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10 Ideas SCR Article

10 Easy Marketing Ideas for the Specialty Coffee Retailer (or, Marketing For The Retailer Who is Short on Time and Money)

by Kate LaPoint

This article is reprinted with permission, of Kate LaPoint, author, and Specialty Coffee Retailer, www.specialty-coffee.com


Any businessperson who has not read Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing should. It’s chock-full of ideas (perhaps overwhelmingly so) to promote one’s business. The reason I say everyone should read it is not because I think everyone should strive to be a marketing guerrilla, trying a new trick every day to get customers in the door. Rather, I think any book, seminar, article or advice that gives you one feasible idea for promoting your business is well worth the time spent.

What I hope you will get out of the time you spend reading this article is this: One idea that you can easily and inexpensively incorporate into your every day business that will help you increase profit. That is what marketing is, after all—any means by which you promote your company and/or product with the goal of increasing profit.


Quality product and customer service.

Absolutely the number one marketing tool you have is your ability to provide consistently outstanding product and customer service. Sherri Johns, president of WholeCup Coffee Consulting in Portland, Oregon, is staunch in this belief: “As a specialty coffee retailer, you must ask yourself this question: What genuine services am I providing for my customers and employees in this very competitive marketplace? Explore what providing good customer service and preparing great espresso drinks entails and go for it! Commit to providing only the best to every customer, every day. Also, think about what you can do for your employees to encourage their enthusiasm.”

Bruce Milletto, president of Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup, based in Eugene, Oregon, agrees and takes this challenge a step further by saying, “Unlike the specialty coffee market of ten years ago, today’s survival and profitability is often based on the ability to create a unique menu. Customers want more than just coffee and a day-old muffin wrapped in cellophane. Signature drinks and products that work with the theme of your cafe serve this purpose well.”


Drink specials.

Along with mainstay signature drinks, you should offer rotating “drink specials”. These can be changed daily, weekly or monthly or can revolve around seasons, holidays, sports or community events. Not feeling creative? Ask one of your baristas or even some of your customers to help come up with tasty recipes. Turn it into a contest where the customer with the best drink idea gets a free half-pound of coffee or a logo mug. The greatest advantage to any drink special is that it gets people to try something new—something that already has your “seal of approval” for taste on it. You’ll be amazed at how many of your customers will look forward to ordering the next “special” once they’ve tried one they like. Or maybe they’ll come away with a new favorite beverage! Be sure to actively promote your drink specials with verbal upselling and chalk or dry-erase menu boards.



People love value. They also love it when you take the guesswork out of their daily order. Face it—if it makes life easier, it’s probably going to sell. That’s where bundling—the idea behind the McDonald’s Extra Value Meal—comes in. The concept is simple: Take two complementary items, say, a French vanilla latte and a blueberry scone. Sell them together as a “Good Morning, Sunshine! Special” for 25 to 50 cents less than the customer would pay for them separately. Make sure you feature the special, along with its price, prominently at the counter. Bundling works for retail items as well as in-store consumables. Show customers the many uses for syrups at home by selling a small book of recipes, a package of gourmet pancake mix and a bottle of syrup as a “Weekender’s Brunch” package.


Vendor partnering.

Tap into this little-used resource immediately! Suzanne J. Brown, senior marketing consultant for Hope-Beckham Public Relations in Atlanta, Georgia, says, “If I owned a specialty coffee store, I would first contact my vendors, such as syrup companies, bakeries and confectioners, coffee roasters and tea companies for free marketing ideas, collateral materials and possibly even cooperative promotion money. In this extremely competitive environment, vendors should be more than willing to do what is necessary to maintain customer satisfaction.”


Punch cards and business cards.

Punch cards are a no-brainer way to encourage repeat business and to reward your customers for coming back. Every coffee shop should offer punch cards in one form or another. An offshoot of the punch card is the business card. Give your baristas a stack of generic cards for your business that they can carry around with them. If they’re out and about and meet someone who has never been into your shop before, they can give them a business card as a voucher for “buy one, get one free” as incentive to visit your shop. Then the quality of your product and customer service will do the rest to ensure those people become long-term customers. David Heilbrunn, vice president and show manager of Coffee Fest, agrees: “I think that beverage quality is paramount. When a customer comes into a new shop the first time, it’s the retailer’s one and only chance to turn that sale into repeat business. If the retailer puts a beverage into that customer’s hand that is clearly superior, there is a good chance that they will return on a regular basis.”



Mix up a batch of your newest signature beverage or daily special and hand out one-ounce samples to everyone who walks in the door. Sample actively and always use suggestive selling. Sampling can be done with coffees, syrups, pastries and other food items, especially if they are new or you are considering adding them to your menu. Customers usually love trying something new (especially if it’s free) and will be happy to share their opinion on the taste of each product. Suggestive selling works wonders in conjunction with sampling. Say a customer tries a sample of your signature “Caramel-Hazelnut Latte”. You say, “Oh, you should try that with our Dolce de Leche cheesecake. It’s to die for!” Share what you really like—customers will get much more excited about a product if they see the person behind the counter is excited.



Themes make catchy displays a snap. For example, in the fall you can use the “back-to-school” theme by incorporating “studious” sounding beverages (such as A is for Apple latte) and by decorating a small area of your store—perhaps a shelf or a window—with some books, pencils, apples, magnetic letters, and so on. Be sure to include a few of your retail items such as bags of coffee, mugs, individually wrapped biscotti and bottles of syrup to attract impulse buys! Holidays and seasons are some of the best building blocks for themes—use your imagination, but keep it simple. Gift baskets are another great way to display, and sell, products such as syrups, logo mugs, whole bean coffees and other coffee-related goodies.


Market to your neighbors.

This is a favorite idea of Bruce Milletto: “If your business is located in a shopping district, a mall or a city center, get to know the other businesses around you. Take a few moments a week to personally connect with fellow business owners and to tell them about your business. Offer coupons or punch cards that will identify them as "friends" of your business. Maybe this card offers a 10% discount each time they purchase a beverage. It’s important to remember that these people are within arm’s reach of your business and have the potential to be your best regular customers.”

Another great idea that concerns marketing with your neighbors is to provide “buy one, get one free” tickets (this may be “purchase a pastry and get a free small coffee” offer, for example) to local businesses whose customers need to wait for service. For example, if there is an auto service shop around the corner from you, what better way for their customers to spend the hour it may take to get their oil changed than to grab a coffee and a goodie? It is good customer service on the part of the lube shop and is a great way to introduce new customers to your own business.


Thank-you notes.

“When was the last time you mailed a handwritten thank-you note to one of your customers?” asks David Heilbrunn. “When I was a retailer, I would send a handwritten thank-you note to my top five sales daily. Some days that may have been a $10 sale, but how powerful for a valued customer to be thanked for something so seemingly small.” This idea can also be transferred to new customers. Put a fishbowl on your counter to collect the business cards or names and numbers of new customers. For the customers who do not have business cards, provide a small form on which they can jot down their name, address and e-mail address. You may also use this information later for newsletters, seasonal promotions and so forth.



A brief, one- or two-page in-store newsletter or a one-page e-newsletter once a month not only keeps your business’ name visible, but it allows you yet another venue by which to sell your quality product and exercise your great customer service. “Newsletters really do work!” says Ken Smith, writer and editor of Specialty Newsletters.com, Inc. “They can be done very inexpensively, with just the cost of photocopying onto some decent paper and your (or an employee’s) time. A newsletter can reach a whole range of potential customers—good newsletters end up on staff bulletin boards, in office lunch rooms, and in doctors’ reception areas.”

Always include a coupon or “limited time” offer in your newsletters to encourage extra business and, as Suzanne Brown says, “Don’t be afraid to give away recipes, suggestions and party ideas… people appreciate a personal touch and are motivated to re-visit your store.” She also points out: “Through newsletters, you can do the unexpected, such as invite customers in on a Saturday for a massage. You could partner with a local spa or massage school for this. Just offer a mini-massage, such as head, neck, upper back, hands, feet. I can’t think of anything better than to kick back, sip on a frozen tropical flavored granita and have my feet massaged.”

Your challenge is to take at least one of the above ideas that you do not already use in your business and try it out. Remember to use your staff during marketing brainstorming sessions, since your baristas should know what your customers like or what might be missing. Now, go to it and have fun!


Kate LaPoint is owner of Seattle-based To The Point Business Imaging, a company specializing in marketing, public relations, writing and editing for companies in the specialty coffee industry. She can be reached at 206.418.9958 or at katel@tothepointbi.com.

Reprinted with Permission of Kate LaPoint and Specialty Coffee Retailer Magazine, www.specialty-coffee.com


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