Is now the time to open a coffee shop?

coffee thailand bangkok

It seems you can’t go 30 meters without running into some sort of coffee establishment ready to sell you anything from overly sweet instant coffee in a bag to a sophisticated aged drip coffee. Even though many people are opening their own shops, is there still room for more?

Yes! The most caffeinated city in the United States, Berkeley California, has 1 coffee shop for every 2073 people. If Thailand reaches that saturation level that would be 33,412 shops. By comparison there are “only” 11,000+ 7-11’s in Thailand and we know those are literally everywhere! Coffee shops would have to be three times more numerous than 7-11s to reach Berkeley levels.

Peet’s Coffee from Berkeley, California.

Another way to look at it is by number of Starbucks. In South Korea there is 1 Starbucks for every 50,000 people. If we take the population of Thailand, 69,264,703 and divide it by 50,000 we are looking at 1,385 Starbucks throughout the kingdom. Right now Thailand only has 336 locations! Lots of room for growth in the specialty coffee market.*

Is it time for you to open your own shop?

You may have the dream of owning a cute, artsy, coffee shop, but how do you compete? Here are four ways US based mom and pop coffee shops are wiggling into the hearts and pocketbooks of Americans.

The Importance of Customer Service

In most big chain coffee shops the customer is called to pick up their drink, but in smaller shops the barista delivers the drink to the customer’s table. This gives the barista a chance to connect with the customer. It is also not uncommon for customers to pay when they are ready to leave rather than at the counter. This is especially popular in places where customers may sit for hours on their laptops and may make more than one order throughout their time there.

When I was an employee at Starbucks I tried to have a connection with customers and there were certain parts of the day I could, i.e. when we weren’t too busy. But usually we were slammed and there was very little down time for interacting with customers. Whereas when I worked at a mom and pop cafe customer interactions were very close. I really got to know the regulars and they got to know me. Small shops should use the relationships that can be built to their advantage.

Quality Coffee Only

The Thai consumer is expecting better and better coffee so, if your shop is not presenting great coffee then customers with baht in their pocket will not be coming back. When customers pay 65-180฿ for a coffee you had better deliver a coffee that you can talk about. Where did the beans come from? How are they roasted? What should you be tasting?

On top of superb coffee, new offerings that highlight coffee characteristics should be on offer. Check out this incredible cold brew coffee drink from Roots, a Bangkok based Cafe and micro roaster.

you can follow Roots on IG at rootsbkk

Make sure to source the right coffee beans for your target customers, here is a place that can help connect you with the right coffee and coffee roasters in Thailand for your coffee shop.

Be Consistent

This is something the mom and pops can learn from the big chains. Starbucks is incredible at delivering their coffee around the world at the same standard. Most small cafes have a very difficult time with staff training, because it is hard to keep good staff, which in turn varies the quality from shift to shift. Focus on providing an excellent coffee drink every time, for every customer. I know that sounds basic, but it is harder than you may think.

Inviting Environment

cozy coffee shop bangkok

Some customers may want to drop into a squishy couch, drink their fresh latte, and get into a new book. Others may want a coffee table with a little space to work on their next blog post (that’s me!). And some customers want a conference room. Your coffee shop can not be all things for all people, but you can certainly infuse some character and personality into your shop so that the customers come for the coffee but stay for the atmosphere. Atmosphere includes your staff, never underestimate a charming barista to help build a customer base.

One key element that can’t be stressed enough when it comes to the environment of any coffee shop is it needs to be clean, clean, clean. I don’t care how cute your retro tables are if they are dirty then customers are going to notice, in a bad way. This is an area the larger chains generally do well. Because of the rigorous scheduling of duties, the employees at the big coffee shops clean well. Small shops should be equally as clean or cleaner.

Personalized Experience

Do more than just write their name on a cup.

This goes along with having a personable staff and atmosphere. Do more than write the customer’s name on a cup. Take a look at ways you can improve your customer’s experience by offering something special for them. For example, offering cheaper refills on coffee is a way to keep a customer happy and hopefully a regular. Regulars are the backbone of many businesses and coffee shops are no exception. If possible, cater a little to your regulars. It does not have to be expensive, it just needs to show you appreciate them choosing your coffee shop. I have had countless regulars over the years and have done everything from ordering a special coffee or tea for them, brewing something special for them to try, saving a pastry for them, making sure their table is saved for them, pre-making their drinks so it is ready when they come in, offering loyalty cards, letting them pay in advance so they don’t have to wait in line to pay, setting up a table with flowers and a Valentines Day card for a customer and his wife…you get the idea.

Most of those extra things did not cost anything and they made customers feel great about coming in to the coffee shop.

Opening that cafe?

It may be exciting to start a coffee shop and many people are doing it and loving the experience. However, many large companies, such as Dunkin Donuts, are eyeing the Thai specialty coffee market, making strong competition. Small cafe owners can compete, but they should also understand that Thailand is not like the United States or South Korea in one key way; here in Thailand roasted coffee sales only account for $5.8 million whereas instant coffee accounts for $469.8 million! The specialty coffee market in Thailand is still very, very small when compared to how much Thais spend on instant coffee. To make it in the coffee shop business you must have tenacity, creativity, and a love for coffee.

*Of course there are problems when comparing countries for a whole host of reasons, so take these numbers with a grain of salt.