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Many individuals, not necessarily entrepreneurs, dream of owning their own coffee shop. There is an attractive component to the idea. In my career, I have encountered many people who are excited just by the thought of the possibility. Not surprisingly, I have also come across some with good savings, family money or disposable income who decide to make that dream a reality. The hard truth tends to surface months after most of the investment has already been injected into the project.
When you consider this investment, you realize that it is common these days for brands to be judged by their online presence and following. Potential customers primarily notice what the business wants them to see through social media and what their influencers choose to promote. Since decor and ambiance influence first impressions, the most “Instagrammable” coffee shops are often added to many must-visit lists. As with many cafe startups in the UAE, it seems somewhat justifiable for business owners to have that tendency to splurge on interior design and branding.
But at what cost?
Starting the social media buzz before opening a business is always a good idea, but know that overnight success is a myth. Many new owners tend to have a false sense of security and are prone to slacking off if they notice that their establishment is thriving during the first few months. Customers are curious enough to play on the buzz of a new coffee shop with at least one visit, and they’ll come with high expectations, so be prepared to follow hard and keep in mind that buzz is short-lived.
Related: The Business of Harnessing the Power of Social Media
The clock officially starts when a customer walks through the establishment’s doors for the first time. An instant success means that a customer leaves impressed with their experience and is inclined to return. Conversely, if their overall experience is less than satisfactory, there is a higher probability of their negative feedback spreading.
Our research into cafe and restaurant trends in the UAE in 2019 found that only one in 12 people would post about their positive experiences online without being encouraged by the establishment. However, a dissatisfied customer would talk about their negative experience with an average of eight people. We also found that one in three people would post about their negative experiences online. A staggering 82% of customers will not return to a cafe or restaurant if they experience erratic customer service or inconsistent food and beverage quality.
Related: How to open a restaurant
With all this in mind, it seems prudent for your launch to include some vigilant and progressive strategies. In a market that can be perceived as oversaturated, we have witnessed the hardships and deaths of many enthusiastic entrepreneurs who underestimated the requirements of opening and maintaining a coffee shop in the UAE.
Here are five common mistakes I’ve seen firsthand and some thoughts to consider before you start your journey.
1. Overestimating your location
When considering the investment to open a coffee shop, it’s safe to assume you’ve done your due diligence and calculated the costs and returns based on your location. But pay attention to all the tangible aspects of the property such as visibility, foot traffic, customer parking, ambient noise, local clientele and local competition. If there are many similar establishments nearby, how are they performing throughout the day and how will you stand out in your particular location? Additionally, consider your space limitations and future neighborhood developments.
Overestimating revenue in part due to the wrong location for your niche brand can be a costly mistake in terms of time and money.
2. Blatant carbon copy strategy
Customers are apparently tired of constant copies of interior design, in many cases here, exact copies of menus and styles of dishes. The aesthetic elements of successful institutions are often copied. This practice will, without limitation, have your clients directly comparing you to your role models.
When it comes to the overall design of your space, start with your front menu. This approach helps you plan equipment and exact space requirements – including kitchen and behind-the-bar workflow. You’ll quickly discover that the menu is more important to your space than aesthetics.
Find your niche and create credibility through your offering or individuality by ensuring the highly efficient workflow structure of your space.
3. Neglecting your staff
Considering that customer service is at the heart of hospitality, it’s surprising how often the “wrong” staff are in customer-facing roles. Needing to bring their ‘A’ game every shift, many staff are simply not cut out for hospitality and your customers will notice. Many employers favor quantity over quantity by hiring substandard staff at lower wages rather than attracting highly competent and efficient staff with a better salary offer.
Provide a comprehensive HR plan and aim to hire the right people. Personality wins repeat customers in the hospitality business. A natural willingness to learn, coupled with core competencies, will ensure your staff steers your business in the right direction.
4. Selection of inadequate suppliers
As an owner, you should involve yourself in the supplier selection process and before formalizing any commitment, get real testimonials and references. There is nothing worse than running out of stock, late deliveries or receiving poor quality ingredients when you are trying to run your business. Cheaper options tend to be just that for a reason. A mistake in your supplier’s quality control means your business reputation suffers. This buying strategy is not the most sustainable option.
Be aware that side deals or rushes are one thing. Not only can certain suppliers influence the selection process, but many also have their own ways of deliberately increasing order frequency. Being actively involved in the UAE coffee shop industry for over a decade, I have often witnessed such unethical practices.
Work with suppliers who have achieved their integrity through experience and reputation. Identify individual representatives who want to understand your business and have your best interests at heart. These suppliers exist.
5. Early inconsistencies
You can limit day-to-day inconsistencies with the right leadership and appointed teams and by ensuring strict policies through detailed operating procedures and regular training. Well appointed management should ensure that checklists and detailed prescriptions are accessible and diligently followed by all staff.
Customer incidents should be recorded and included in daily discussions with the team. Through regular open communication and team encouragement, any shortcoming can be a powerful training tool. Keep your team happy and motivated and remember that superior customer service, product quality and consistency will leave less room for failure.
Related: 18 brutal business failures from wildly successful entrepreneurs
An owner’s involvement in their business is an irreplaceable personal touch. Many customers feel a sense of belonging and appreciate the spirit of a cafe with a current and active owner. It is imperative to understand your day-to-day operations and engage with your early customers to build rapport. Build your customers to learn what sells and what doesn’t.
Be aware of your competition while being ready to evolve and innovate. Adding new menu items or replacing non-selling items keeps things fresh and exciting for your guests. After all, you have detailed measures in place to ensure that your business will execute and deliver consistently from day one.
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