December 3, 2014

Creating a point of difference

Too often as designers we meet potential café operators who, at the commencement of a project, think once they have their outlet ready they will throw open their doors and customers will just rush in. This is not the case at all, and operators need to work hard on creating a clearly communicated point of difference from competitors to establish a successful venture. 

But first things first … to ensure success, the coffee offer needs to be right. As an operator you need to be clear who your target audience is. Are they CBD office workers, time poor but cash ready; weekend breakfasters happy to linger; or are you a local outlet with a repeat customer within your immediate surrounds? The coffee offer needs to be tailored to the customer type, with time, cost and quality paramount.

Given you have successfully established this, you then need to think – what sets me apart? Put yourself in YOUR customers’ shoes. Why would you go to your outlet over the competition? Often the reason stems from the location, and this is critical to success. If you are in the main thoroughfare to a transport hub, the coffee shop downstairs from a large office building, or the local town café, then you have the most important piece right from the start. But what draws people in and keeps customers coming back? The reason is because you have a point of difference to your competitors.

But building a point of difference is created by many factors. If speciality coffee is the focus of your outlet, one way to reinforce the superior quality of your coffee offer to your customer and stand out from the crowd is by using a renowned roasting house and hook into the hype created by that brand. Not only does the roasting house often support the barista through training and education, premium roasting houses create hype, media presence and brand awareness. Creating your own signature blend and rotating small batches of blends also creates a sense that your outlet works with artisan coffee suppliers and you are crafting a unique coffee offer for your customer.

Once the coffee is right, you also need to follow through with a food offer tailored to your customer. If the customer is time poor, then locate a bountiful food display with delicious prepared foods within the counter, but if it is brunch, then design the kitchen with an open aspect so customers can experience its sizzle and energy. Locate retail beans near the cash point to reinforce (and sell) your branded coffee beans, and if it is a locally focused outlet, display local providores’ goods and takeaway food options. Too often I visit a favourite coffee outlet and leave with not only a coffee, but beans and food as well; it’s just too hard to resist!

Your staff are also critical to delivering the expectations of your customer – they can also be the sole reason why customers come or don’t come to your premises. Time-poor customers will be expecting their order fast and may not want to stop for a chat or even notice if they are served by someone different each day. However, many customers do expect a smiling face and to even build rapport with café staff – they expect to see a friendly and familiar face each day. A great barista is also a necessity if the quality of your coffee is your key selling point. Choose carefully and value great staff, as they are the face of your business.

Selecting a design that creates an environment that is punchy, contemporary, warm or traditional ensures a dwell-time that works for your outlet, and one that your customers want to return to.

Our job as designers is to deliver a spacial experience that matches your business plan – by creating an environment that suits your target market as well as makes the most of a tenancy from a functional point of view. This is why you need to have done your research before you brief your designer. I can’t stress more how a solid idea of who your customer will be (and how your food offering will match this) when you brief your designer will result in a more cost efficient, stress free and successful design for your café.

Then there’s the music and your marketing approach. These also need to be tailored to your target market. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that not many people want to listen to very loud fast paced music whilst lingering over their weekend brunch.

Despite this, many cafés seem to struggle to maintain a suitable genre and volume for their music. I recommend putting together a playlist and specifying a maximum volume to staff.

Your marketing approach can make a real difference to gaining a regular clientele. You might choose to include a generous loyalty programme as a part of your point of  difference.  Alternatively, you may give your customers a free chocolate or biscuit with their coffee – I recently went to a café that was celebrating their one year anniversary and I received a loyalty card stamped up to the point of a free coffee and a free miniature piece of home-made brownie. It made my day!

Then there’s social media – a topic that warrants an entirely separate conversation about its role in the hospitality arena.

There are café owners who have used this to successfully build a community amongst their customers. It’s hard to get this right, but worth considering if it suits your market. Whatever the focus of your individual outlet, it is creating a perceivable point of difference to the customer that makes your offer unique and stand-out from the crowd – and ultimately results in a successful business venture.

About the author
Evolving from the creative partnership of Hanna Richardson (German) and Katherine Kemp in 2006, ZWEI (German for 2) are now an award winning, multidisciplinary team specialising in delivering hospitality and retail spaces.

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