Online Coffee Beans
All of this retrospection around starting a small business and opening a coffee shop, has got me thinking. When we opened The Chocolate Bar, we also built a website to sell online chocolates. If I were opening a coffee shop now, I might well think about building an online coffee shop, to run alongside my cafe.
That way, slack periods could be used to tend to the online shop, and it would be a way of maximising 'footfall' through the business.
Sourcing the coffee beans shouldn't be a problem, most coffee suppliers now sell a variety of beans, and will package them and add your own shop's logo to the bag. you can choose whether to sell them as beans or grounds.
Most coffee suppliers also supply the coffee grinders and espresso machines, plus a variety of teas and hot chocolate, so there would be quite a bit of scope. Delivery times are usually fairly swift, once packaging is designed, so there wouldn't be a need to hold a large stock. The same items could also be sold in the high street store. I know when we set up The chocolate Bar, customers would often ask to buy the coffee and hot chocolate we used.
There would be minimal equipment outlay to begin an online coffee shop, a laptop would be good, so that during slack moments you could service your online store in the coffee shop. Other expense would go on building the site, domain name, hosting and promoting it. Site building could be as expensive as you want to make it. When we opened our online chocolate shop, we were incredibly naive about websites, and with hindsight we would have done things differently, but then we didn't pay over the odds either.
If you are fairly techy, with a bit of time to invest, you could build your own site, if not, do some research online and locally, as there are alot of web builders out there. My suggestion would be to talk to a few and go with whomever makes you feel comfortable.
Search Engine Optimisation
The aim of the game is to get your website ranked number one by Google, for whatever it is you're selling, in this case Online Coffee Beans. As I said before, when we opened our online chocolate shop, were were naive, and knew nothing of SEO. We promoted our site word of mouth and by placing regular adverts in specific magazines, which was quite expensive for not a great return. We also used Google Adwords with better results. I can hear all you webmasters going 'Aaah, Bless!' while you shake your heads despairingly!
What would I do differently now? I would:
Do some keyword research using Google Adwords Keyword Tool.
Aim to get as many backlinks from different, organicially grown sources as possible.
Promote my site occasionally on networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Digg etc, but beware of overpromoting from the same site, as the Google spiders will spot this and rank you lower.
Write a coffee lovers' blog, to keep people on your site for as long as poss.
Use an RSS feed, for the same reason as above.
Getting the word ot there with local writers is always a good idea, too.
Online Coffee Products
What would I stock in my online shop? Certainly the brands of coffee you serve in your high street cafe, including decaff and Fair Trade, probably some origin coffee beans as well as some blends, a selection of different types of tea, one or two good hot chocolates, maybe a mint hot choc, or chilli hot choc, as well as the ordinary, as these always went well for us. I would also consider one or two stylish gifts for coffee lovers, although don't go overboard.
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Once up and running, an online coffee shop shouldn't take too much time to administer. it would need to be checked a couple of times a day for orders, to co-incide with your courier or the postal service. You would also need to spend an hour a day on SEO and promotion; more at peak trading times, such as Mother's Day, Christmas, etc. Our biggest peaks at The Chocolate Bar were Christmas and Easter. We used to open at 7am Christmas Eve and keep going until the customers had all gone - loved it, such a buzz!
Would I do an online store again? Yes definitely, and probably alot more successfully than previously, as I've learned alot more.
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