Independent coffee shops will always be competing with chains. It's inevitable. Independent coffee shops consistently do better than chains because they have more freedom. A chain has to go all the way up the corporate ladder before something can change, whereas smaller coffee shops have a lot more flexibility.
There's always room for growth, however. Here's a list of seven things you can do to get ahead of big chains.
How Your Coffee Shop Can Compete With Chains
1. Be Consistent
One thing chains are good at is consistency. Every cup of coffee you get at Dunkin Donuts will taste the same. This is easy to do at chains but more difficult with independent coffee shops. The way you can combat inconsistency is by spending more time training your baristas. If they all have the same process of making a latte, every latte will taste the same. If you want to learn more about coffee brewing methods, read this article.
2. Be Visible
Another thing chains have an advantage with is their visibility. You see their logos everywhere and it reminds you of their store. Independent coffee shops can do this too! You have to be visible both physically and digitally, meaning your social media needs to be seen as much as your physical signage. Start first by creating cohesive social media accounts (read more about how to do that here), then promote those accounts to build your audience and drive traffic to your coffee shop. To learn more about advertising on social media, read this post.
Being visible isn't all advertising and signage, it's also customer recognition. According to Business Insider, the average customer needs to have seven contacts with your branding before they're willing to give you their business. If the only places they're seeing you are in signage or online ads, it may take a while for them to be exposed to you. A great way to get more opportunities for exposure is by branding your cups. Having your logo on your cups is free advertising. When your customers carry around your cups, it gives more exposure to your brand.
3. Quality Over Quantity
Chains may have the resources to try new products frequently, but independent coffee shops have more opportunities to perfect their menu items. Making small batches of coffee and really putting your heart into your recipes makes a big difference. Having some funky, seasonal drink options is a good idea but don't spread yourself too thin. Your menu should allow your good coffee to shine through.
Customer loyalty is an important part of any coffee shop. According to HubSpot, returning customers spend 67% more on average than new customers. Creating a customer loyalty program is simpler than it seems. Here's an article that discusses the importance of customer loyalty and how you can build it.
5. Go Local
One major way independent coffee shops can compete with chains is by supporting local organizations. Take part in fundraisers for local schools, support local charities, or allow local musicians to play in your coffee shop. This will make you a part of the community in a different, more personal way.
Another way you can support your community is by sourcing products locally. Not only is this helping the local economy, it's keeping your products fresh. Chains that sell pastries have a few days in between them being made and served. The benefit of shopping local is you don't have to wait that long to serve them: they're still fresh.
6. Have Values
Customers appreciate companies with values. If your values are prominently displayed, it allows your customers to see you more personally. This is only the case if you live by your values. If you value transparency, don't hide prices on your menu. If you value sustainability, try using eco-friendly products like these, rather than single-use plastic.
As an independent coffee shop, it's easier to compete with chains than you may think. Chains don't have the flexibility of independently-owned coffee shops. They also don't have the personal factor. Having the ability to show your customers you make better coffee and can give them a better experience allows them to see why they should skip the chain and go to your coffee shop instead.