Getting more people in the door and buying. An age old discussion and I need some ideas!

Hey all,

I work in a fairly well known shop, and I need ideas. 

I'm trying to get the door swinging more.  It's essential that I not only increase foot traffic, but also cross/upselling.

I want to hear about what works or doesn't work in an indie shop in a large city.

Things we've done so far to minimize expenses:
*lowered COGS in all catagories
*raised all prices to compete with local shops
*decreased vendor costs in all areas
*decreased labor to bare bones coverage

The recession is hitting us hard all of a sudden, and it's a matter of folks coming in.  We have a VERY limited marketing budget, so I'm looking for cheap, fun, guerilla marketing ideas.

How do you get your shop's name out?  Do you utilize coupons or give aways?  What brings people in?

Thank you for reading and contributing!  I'm looking forward to hearing everyone's ideas!!

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I my opinion marketing is mostly a waste of time and money. Everything is based on the relationship you build with your staff and your customers. If your customers have a fantastic experience everytime they go to your shop then they will continue to return and tell their friends to check it out. If the experience in the shop is poor then no amount of give aways will make people want to return. Some questions to ask yourself: Are my baristas friendly, all day every day? Do they say thank you when the customer picks up their drink? Is the service fast and accurate? Is my cafe clean? Do you know where your customers come from? Where they work? Do your baristas remember your customers names? Their drinks? Is your turn over so high that customers never have a chance to get to know anyone behind the counter? Have you decreased the cost of goods so much that you have poor quality items? Just some questions.
This is such a general issue that it is hard to figure out where to start without knowing your particular situation. Since you have already focused on cutting costs, perhaps you should now look at increasing revenue. Here are some thoughts:

1. Do people who live within 5 miles or work within 1 mile of your shop know you exist? If not, make sure they do. In residential areas, see if you can drop a leaflet by every household. In commercial area, see if you can visit every office/business and talk to the management. Spend at least one hour every day doing just that.

2. If people know you exist and choose not to come in, find out why. Look within your organization for clues. Are your customers' experience in your shop a pleasant one? Ask a couple of people who left you, not your current customers. You say, "raised all prices to compete with local shops." I am not sure what that really means. Is raising prices in the middle of a recession the right move?
Have you thought about hosting group meetings? Reaching out to church groups, book clubs, etc. can help bring people in the door. When I worked as a barista at Starbucks I would regularly host coffee tastings and educate people on the different flavors found in coffee as well as match coffee with different foods. Most people bought something before they left.

How are you handling upselling? Can each of your baristas suggest their favorite pastry? Do they recommend pastries that match well with each drink? Do they upsell with each customer? I don't know what your price structure is, but I found that it was easy to upsell blended drinks from 16 oz to 24 oz by saying,"you get 50% more for only 50 cents more".

Does your store have a gift card/certificate system? If so you might think about approaching local businesses and offering to sell them a number of cards at a reduced price (i.e. $100 in $5 gift cards for $90). Your sales pitch could focus on helping them reward their employees with a low cost option. Typically, people either do not use all the money on the card or they end up spending more.

Marketing is never a waste of money if you are using the appropriate type. A newspaper ad might not be the best use of your money. But printing flyers to hand out at a local festival might reach your target market quite well. Also see if you can get the paper to run a story on your cafe - that's free marketing!
I know that the shop I worked at decided to have a cupping demonstration once a week. Also we are lucky enough to have a roaster as part of the company, so we got to make roasting demonstrations as well. That got people feeling as though they knew something and peeked their interest in learning more about coffee. Many of them also brought friends along, thus increasing the traffic.
Having a Facebook page is pretty helpful. At the shop I manage, I post updates every few days about new coffees we have, daily drink specials, or events.
Agreed with much of what's been said so far, with some things to add and disagree with.

Be smart with your marketing budget. As far as marketing, we've found good bang-for-the-buck with flyering in areas where people didn't know we were there. We've also done seasonal banners promoting different items. Donate gift cards for charity auctions and events that your existing customers are involved with - it builds customer loyalty and gets your name out. First time "customer" wanders in looking for a donation? Save your money and give more generously to your existing customers' causes.

In terms of getting out into the community, we've done booths at community outdoor events - Christmas tree lighting, Earth Day celebration, etc. Priced to generate enough revenue to cover costs, but mostly seen as a marketing endeavor. We worked hard to make sure the look, feel, experience, and product matched the store experience.

Be very, very careful with upselling. As a customer, I personally hate attempts to upsell me... if I wanted a muffin I'd have asked for a muffin. People are smart and no matter how artfully you do it your customer will recognize what's going on. They are already choosing to spend limited discretionary income at your place, isn't that enough? ALSO be sure that your margins are just as good on the larger or additional item. If that drink is 50% more for only 50 more cents, your profitability took a big hit on that transaction. You sold more but made less money! Review your COGS and make sure they make sense, use that info to figure out combos, and promote those. Creating "value combos" of popular items communicates that you understand that times are tight and are here to help... you get the benefit of increasing sales without the perceived (or real) pushiness.

Hope that helps.
Probably the best advice I've heard on the subject was "you can't expect one customer to buy everything, but you can expect every customer to buy one thing".

Customer education can definitely have a great effect when you consider someone you have the chance to talk to at length buying beans or a brewing device to take home and brew there. Those kind of relationships can be some of the most profitable both monetarily AND personally. I have had many customers that I had a chance to brew a press or a chemex for decide to buy one, and beans, and come back again and again for more beans and more education.

It is possible to expand both the depth of your relationships with customers AND the breadth of your customer base; I think the marketing options outlined above are all great (besides what Brady has already pointed out as the fallacy of selling more beverage but actually receiving a smaller percentage of profit from the sale) for getting customers in the door. But once you get them there, the best way to keep them there is to serve and educate and get to know them on a personal level rather than forcing additional items down their throat. There's nothing I hate more than being "sold" to, especially when it's something that I didn't have any interest in in the first place.
Oh, yeah... and to build on what Mike and Jonathan said, make your biggest focus be on the quality of experience. Marketing money is wasted if you don't capture the majority of your first-time visitors.

You never mentioned quality in your initial post, which makes me wonder if you are improving that as well. Seeing COGS dropping, prices going up, and bare-bones staffing are red flags. Are your drinks still the best they can be and getting better? How is staff morale? How about customer service?

If you do nothing else, try your best to make every customer a return customer - 100% retention.
I just looked at your profile and figured out the shop you are running ;) I think in the market you are in, knowing the competition you are up against, it is IMPERATIVE to offer the highest quality experience you can. There is a lot of bad, mediocre and great coffee in the market you are in, and putting yourself into that top level is going to be the best thing for you to keep yourself relevant as the market becomes educated.

Compared with the other high caliber shops in your city, are you putting out the highest quality drinks possible? If not, it might be a good idea to look to your roaster for training. I am positive that they would be a great resource for training and source of educational ideas for your customers.

Does your customer demographic lean more toward students or professionals? If it leans toward students, making your shop a great place to study would be one way to get people to start coming in, though it is a double edged sword because increased busyness in this regard(people taking up space over a period of time) may sway some customers from coming in to meet with friends, etc. to go other places. If it leans toward professionals, do what you can to accommodate those that might be trying to get out of this office.

I know many shops in your area offer a cash discount. While that would never personally sway my coffee buying decision, it puts money directly in your pocket that would have otherwise gone to a credit card processor and may offer an incentive to some to choose your shop over another.

There are a lot of events in your community; do what you can to get your name out there and sponsor or show up at as many as possible to get your name around and get more people to come check you out or bring in customers you may have lost at some point in the past.
Ok. So here are some random ideas. Sometimes coffee shops or bars/clubs in cool cities like Austin, NYC, Memphis, San Fran, etc will get a certain kind of clientele or "scenes" associated with them. Think "CBGB" or "Max's Kansas City" in NYC. This can be great for a movement or collective art/music kind of thing. But if you are the general manager of one of these kinds of places then you are faced with a dilema. Your regulars, the people who are a part of the scene who have come to see your establishment as a part of themselves, are actually driving any new customers/business away. Because someone who just wants a cup of coffee and a muffin might not want to be a part of the "scene" that happens in said establishment.

Sometimes really "known" or "hip" places become all about themselves. As though the people who own them, manage them, and work in them are really the special people, the stars of the show, as it were. Why in the world would anybody want to go there if they had to worship at the alter of how cool the place was in order to buy a coffee? That is one reason why Starbucks is so successful. You don't have to worship Starbucks to go there. You can go there, get a cup of coffee, make some pleasant small talk, and be on your way. Starbucks does not get in the way of the customers experience. (At least the demographic of customer that makes Starbucks one of the most successful companies in modern history.) I think it's OK to have a "cool" shop but you have to ask yourself, "Are there enough 'cool' people to support my business' financial needs?" If your shop is REALLY "cool" then there is no way your possible customer base is big enough to support you in the long run. People who are THAT cool don't have any money. They might be creative, wise, funny, amazing, deep, talented, and really, really, a great person, but they don't have any money. And they scare normal people away.

Now I don't know that you, Lisa, have the kind of shop like I was describing. I was just throwing out some general ideas about what kinds of issues a shop like that might encounter. Austin, I imagine, might have some of those kinds of places, since Austin is one of the premire cities in the USA for music and culture. Again, just some ideas.
These are great questions. We have low turn over, and name remembrance is a given. Also, we def. can say thank you a bit more, and I've been pushing for more friendly, clean shop behavior.

Our reputation was kind of trashed by the former owners (they really didn't care towards the end, and the shop reflected that). I finally have the staff feeling positive, comfortable and part of the shop. I am still trying to overcome the reputation they've set forth, but that's purely reliant on our behavior. How do I get people back?

I've been considering putting out some press releases, etc... What if we tried extended happy hours? Limit our hours?

Mike Sabol said:
I my opinion marketing is mostly a waste of time and money. Everything is based on the relationship you build with your staff and your customers. If your customers have a fantastic experience everytime they go to your shop then they will continue to return and tell their friends to check it out. If the experience in the shop is poor then no amount of give aways will make people want to return. Some questions to ask yourself: Are my baristas friendly, all day every day? Do they say thank you when the customer picks up their drink? Is the service fast and accurate? Is my cafe clean? Do you know where your customers come from? Where they work? Do your baristas remember your customers names? Their drinks? Is your turn over so high that customers never have a chance to get to know anyone behind the counter? Have you decreased the cost of goods so much that you have poor quality items? Just some questions.
Yeah, we've been THAT place for 18 years. Our neighborhood has changed a bit and now we're working towards appealing to everyone while still keeping our regular, die hard crowd.

The nights are pretty solid, as we have live music (that's what we're kind of known for) but we're really focusing on building a.m. and mid. I agree with your point about "painting ourselves into a corner" as far as identifying with the persona we've had for that long. I'm trying to walk that fine line of not changing too much, but lots at the same time.

Thanks for your response!

Mike Sabol said:
Ok. So here are some random ideas. Sometimes coffee shops or bars/clubs in cool cities like Austin, NYC, Memphis, San Fran, etc will get a certain kind of clientele or "scenes" associated with them. Think "CBGB" or "Max's Kansas City" in NYC. This can be great for a movement or collective art/music kind of thing. But if you are the general manager of one of these kinds of places then you are faced with a dilema. Your regulars, the people who are a part of the scene who have come to see your establishment as a part of themselves, are actually driving any new customers/business away. Because someone who just wants a cup of coffee and a muffin might not want to be a part of the "scene" that happens in said establishment.

Sometimes really "known" or "hip" places become all about themselves. As though the people who own them, manage them, and work in them are really the special people, the stars of the show, as it were. Why in the world would anybody want to go there if they had to worship at the alter of how cool the place was in order to buy a coffee? That is one reason why Starbucks is so successful. You don't have to worship Starbucks to go there. You can go there, get a cup of coffee, make some pleasant small talk, and be on your way. Starbucks does not get in the way of the customers experience. (At least the demographic of customer that makes Starbucks one of the most successful companies in modern history.) I think it's OK to have a "cool" shop but you have to ask yourself, "Are there enough 'cool' people to support my business' financial needs?" If your shop is REALLY "cool" then there is no way your possible customer base is big enough to support you in the long run. People who are THAT cool don't have any money. They might be creative, wise, funny, amazing, deep, talented, and really, really, a great person, but they don't have any money. And they scare normal people away.

Now I don't know that you, Lisa, have the kind of shop like I was describing. I was just throwing out some general ideas about what kinds of issues a shop like that might encounter. Austin, I imagine, might have some of those kinds of places, since Austin is one of the premire cities in the USA for music and culture. Again, just some ideas.

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