There are countless ways in which you can make a coffee shop unique, but very few of these will actually lead to more profit or build a financially sustainable business. If it’s attractiveness, rather than uniqueness, that you are looking for, then maybe look at some ways to make a coffee shop attractive to its potential customers.
Still, there are some easy ways to be unique that set you apart from your competitors but which I think only have a marginal (plus or minus) impact on profits:
Give your coffee shop a unique name. Preferably a short name ending in an ‘s’ because that is what your customers will do to it anyway. Don’t make it a genetic geographic name that others can trade-off, but rather choose a name that makes your coffee shop stand out. What’s a good name for a cafe?
Colors and Ornaments
Make your coffee shop unique with the use of unique colors and ornaments like pictures/paintings/posters, artifacts, and signage. What are the steps to design a coffee shop interior?
Different styles of background music make a coffee shop unique as does the use of TVs beaming in the news or live sporting events.
But coffee shop customers don’t buy uniqueness as much as they buy better. So the aspect of uniqueness that you should target in a coffee shop is being the best … i.e. that unique position of being ‘first in your chosen class’.
The trick is to be unique in the classes that matter, specifically in terms of profitability and sustainability, and avoid the trap of trying to be unique in ways that actually limit or negatively impact your profitability and sustainability.
See there is a reason why your competitors leave some areas/classes untouched for you to exploit with your uniqueness – they aren’t that profitable.
Having started and managed over 15 coffee shops, here are the classes of uniqueness where I would NOT want to be unique, because I found that they had a negative impact on the bottom-line profit.
Customization is a management nightmare in terms of breadth and depth of training/hiring staff skills, unwieldy assortment items, and service/pricing confusion. Customization drives up costs without the offsetting revenue increase. Why do most café startups fail?
Comfortable Lounge-Style Seating
Coffee shop rents are expensive, and you need to pack as many people as possible into the given space if you are going to remain financially sustainable. Comfortable attract squatters which are worse for business than good.
Being unique in this aspect is not good for your business. Free Wi-Fi attracts people but it doesn’t attract customers who give you a sufficient return on investment with their purchases to build a sustainable business. Do most coffee shops gain or lose by offering wifi?
My experience taught me that the areas I should try to be unique, and which rewarded me with a more sustainable business outcome included:
You should develop a reputation for being the most convenient coffee shop in terms of ease of doing business, efficient customer flows and processes, and ease of ordering, service delivery, and paying.
Finest Espresso Coffee
Be unique in the way that you make the best espresso in the area. What’s the secret to a successful coffee shop?
Friendly/Familiar Service Style
Make your customers feel special. Learn their names, their order preferences, and as much as you can about their interests.
So sure, strive to stand out and be unique, but just make sure that there is some sound commercial principles behind your choice of uniqueness, otherwise you will be just like all those coffee shop operators that have failed … and there is nothing unique about that.