Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
The UK’s independent cafés have faced numerous challenges in 2020, from the temporary closure of the hospitality sector earlier this year to the continued uncertainty that’s being caused by local lockdowns across the country. In this new and ever-changing environment, many businesses have struggled, but others have adapted to the changes with innovative ideas and a commitment to their customers.
Speciality Food spoke to Jeffrey Young, UK Coffee Week founder and CEO of World Coffee Portal, to discover some of the best ways that cafés and independent retailers can adapt to survive the coronavirus crisis.
For more essential insights into the industry, download the latest issue of Café Buyer here.
Engage with your customers
One of the best advantages that small, independent shops have over larger chains is their ability to engage with customers on an emotional level and accommodate their needs. “Draw from local customers, listen to local customers,” Jeffrey suggests.
“Whether it’s products, whether it’s opening hours, whatever it is, ask your customers and communicate with them and they will appreciate you and they’ll be ultra loyal.” At the same time, shop owners should remember that customers are also going through an uncertain time, with some having lost their jobs or had their health at risk. “Don’t be too pushy with customers. I think the sense of empathy that we’re all together is really important.”
And if you have fewer customers than usual? Jeffrey says you should work to get to know them even better. “If you’ve got a good business and you’ve had loyal customers, they will support you provided you really do keep your nerve and provide that awesome service to the customer.”
Back to basics
Ensuring that you keep your high standards in place is essential. “Coffee quality, food quality – you just cannot be loose at this stage with standards that you deliver.” Many customers expect to pay a bit more at local shops, and with incomes squeezed, the money they spend there is likely a bigger part of their discretionary income than previously.
“It’s back to basics,” Jeffrey says. “Make sure [you give] your customers no reason to go elsewhere.” Deals for loyal customers, such as loyalty cards, are also an important way to show customers that you value their business.
Diversify your business
“We’re not going to be out of this at least until the spring of next year,” Jeffrey says. “In terms of any kind of perceived normalcy, or even new normalcy, there’s a lot of uncertainty.” With the structural changes occurring in our cities and workplaces, plus the anxiety felt among consumers, local shops must embrace new ways of working.
Could you offer a takeaway or delivery service? While home coffee is booming, could you grind coffee so that customers could take their favourite brews home in bags? Considering these options can help small businesses adapt to a tough trading environment – especially in areas where local lockdowns are hitting footfall.
Again, it comes down to connecting with your customers and meeting their needs. “There are some businesses that have turned themselves into a bit more of a pantry.” Shops that have access to wholesale products can offer groceries for local customers, for instance. “Is there a way to get your customers to take a quiche home for dinner tonight?”
Boost your local credentials
Businesses can also ensure they’re connecting with their customers on a deeper level by being active in their community.
“You’ll draw those customers in who care about community, and most do at this moment, we have research that shows that people are even more inclined to go for the locals than large, global chains,” Jeffrey says. In fact, a survey by Allegra World Coffee Portal published in August found that UK cafés were more popular than pubs, bars and restaurants, with 55% of respondents saying they had visited a café or coffee shop after the national lockdown eased in July, compared to 28% of respondents for pubs.
‘If you can get involved in community activities that strengthen your local credentials and strengthen your relationships in the community, it’ll come back to you,” Jeffrey says.
Stay connected and receive the latest news, analysis and insights from our industry's top commentators