Your competitors. Or how important it is to know who’s sharing the local coffee market with you

Did you check out what’s going on around your specialty cafe when you first got started?

No? Too busy with setting things up for your own coffee business?

Yes? Great! What did you find out about them? Anything you could use to differentiate yourself?

To separate yourself from the specialty cafes or coffee businesses around you, you have to know who they are and what they stand for.

Do you know why customers go over to those cafes and not yours?

When creating a value proposition or USP for your specialty cafe, think of it as something that the cafes in your neighborhood can’t claim.

Research your competitors inside and out, from their philosophy to the types of baristas they have. From why customers are heading to these cafes to the coffee and food they’re offering.

You can only set yourself apart if you know what’s already been done.

So the first thing you need to do is research them! Take the 3 up to 5  (specialty) cafes in your area and figure out what their unique selling proposition is if they have one.

Are they all claiming to be the cheapest cafe around, or to offer the best coffee ever? Because if they are, you need to do the opposite!

And, you gotta go over to these cafes! You can’t find out what sets yourself apart, if you don’t take this step out of your front door!

I know you’re busy! But, take the time to do that little research. Drink some coffee over there. Try their food. Talk to their baristas and to their customers. Especially to their customers!

See what their customers are saying about them. Do they have any complaints and how can you take advantage of that?

How are they serving your customers and what problems do they solve, do they solve them better than you?

Not sure what ‘problem solving’ means?

Well, think of it the other way round. The ‘solution’ might be the ‘to go’ coffee you’re serving all those business people or the food during lunch time or the cozy atmosphere you’re offering for those families heading to your cafe on weekends.

So, the ‘problem’ your customer might have and wants you to solve is this: He or she might be looking for a quick caffeine fix in the mornings or the students of the local university might want something to eat for lunch or the families might look for a place to gather with their loved ones and have some great cake and coffee while meeting at your cafe.

Do your competitors solve some of these problems for their customers? Or is it you that is able to solve these better?

Also, peruse their advertising, marketing and social media messages; visit their websites to see what USP they’re promoting. By researching how your competitors are marketing themselves, you'll be better able to position your cafe business as different.

A USP that is “shared” by others is, by definition, not unique, so while fast service or roasting on demand might seem like a great USP for your coffee business, it won’t work if any of the other dozens of coffee businesses in town have that same USP, especially when you’re finding yourself in a highly competitive coffee market.

You’ll need to choose something different, like the fact that you’re serving only specialty coffee from Mexico and Ecuador because you grew up in those countries and have a lot of stories to tell around the coffee you’re offering.

Identify (Specialty coffee) industry frustrations.

Here’s an eye-opener: Ask people (and your customers) what frustrates them about people in the specialty coffee industry. If they remain incredibly polite, then take yourself out of the equation and ask them what frustrates them about your competitors. If you are great at probing and uncovering the root of an issue, you will find ways to turn this frustration into a strong differentiation.

Let me give you an example: One of the major frustrations for customers that are new to specialty coffee might be the fact, that they tend to feel about specialty coffee and specialty cafes as those ‘Hipster places’, where the barista is trying to ‘educate’ them with telling them how they have to drink their coffee. That's a tough one we all know, right...?

When asked, you might hear, “Their service was poor.” or “I don’t feel comfortable at these fancy places”. But, when questioning further, to uncover the root of the distrust, you realize that it’s a communication problem between the barista and the customer.

Try to find that one little thing that makes you different in the eyes of your potential customers. That might be, to offering samples (of a hand filtered coffee maybe) to your regulars that are open to try new things besides their large Lattes with a lot of sugar, they're usually drinking.

If you’re having troubles finding something that lets you stick out of the local coffee crowd, or to just get a feel for a good USP, look around you at market-leading (specialty) cafes that do a good job of differentiating themselves. They don't have to be your competitors or even in the same industry (specialty coffee) — the goal is just to analyze what makes for a good USP.

Knowing your competitors makes a huge part when creating a USP for your specialty cafe! Try finding out as much as possible about them! 

One more thing: Within the specialty coffee community it is not about competing at all, we're all in the same boat and want the same thing: Spreading the word about specialty coffee! But, finding something that lets you stick out from the crowd can sure help you attract more customers, even from one of those generic cafes that are out there!

How do you set yourself apart from your competitors? Let me know in the comments!