Start a Small Coffee Business With Less Money
Starting a coffee shop can be expensive. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a pricey business to enter.
Let’s get back to basics of serving coffee.
Having a small coffee business can simply mean brewing a pot of coffee and serving it in a cup to anyone willing to pay. Thousands of smaller coffee entrepreneurs do this every day – every single day!
So, let’s start there.
What does it take to serve coffee?
You need just a few basic things: water, coffee, and some type of brewer. This is bare bones, but you already know this. Most likely we do it every day at home in our kitchen.
What I want to do, however, is remind you that starting a coffee shop business doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or some unattainable dream.
I want to emphasize that where you start, isn’t going to be where you end up. The important thing is just start… just start wherever you are.
These are two critical points that we should allow to sink in our thought-process:
- It doesn’t have to be complicated to start a small coffee business.
- Where or how we start our coffee business, isn’t going to be where we end up.
Still, I do understand that we might want to be a little more sophisticated than serving coffee from a glass globe. I get it.
Remember, where you start, is not where you will end up. But you have to start!
But allowing ourselves to back up to “square one” will help to clear our mental slate and redefine what it means to start a small coffee business that works for us… right now… in the beginning… positioning us to grow into the coffee business we’ve always dreamed we would have. Remember, where you start, is not where you will end up. But you have to start!
So, for now, let us think big, but start small. Let's talk about the strategies next.
Strategy 1: Piggy Back on an Existing Business
Many of the coffee businesses outlined below piggy back on existing businesses. Creating a symbiotic relationship where both businesses (your business and another business) can help lower your barrier to entry as well as generate a much needed boost in customers and revenue for the other business involved as well.
Benefits to piggybacking on an existing business:
Lower rent – by taking up existing open space that isn’t being used by a business, you can negotiate a lower rent, even possibly avoid a security deposit.
Built-in customer base – depending on the business and the location, you might have an existing customer base that can guarantee you a particular flow of customers.
Lower overall costs – If an existing can reduce your overall startup costs and monthly operational costs (fixed and variable), then setting up your coffee business can be easier.
Here are some piggy back opportunities for a coffee business:
A Coffee Business and a Used-Book Store
Today, many independent book stores are struggling in some parts of the country. Adding a side coffee business can generate the caffeine-fueled jolt it needs to bring in customers.
- Find a used-book store in your area
- Visit and see if the location is a right fit
- If the location is right and your customer base can support your business, approach them with the idea
A Coffee Cart and Independent Art Gallery
Having a catering-type coffee business that you can bring into an art gallery while they are having a show or exhibition. This idea makes a lot of sense. Most visitors in an art gallery usually have the discretionary funds to spend on a cup of coffee while browsing.
In addition, while they may consider large sums of money on your available art work they may feel compelled to buy something to “soothe” that buying itch. Providing a delicious cup of coffee will also provide a greater more pleasurable experience for your customers.
- Make a list of independent galleries in your area.
- Visit them and see if you can start a small coffee business concept.
- Attend an event
- Talk with the owner
- Create a business plan
A Coffee Business and a Music Shop
These days, anyone can buy music online. But to those customers who want the experience of going to a music store, listening to music, discuss music with staff, they get something that they could never fully get online: a real-life experience.
Offering a “full” sensory experience of coffee or related drinks can add to this. Offering espresso-based coffee drinks at a music store can increase daily sales, offer a new revenue stream, but also propel visitors to stay longer.
- Visit local music stores
- Determine if you like the space and if a coffee business would work
- If so, spend a little time and determine if the area has enough traffic to sustain your business
- Approach the owner of the business and see if would be interested in subleasing a space
A Coffee Business and a Newspaper Stand
A magazine stand brings in customers who want to buy information “on the go”. Why not add a coffee to go with that newspaper or magazine? As magazine and newspapers subscriptions struggle to stay afloat, so do many retail newspaper and magazine stands. Adding the availability of your coffee business can increase sales, attract new customers, and provide a greater, fuller experience for existing customers.
- Visit local newspaper stands in your city
- Traffic is essential. Consider the foot/vehicle traffic before moving forward
- Consider the space involved and your needs to deliver coffee
- Approach the owner and ask if he/she would be interested
A Coffee Business and a Flower Shop
Flower shops get slammed around the holidays or special days out of the year. Offering another revenue stream that attracts customers throughout the entire year can increase their daily sales and pique greater interest in the core flower business. Being associated with a flower shop can provide you with a stream of customers, and perhaps assistance with their advertising campaigns, etc.
- Visit local and independent flower shops in your area
- Determine which ones will fit with your business concept
- Look it they have the available space
- Approach the owner and see if your concept will make a good fit
A Coffee Business and Hair Salon
Have you ever walked into a hair salon to see a half-dozen people staring blankly at a magazine waiting to get their hair done? Why not offer a way to increase sales by selling them coffee? Not only will you completely change the ambiance of hair salon, but you can gain access to a daily stream of people and customers who want coffee as they wait.
You will want to be able to serve the hair salon’s customers, but you will also want to attract passerby customers too.
- Consider looking at independent hair salons
- If you find one you like, consider the traffic in the area
- Review local zoning laws and health department regulations
- Approach the owner and determine whether you and your business will make a good fit
- Submit a business proposal
A Coffee Business and a Laundromat
If you have ever been to a laundromat, you’ll know why opening a coffee business near or inside one makes sense. Depending on the layout of the specific laundromat, you might be able to open up a small business in one of the corners of the store.
However, positioning a kiosk just outside the laundromat would be beneficial as well. If it is a particularly busy laundry location, setting up a coffee stand near or inside a laundry mat can give you a steady stream of customers throughout the day. Of course, you will want
- Review local zoning and health department regulations
- Visit local laundromat locations in your area
- Determine if the space and general location fits within your business concept
- Approach the owner and see if he/she would be interested in your business proposal
A Coffee Business and Shared-Workspace
Shared work spaces are often wonderful places for people to work in today’s economy. Clients can work and hold meetings at shared workspaces. A coffee stand within a shared workspace. This symbiotic relationship can help your coffee business as well as make the work day appealing to people who use the workspace.
- Visit any shared workspaces in your city
- Determine if they have the space and customer base for your coffee business
- See if they would be willing to have your coffee business
- Write a business proposal and approach them
A Coffee Business and Independent Boutique
There are many small and independent boutiques that offer clothing, art, crafts, and other products that are appealing to shoppers. Adding the availability of a coffee and espresso machine can improve their overall experience. Depending on the traffic and location, a well-placed coffee business can do very well in such settings, improving sales for the boutique as well as generating a steady flow of happy shoppers to your coffee business.
- Visit several independent boutiques
- Like the other businesses, determine whether any of them would make a good fit
- Check with local zoning and health laws
- Approach the owners and see if they would be willing to look at a business proposal
Strategy 2: Farmer’s Markets
Sometimes dipping your toes in a business idea makes better sense. First, it gives you the opportunity to see if “starting a coffee business” is what you really want to do (this could also include a coffee roasting business).
One of the low cost and low barrier ways to do this is through your local farmer markets.
Whether you are an amateur coffee roaster and wish to dip your hand in serving coffee from other coffee roasters or you want to be a multi-roaster re-seller, starting a small coffee business selling coffee, offering a steamy cup of java on weekend mornings at your local farmer’s markets can be an appealing and low cost way to start a small coffee business.
If this is appealing for you consider:
- Look up farmers markets in your community (you might have several)
- Determine what kind of coffee business you will want to start
- Visit the “farmer's markets” website and get on their list of vendors
- Get the needed coffee equipment (depends on the venue for the farmers market)
- Start selling coffee!
Strategy 3: Start an Online Coffee Business
One of the lowest barriers to start a small coffee business is to open up your coffee shop online. Starting an online coffee shop or online coffee business can be an excellent way to get started in the retail coffee sphere.
The obvious benefits is that starting your online coffee business can give you time to develop your branding, your coffee expertise, as well as your customer base. If money is a huge barrier for you in starting your coffee business, an online coffee business can open the door wide-open for you to get started with a small but modest investment.
We’ve written extensively on starting an online coffee business here.
Strategy 4: Start a Mobile Coffee Shop
Starting a mobile coffee cart or coffee truck is a low-cost way of breaking into the retail coffee industry.
There are some costs, such as the cost of the truck or cart and coffee equipment. Additionally, you will have to spend money on retrofitting the equipment.
However, starting a coffee truck or a mobile coffee cart can significant reduce your costs when compared to opening up a full-fledged coffee bar, but as we just mentioned, it can still cost you money. So if you are thinking about starting a mobile coffee shop, you will still have to do your research and planning.
Despite it being a small coffee business, you should consider knowing all you can about the retail coffee industry. Your research and planning will help you to avoid big, monetary mistakes. And reduce your startup costs overall.
Strategy 5: Start a Coffee Drive-Thru Stand
Starting a coffee drive-thru stand is an excellent way to reduce your costs. Depending on the type of coffee stand it is you may also be able to move into a location that is right for you (and your customers).
A coffee drive-thru stand can also be significant in costs, but like a mobile coffee truck, can be considerably less than a full-fledged coffee shop or coffee bar. This is in large part due to the potential build-out, monthly lease, insurance premiums, and less equipment. We've spent a lot of time and effort here at Coffee Shop Startups, discussing how to start a drive-thru stand.
What You Need For Each Of These Ideas:
- You need to create a business plan
- You need to have a budget established before moving forward
- Consider local business zoning laws
- You should consider the amount of foot or vehicular traffic at each location
30 Great Tips to Start Your Coffee Shop!
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