Help your coffee shop stand out by developing a niche

The world of coffee has gained significant popularity over the past 10 years with consumers always on the hunt for a new café that will hit the spot when it comes to their coffee craving. But with so many coffee shops, products, and businesses popping up all over the place, it can be tough to find something that makes you stand out from the crowd. How do you stay relevant and front of mind when your customers have so many options?

Establishing a niche is really important in this regard, which is why we’ve put together a few things to help you find yours, along with examples of how others have found theirs.

But first… What exactly is a niche?

A niche is a specialised segment of a market for a particular product on service. In layman's terms, it’s when your product or service appeals to a certain target audience. There are many ways in which you can find a niche - it might be with the coffees you offer, the experience customers get when they visit your café, or how your source your products.

One of the mistakes a lot of businesses make when starting out is trying to make their products appeal to everyone, but often this has the opposite effect – in fact generating fewer customers, not more. When you try to sell to everyone, the message can become ‘we make generic products’, giving the impression of a lack of specificity, which could lead to the wrong interpretation about the quality you offer too. By falling into this ‘catch-all’ approach, you also risk having to compete with coffee giants who can charge lower prices and already have significant consumer loyalty. 

By contrast, when you have a niche, you become known for something special – which makes it easier to attract your target audience, creating a greater sense of customer satisfaction and, therefore loyalty – win-win.

Before you find your niche

Before you decide on a niche to explore, there are a few things key to consider to maximise your chances of success.

  1. Where you’re based - This is arguably the most important thing to consider, as with a coffee shop, your customer base is often restricted to the local area due to the lack of mobility a coffee shop brings. So it’s vital you understand what the community wants from you. For instance, if you’re operating in central London, your clientele might prefer a place where they can quickly grab a coffee and somewhere where they can work effectively. Alternatively, if you open in a small rural village, you might need less places for people to work from, instead opting to provide somewhere that people can bring their dogs in after muddy walks, have a catch up with friends and get a bite to eat. Understanding how your location can affect the success of your niche is imperative to know before opening your business.
  1. Clientele - This links into the point above, but you must consider who are you going to target with your coffee shop and whether the niche is big enough to give you a realistic chance of success. Could your niche attract clientele from further afield for example? What specific problem could you coffee shop solve for them?
  1. Product – Think about what you’re going to sell and how can you make this feel more unique than what others are offering. Almost every coffee shop in the world will offer your typical Americano, Latte and Cappuccino, so it’s important that you find ways to differentiate. Could you serve coffee preparations from abroad? Could you teach people how to grind their beans into coffee (Starbucks did this originally, although moved away from it as the business commercialised). Consider what unique experiences you can offer to help you stand out.

Examples of niches you could explore

  • Fair Trade - Although this often comes at a greater cost, making all your coffees with products that have been environmentally sourced/fair trade would not only be ethically positive but would help you stand out. With the modern consumer becoming more aware of the downsides of coffee production, making it known you source your products fairly is a great way to get customers through the door.
  • International brews - Why not consider serving international brews on top of your standard latte, americano and cappuccino to entice customers and to expand their horizons? Top tip – When selling these international brews, offer customers a free coffee swap if they don’t like it. Often people are worried about trying something new if it risks a monetary loss. By removing that risk, you make them far more comfortable with the decision.
  • Create an experience - Customers can walk into a plain old run of the mill coffee shop anywhere in the world. What experience can you offer that’s a little more exciting? Maybe the feeling that they are walking into an Australian beach café, or a Japanese Kissaten (a place that deviated from normal cafes in Japan as they became similar to western bars). This help you stand out and will certainly intrigue coffee enthusiasts!
  • Offer more than just coffee – Try giving people another reason to come into your business with great tasting coffee being the icing on the cake. You could sell vintage clothing, books, make your business available for people to have meetings in or even teach in. The world is your oyster here, and your shop can be about more than just coffee.

Successful coffee shop niches

Coffee shops, particularly across London, have gone far and wide with their ideas to stand out from their competitors. We’ve put together a few of our favourites to help inspire you - but bear in mind – when you’re located in big cities like London, as a few of these are - businesses can afford to target much smaller niches than you would be able to in a rural village as a result of their large population.

  1. Paper & CupLocated in London this café combines the love of coffee with a passion for reading. Operating as part café, part bookshop, they give people an incentive to spend longer periods of time in-house by offering books for them to read/buy while drinking. A very simple idea but one that makes them stand out from your average café all the same. If you’re operating in a quiet area, something similar to this could be an excellent idea for you.
  1. Amar caféThis is an excellent example of getting creative with your coffee shop. Using an old converted red telephone box that simply operates with a single coffee machine, Amar café has coined a simple yet utterly unique idea that’s bound to attract customers. There isn’t so much a target niche with this, but the experience of buying a coffee from a telephone box is a new and novel experience for many and is likely to be attractive, especially to tourists. For more on this, check out our blog on alternatives to traditional coffee shops to find out how you could open your own post box shop.
  1. The Gentlemen BaristasRunning since 2014, these guys have had time to perfect their niche. With their flagship shop just round the corner from the factory where the bowler hat was invented, they’ve made their space a place for people to meet and discuss new ideas - whether that on be on social issues or business. A coffee shop that inspires what they call ‘London’s modern-day visionaries’, they’ve chosen to target creative thinkers and business leaders, providing them with a suitable venue to meet. They also offer a barista school teaching students how to make the finest coffees, so provide value this way too.

 All of these cafes have found innovative ways to make their coffee brand stand out, proving there are many ways you can make your brand unique and pull in target audiences.

If you haven’t found your niche yet, don’t panic – it can take time – but once you do, you’ll be sure to have a loyal customer base who’ll choose you over your competitors time and time again.

What can Coffee Hit do for you?

If this has inspired you to follow your dreams of opening a coffee shop, or you’ve already got an established café in need of some TLC, we can help. We’ve got all the gear you need to take your coffee shop to the next level. Open a Trade Account to unlock up to 50% off RRP on industry-leading brands like Fellow, Baratza, Rhino, Brewista, Bonavita today.