TEMPLE, Texas — Coffee is the elixir of life in the Western hemisphere.
While visiting my eldest daughter, who lives in London, my family spent a lovely weekend in the English countryside—green pastures, stone cottages and lots of sheep. Rather than catch the Sunday night train to London, my daughter heroically decided to catch the 6:30 Monday morning.
The train station is about a 10-minute drive from where we were staying. As we pulled into the parking lot we saw, parked in front of the entrance, a small mobile coffee station, about the size of a refrigerator, with a woman bundled up in a heavy parka, scarf and knit hat selling hot coffee to the commuters who were heading into the city.
I assume her coffee business is successful, but I wonder: What drives it? Is it to provide the hit caffeine addicts need to start their day? Is it for the warmth of the liquid on a cold morning? Whatever the reason, it was enough for the intrepid salesperson to get up way before dawn on a rainy Monday morning. There is a demand, and our British coffee vendor is meeting it.
In the c-store business, we have more competition than the lone person in a parking lot on an early morning. Therefore, we need to make sure our coffee presentation is the best it can be so we can build it with new and repeat customers.
Here are some pointers for a successful coffee program during these cold winter months (and for the summer as well) ...
The coffee offering must look inviting. Regardless of whether a store serves coffee in airpots or carafes, the area needs to be clean, the signage tidy and the supplies and condiment dispensers full and fresh.
Ready to take it to the next level? If the store offers powder creamer, move to individual creamer pods or containers of milk and half-and-half. Add a selection of flavor syrups or creamers.
If you are a coffee fan, sell something you like. If you aren’t a coffee drinker, ask someone who is what he or she would recommend. Taste is a huge driver in whether a customer will come back.
Next level: Create a rotating selection of flavors and offer a new one each month. If a flavor is a big hit, consider making it a regular addition or run a regular promotion schedule around it.
Make sure the product is fresh. The standard is to hold carafe coffee no longer than 30 to 45 minutes and airpot coffee no longer than two hours. Don’t be afraid to pour out old coffee; your profit margin should cover the spoilage.
Next level: Move completely to airpots. Although these require more supervision to keep them from going empty, coffee aficionados will appreciate the longer-lasting freshness.
No one likes to walk up to an empty coffee pot and then wait for a new pot to be brewed. Keep an eye on your sales, and when the pot is getting low, put on a new one. An empty pot means a lost sale.
Next level: Consider going bean-to-cup. These machines grind the beans for each cup to provide more of a coffee shop espresso experience, and they can produce milk-based drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes.
Offering some type of coffee promotion—buy nine cups, get one free—is a great way to sell coffee and create repeat customers. Everyone likes to get something for “free.” Make sure the number of paid cups will cover the cost of the free one and that there is an accurate way of tracking the number of cups someone buys. The easiest way is a paper card that employees can mark or punch a hole in to show when the customer qualifies.
Good luck! If your number of coffee customers goes up, you’ll know you are meeting that caffeine need.
Roy Strasburger is president of StrasGlobal. Contact him at email@example.com.