Coffee Shops: Why Should I bother With Yours?

Has the UK reached its coffee shop saturation point? Has the coffee bubble finally burst? We don’t think so, but what we do know is that it’s no longer just enough to serve coffee, you need to serve coffee and survive. And survival is in the detail. Offering something more in your service and creating social spaces that connect with your customer, is becoming more important than ever. Ahead of our first time exhibiting at the Cafe Culture Show, we look at how coffee retailers can stand out from the crowd and ask, Coffee Shops: Why Should I bother With Yours?

Do you remember when spying a Starbucks made you feel a sense of relief? Like no matter how bad things seemed, everything was going to be ok. No? Maybe it’s just me then: your average city boy with admittedly mediocre tastes. I’ve always travelled a lot and I’ve always lived in the city. So for some reason, travelling out of town and happening upon a Starbucks or similar type coffee outfit, always made me feel safer – and even more smug.

Ironically, it had nothing to do with the coffee itself. Even the most basic of coffee aficionados recognise that there’s a ‘big brand’ race to the bottom of quality beanage. However the familiarity was something comforting and noticeable. Nowadays, whilst 16 pubs on our high street are closing every week, it seems another Costa is opening in its place. So you really don’t have to travel that far to find one. Today, coming across a chain coffee shop is like, meh, whatever.

The Growth of UK coffee shops

10 years ago, there were fewer than 10,000 places to buy coffee in the UK. Less than a third of those belonged to big chains like Starbucks, Nero and Costa. By the end of last year, there were more than 22,000 coffee shops, with branded outlets literally doubling in number.

So if coffee is here to stay, how do smaller retailers and indie brewers compete? In many ways, it’s easier than you think – by going back to the basics of quality and service, you’re untouchable.


Despite the fact that just 3 of the UK’s top coffee chains account for nearly 53% of the entire UK market, even they recognise the power of the underdog.

Small independent artisan coffee houses were at the forefront of capturing the nation’s imagination and building the market. They paved the way for quality, service and craftsmanship. Artisanal coffee shops were early adopters of the importance of theatre to their business model. They made coffee an art and then involved its audience in the play of it. But today the chains, are once again hot on their heels. Consider this quote from Jason Cotta, MD for Costa UK.

“The artisan scene that developed in the mid-2000s has become widespread in the UK.  The market is now entering a new era of exceptional professionalism and paves the way for European coffee shop development. Dubbed the ‘5th Wave, The Business of Coffee’, this era sees high-quality chains adopting more advanced business practices to deliver boutique concepts at scale.”

Offering something Different and Unique

Today, the big question is where can’t you buy coffee? Everyone from fast-food to bakeries, to supermarkets to barber shops are selling it. There’s even a car wash down the end of our street with an expensive looking coffee machine and branded take away coffee cups.  Then there’s the chains disguising themselves as indies. The competition between independent shops as well as between and the majors, is evident and real. Offering something that’s unique and different, is essential and important. But not impossible.

Market researchers the NPD Group, suggests the added pressure in the market should be focussing the mind of anyone who sells coffee. Cyril Lavenant, its Foodservice Director says

“You need to be different. You need to stand out from the crowd, make consumers feel like yours place is the place to go, as frequently as possible.”

Not long ago we reviewed East London coffee shop cum bike shop – Look Mum No Hands. They recognised the need to create a destination that inspired beyond the coffee cup. The fact is, millennials are less loyal to brands than they are to a company that offers them meaning and chimes with their beliefs. We’ve all heard of the new hip phrase on the block, experiential retail but it’s true. Offering quality at a good a price, gets you in the front door. Offering an experience and a personal connection, with the product, with the maker (retailer) and fellow customers within that environment.

Lavenant goes even further to suggest that the coffee shop/cafe offering better food, or a better atmosphere, or even trendy new alternatives such as specialist waters, may end up getting the upper hand.

Creating a Hub, Creating Connection

WBC retail supplies for coffee shops

  1. Create an Experience
    Ask yourself where do you generally feel most comfortable? For many of us, it’s our own home. Why’s that? Probably because it has the kind of soul and comfortability that a hotel doesn’t. So when you’re thinking about your own coffee shop, try and tap into this. Build a home and add a bit of theatre into your space. If espresso shots are like taking medicine in the morning, why not build an espresso shot station using modular display systems like BRIX that can be easily moved within your store; even outside. Know your audience and understand your demographic. Be open when your customer goes to work. Then innovate and find ways to attract them back on their way home. Swedish coffee shop, Mala Kaffe in Margate is set to serve up coffee-based alcoholic drinks like espresso martinis and Irish coffees from 6-11pm. Think outside the box and you’ll stand out.
  2. Create a Connection
    In our Retail Trends for 2018 , Eve Reid writes “Consumers are increasingly looking to retailers to offer them a lifestyle and identity, to give them something to believe in which they can become part of. A true connection. Use store signage and ticketing, printed bags for life and fantastic branding to make this connection visible. Educate your customer about you AND your product. Oh and if you’re still rocking the old plastic straws and stirrers, it might be time to move to more ecologically friendly alternatives. Today’s consumer are watching you carefully and connecting with those businesses that are conscious about their footprint. Once you tap into this, you’ll gain a loyal drinker for life.
  3. Create a Place of Excellence
    It’s true that more and more of us might be buying online now, but we’re still going out for coffee. In the experiential retail market, coffee shops are perfectly poised to take advantage of this. While Coca-Cola is buying Costa and trying to keep its share holders happy, you as “artisanal craftmakers” should be offering drinks made with more sophisticated equipment, from more expensive ingredients with an atmosphere to match. From flat whites to the current poster child – cold brew, people now understand the difference between a really great coffee and a substandard one. And most importantly, they want to align and identify with the quality of the product and the ethos behind the former. So don’t be fooled into cutting corners.
  4. Create a Better Service
    At the end of the day, if there’s one thing that will make me bother with your particular coffee shop, it’s your service. Quality of service could be improved across the board at any food and drink outlet but particularly in the UK, where our service style is somewhat more relaxed than our US counterparts. Relaxed does not mean sloppy, uncaring or worse, pretentious. A genuine passion for serving people and connecting with them should be on the agenda of all staff training. The perfect daily grind says it best:”Being the pretentious barista that scoffs at anyone who doesn’t absolutely love your obscure single-origin is easy, but it also leads to inevitable frustration. You might have cried out at some point in your life, “Why don’t these people drink coffee the way I want them to drink it?!” Well, part of the answer is your relationship with them. Coffee is still a specialist art, be sure your service staff are tearing down walls, not building them.

The one stop shop for better cafe retailing

WBC has a range of retail supplies and furniture for cafes and the specialist coffee market including some the sectors below. If you’re just starting out with your own pop up shop, or more a permanent brix and mortar and would like some help and advice, give our team a call. From display ideas to point of sale, we have you covered.

Store Signage & Ticketing SHOP NOW

Retail Furniture SHOP NOW

Counter top Display SHOP NOW

Aprons – SHOP NOW

Bags for Life – SHOP NOW

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