Why the old coffee shop closed

We don’t know why the previous owner closed up shop, but it was certainly sudden: My wife tells me she actually visited the shop the day before it closed. No mention of ‘Hey, by the way…  We’re closing today; do you want a free muffin or something?” or anything along that vein.  That was interesting, and unfortunate.

Closed Sign

If you’re like me, the first thing you thought of when I said I was considering opening a coffee shop in a nearby city where there used to be one was ‘Why try what had been tried already? Surely you know that it’s not going to work!’  I’m ever the curious sort, so I chewed on this for a while.  And it’s still up in the air.

Let’s consider we know why the previous shop owner failed: It was in the wrong location.

Is that true?  How do we know?  There seems to be plenty of traffic around the building, and there are 5 other active stores in this 8-space strip mall.  For example, there’s a brand new grocery superstore right behind it, three major fast-food joints and three within eyesight, a hardware and tool rental store, three school buildings and a district administrative office within a half a mile, and three professional office buildings within earshot.  Man, that’s a lot of traffic.

So was it in the wrong location?

Doesn’t appear to be the case.

Now let’s consider the building wasn’t suitable for a coffee shop.

What does a coffee shop require to be successful?

I don’t know the complete answer, but we could list it out:

  • Equipment. check.
  • Tables and chairs. check.
  • Cash register. check.
  • A menu. check.
  • Coffee and other foods. check.
  • A visible location. check.
  • A drive-thru. (not mandatory, but super-helpful). check.
  • Staff.  check.

That seems about all the vitals, although there are varying levels of quality we could discuss there. Assuming all the vitals were of sufficient quality, the previous shop had all the necessary components of a recipe for success and was found lacking none of the foundational items listed above. Check.

What about the competition?

From my (early) discussions with people in and from the area, there are NO places to get a good cup of coffee.  None.  That brand new grocery store? It has terrible coffee.  The fantastically busy gas station across the road a ways? That’s not really coffee, nor is it a coffee shop to hang out in, have open mic night, and work from.  The fast food joints? Gag.

How about the economy?

From recent stats, the city’s economy is on the rise.  Many of the city’s people are employed (94.3%), and the average income is more than $20,000 above the state average.  I think they can spare a few bucks for some really great coffee.  They’re probably dying for it.

Add to that low home prices, easy access to two major interstate highways, and falling crime rates, and it looks like a great place to open a coffee shop.

It seems like all the outside forces are in a good place.  It had to be something internal, I’m guessing.  Let’s take a closer look.

Disclaimer: I haven’t spoken to the former about any of this. Yet.

Was the space too small?

I’ve been to the location, and to be honest, it seems small but doable.  I’ve seen other coffee shops that have proven successful, so that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Did the owner not like her job any more?

Don’t know yet.

Did the customers visit frequently enough?

It’s hard to tell for certain at this point, but some of my early conversations would lead us to say ‘No.’

Were the prices right (or close enough)?

One look at the menu will give me a good idea.

Suzie Menu pricing

Umm, yeah, those seem pretty reasonable prices.

Were the food and drink items of suitable quality?

Previous customers say yes, but they had to wait too long for their simple drinks frequently.  Hmm…

Did the owner have a properly trained staff?

I don’t know how long the place was open, but let’s assume yes.

To be honest, the only negative feedback I’ve gathered that would point to a reason for closing was this:

“She was trying to be too much to too many people.”

A closer look at the menu reveals that there were simply too many items to provide to customers in a reasonable amount of time.

Suzie Menu resized

How the heck do you put together a nowhip nonfat vanilla latte for the drive thru when you’re smoking ribs, mixing up coleslaw and blending custom made fruit smoothies?  It just doesn’t resonate to combine a BBQ joint with a coffee shop.  No offense.

It could certainly be done, but some of the original feedback points out that a previous customre once waited 10 minutes for a cup of coffee.  Never again, he said.  It’s pretty clear that that guy’s not going to promote your business in this small, tight-knit community.

And another said she would actually leave her house early just to make sure she could get a cup of coffee from this place on her way to work.  Loyalty!  That’s what that is!  This woman said she “thought the owner might have grown tired of working herself so hard to make everybody happy.  It was basically a combination of a roadside diner and a Starbucks.”

That’s a lot of work.

I don’t know the actual numbers, but it’s something like ten people lost for every unhappy customer.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

It remains unclear why the old coffee shop closed, but it’s entirely possible still that it was because of the extensive menu.  Many successful coffee shops don’t provide warm food, although the major chains are beginning to so they can outpace their smaller, local competitors.  By and large, though, it’s cookies, muffins, pies, cakepops, and other shelf-stable items.

So I ask:

What is it you would like to have on the menu of a coffee shop if you were to visit it during your day?

Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

  • Teresa

    Coffee, Tea, personal service, you know my name kind of thing. A few sweet treats, maybe a few vegan or paleo items. Nothing crazy. Simple. Limited quantities implying quality first. Love this start you have!!

    • PaulSidwell

      “You know my name” kind of thing. A person’s name is the sweetest sound to their ears; this is key in any type of service. Thanks for commenting!