, and probably should. The shop is very good, but I can't honestly say that it has a personality outside of who is staffing it at the time.

  3. I feel the same way sometimes as a small business owner. I have a web design business on the side (and love coffee), on top of living family life, being back in school, and working another full-time job as an engineer. I had to stop running/working out because of it all. I would love to be able to quit my day job and just focus on the side biz, but I've got a family . . . Since you do have a coffee blog, I did just buy a product online that I've been searching for, sugar-free coffee syrup / flavoring based on extract so it does not taste sugar free. I got the sampler of like 12 flavors, you should try it sometime if you love coffee (