Author Archives: John Richardson

The number one key to avoiding the “credit crunch”…

Today The Coffee Boys move into the funky new Web 2.0 world – we’re getting down there with the hip media kids and at the moment they’re staring at us in a “freak” fashion but we’re here to stay.

Hugh and I will be producing a lot more of these in the future but hopefully it provides an easier way for you to digest our information and spoutings!

So the number one key is…


It is entirely up to you how you deal with this. In a few years time when we are moving back into another boom there will still be loads of coffee shops out there. And a few will not have made it – no doubt about it. Which side of the fence will you be on?

Will you be like some of my clients, coincidentally the ones who keep working “on their business” regardless of the economy, who haven’t noticed any change in their takings?


Will you be like those operators I talk to who are all doom and gloom and are expecting not to make it. Who are simply working harder day in and day out and sticking their heads in the sand like an ostrich?

Will you be reading and nodding your head sagely at article like this on the MSN money site?

The end of the world is Nigh!!!

or will you be working away at training, developing new products and marketing and casually be noticing articles like this?

No it isn’t!

It’s up to you.

Johnnie Richardson

Small Business Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Are you living in denial?

When we first set up our businesses we are 100% convinced that we can and will do a better job than the competition.  We list out the factors that we will do better, that we’ll relentlessly focus on until we have this wonderful business that clearly offers a “superior experience”.  We smirk, snigger and discuss with our friends and colleagues just how badly the competition is – we even allow ourselves to believe that our enterprise can’t go wrong, that it will be a “no brainer” since our offer will be so much better.

But what is the reality?  What are the actual facts?  What exactly does your customer think of this supposed “superior experience”

The management consultancy firm Bain and company undertook some research on the subject of which businesses supply a “superior experience”.   They surveyed a total of 362 firms and 80% believed that they truly offered a “superior experience for their customers.

When they surveyed the customers of these businesses though the story was a little different.  Only 8% of these businesses were rated as superior.

Where do you fall?

Are you in the 20% who know you don’t offer a “superior experience” – in which case good luck in the current economic climate.

Are you in the 8% who genuinely do offer a “superior experience” – in which case I bet you’ve worked very hard at it and are in that category of clients (of mine) who don’t seem to have noticed that there eve is such a thing as a “credit crunch” or…

Are you in the 72% of businesses who are living in denial?  Are you falling asleep at night worrying about the business and thinking that you can’t do any better but feeling the crunch hitting you hard?

If you are in the last category it’s time to get really realistic about your business and wake up.  It’s time to really push the boat out and genuinely provide a “superior experience” because if you’re not it’s going to be a VERY bumpy ride.

Tales from New York Two – The Waldorf Astoria – A business that really gives a s*#t…

When I visit any coffee bar or restaurant I always have a question in my mind and I believe every single customer does exactly the same thing – whether they realise it subconsciously or not. That question is:

  • Do they really want me to be here? Do they really give a s*#t that i’ve bothered to come in and give them some money?

They maybe don’t use a profanity that I use but human nature means that we just want to be loved, respected and valued – it’s simple basic stuff. Your job is to ensure that a customer does feel you “give a s*#t” when they bother to spend their hard earned money in your business.

When we were in New York we were lucky enough to stay in The Waldorf Astoria for a few days. This was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best example of a business “giving a s*#t” that I have ever seen. Nothing was too much trouble and wherever you turned there seemed to be somebody about to ask you if there was anything they could do to help you. When they realised it was our first time staying with them and we had travelled all the way from Ireland we were immediately upgraded to an incredible room and offered a tour of the Presidential suite (which unlike most Presidential suites actually has had Presidents staying in it!).

The sense of calm and contentment was enormous and it made it one of the most relaxing and comfortable few days of my life.

It’s easy to assume that you can’t compete at this level. That you can’t devote the same energy to training your staff that the Waldorf can. That there’s no way you can make every customer feel wanted and loved and that you really want them to be there. That you’re just too busy dealing with all the day to day “stuff” to make it all touchy-feely lovely.

But you’re wrong. These things are actually quite simple. It can be as simple as a proper, genuine smile and a hello when the customer first comes in. It can be as simple as a “I’ll be with you in a second” when the queue is long. It can be as simple as remembering a customers drink or even, best of all, remembering the customer’s name.

I can already hear people saying “well, I do all that but there’s no way that I can get all my staff to do that” As ever I say “Have you really tried?, have you actually put in place a proper training and induction program that tells you employees exactly what you expect from them? A program that helps them to properly grasp why this is necessary? Do you really train and measure these kinds of things?”

Many of my clients have and actually have seen huge benefits from it. The ones that keep working at this stuff are the ones who tell me they are seeing no difference in their sales during the supposed credit crunch. It takes a little time to set up with to begin with but is absolutely essential. Sometimes we spend far too much time training people how to make coffee and far too little actually telling them how to treat customers like a human being and prove to them that we really give a s*#t that they bothered to visit us on that day.

With money tight and credit crunching these things are more important than ever.

Tales from New York 1 – How well do YOU target YOUR customers?

I’m just back from nearly three weeks in the US and spent considerable time in New York – it is, as ever, just about the most stimulating city on the planet.

I saw some amazing retailing and some inspirational restaurants but I have to say the quality of the coffee bars (that I saw anyway) wasn’t going to set the world on fire. But one of the things that Hugo and I preach endlessly is to take ideas from other industries and see how they might work in our industry and specifically in your business.

The Abercrombie and Fitch store on Fifth Avenue is the most breathtaking example of a business understanding exactly who their customers are that I think I have ever seen. And, it’s worth bearing in mind, at the age of 41 – I ain’t one of their target customers! But i still walked around in awe at what they were doing and the level of thought that had gone into it.

Basically the store is laid out and created like a nightclub. You have to queue to get in at any time of the day but this is nothing more than the classic nightclub policy of making the place look busier than it actually is. The twenty or so people queueing outside could easily be accomodated within the four floors. The queue moves very quickly. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t busy – it is. Very.

The “doormen” are model boys and girls, with one of the boys standing with his shirt off showing off a body like you might find on the front of Men’s Health. These boys and girls are so beautiful that some of the customers are asking to have their photos taken with them. Inside it’s a similar theme – lots of beautiful but extremely pleasant and friendly model boys and girls welcoming you and manning the tills. At the top of each flight of stairs there is another model waiting to greet you in a genuinely friendly fashion. The music is loud – nightclub loud and the lights are so low you really can’t even see the colours of the clothes. To someone in their forties it’s irritating and seems pointless but to an aspirational teens and twenty something it is amazing and boy were those tills working.

Have a look at their “casting video” here and you can see just how deep this concept goes. You can’t be an Abercrombie model usless you actually work in the stores. So in today’s model and fame obsessed world they must have the beautiful people lining up to work for them and perhaps taste their “fifteen minutes”. All the plain and normal customers are just lining up to buy and take away a little slice of this lifestyle. Even my wife and the wife of my friend were going in to “just have a look at the boys” – in my twenties I’d have been in every day in life to look at the girls. The only reason I wouldn’t do it now is for fear of being branded a “dirty old man” 🙂

This clearly didn’t happen by accident – there has been some incredibly detailed work going on in the background to help create this experience to support the sales of clothes.

  • How hard do you work to create a really great experience for your customers?
  • How well do you actually know exactly who your customers are or are you trying to be all things to everyone?
  • Have you really sat down and worked out how to attract great staff or are you just doing what everyone else is doing?

Food for thought.


So what?

Why are you doing what you do?

What is the outcome?

What are you slogging away day to day for?

Most people simply can’t answer these questions within their business. You must be able to clearly state what it is that you want out of the business in an effort to properly move towards that. Do you simply turn up day-in and day-out and do “your very best” or is there some clear plan?

  • How long will you do it?
  • What will you do when you finish?
  • How much money will you sell it for?
  • How much will you grow the business this year?
  • How much money will you make this year?
  • What is the plan for making that money?

And – if you have the answers to these questions. If you clearly know the “So what?” then are you working to a clear plan on a daily basis? Or are you drifting along with your goal little more than a vague wish?

You must, must, must have a clear goal, a clear plan for producing it and a clear system for measuring. Every single week I come across clients who singularly fail to grasp these concepts. They simply “go to work” every day and confuse activity with productivity. They end the week with the vague satisfaction of a job well done but ultimately they haven’t moved themselves one inch closer to some of their larger dreams or goals. The ones who do have a clear “So what?and a clear plan that they stick to and amend in the light of circumstances are worth vastly more than the rest. Trust me, the difference is huge and this should be all the proof you need.

You need effective and efficient action towards your clear goal every day.

Think about this when you arrive in tomorrow morning. Think about the “So What?” in your business and how your daily actions are moving you (or not) towards that goal.

(A slightly esoteric post today but this is more important than almost anything else I write in here)

Johnnie Richardson

How many of the ten big mistakes are you making?

What are the “Reasons Why” your customers visit you?

I’m increasingly obsessed with this concept since it applies to such a large extent in so much of our lives.

Why does Tiger Woods want to keep getting better at golf for example? What drove Michael Schumacher, despite so many years at the top of Formula One, to still work harder than anyone else and even in his last year still be fitter than any of the other guys? Why is one coffee shop owner happy with one site while another needs to grow a huge chain to be content?

Recently I seem to have come across a disproportionate amount of people who regard life in the Coffee Business as the ultimate goal for their lives. It can take some fairly harsh questioning to discover the real “reason why” they are setting up their business and make them understand that the reality is very different from the dream whilst still trying to help them keep their enthusiasm.

The reality is we all have different motivators and different “reasons why” we do anything. But ultimately if you don’t have a strong “reason why” for your customers to visit then they won’t. And your idyllic dream will be brutally shattered.

The harsh reality is that most people think they have a decent reason for customers to visit but they simply don’t.  Too many operators expect to be able to offer mediocrity and get away with it and with a potential “tough time” ahead of us in the market they simply won’t survive.

So here is my, by no means exhaustive, list of “reasons why” customers might want to visit you – and keep visiting!

  • Location – a great location is always a bonus but is not, as I often preach, essential. But generally make life easy for yourself with a great location. But NOT if you end up having to pay huge rent and rates bills.
  • Great Coffee – obvious really. But these days it has to be really great to stand out from the crowd. And you really need to have exceptional consistency too.
  • Great food – again it’s obvious but so often overlooked in the coffee bar business. Sometimes there is this perception that focusing on great food takes the emphasis away from great coffee. Which is, of course, total and utter elitist nonsense.
  • Great staff – people who really care about the product AND care about remembering the customer’s name and their drink. It’s probably the biggest challenge we all face but the clients who really care about recruiting, training and retaining great people are always those with the best businesses. (I’ll give you some tips on this in the next few days too)
  • A great atmosphere – do you provide somewhere that is really special? Do you have an environment that people instantly relax in?
  • A great story – is your business one that people can really “buy into”? A coffee shop stands for so much more than somewhere just to get a drink in many people’s eyes. Increasingly I find with clients, all around the UK, that locals are using them almost like a Post Office or a classic English “local” pub. Do you help to provide this?
  • Something genuinely new and different – do you have something properly unique about your business? How many star products do you have that people talk about and become “raving fans” of? If you don’t have something that is unique and really fires up your customers then you’re doomed to failure unless you have an exceptional location. I have the “mother of all star products” to show you in the next few days from one inspirational client who operates down a little alleyway off the High Street in their town.

You don’t need to be perfect on all counts but you do have to tick a few of these boxes. It’s not about being all things to all people but you have to have a few key areas that really provide a strong reason for customers to visit in the first place, return a second and third time and ideally tell their friends about you.

Why should customers visit your business? What do you do that is so great that they might tell their friends?


How well do you react to external factors?

Tomorrow evening in the US Starbucks are closing all their stores to retrain their baristas.  They’ve pulled together some nifty new milk frothing techniques and changed a couple of the rules in terms of pulling shots.  It’s their latest attempt to get themselves back on track after a pretty dismal year.

All round the world cool baristas are sniggering behind their hands in their cool coffee bars and thinking – “How much training do they need to push a button?” but, as ever, we should underestimate Starbucks at our peril.  With Howard Schulz back in the CEO position it’s very likely that they’ll get back on track sooner rather than later.  But we should also never underestimate just how slowly a big company like this reacts in comparison to your business.  While many operators out there simply fold and die in the light of an incoming Starbucks onslaught or indeed any of the big chains others knuckle down and really focus on being the best in their niche but also, more imporantly, stick on their marketing wizard hat and open the big bag of marketing tricks.

Coffee Klatch Roasting, a two site operation in Southern California, has chosen to offer free coffee during those three hours to highlight what they do.  Since they are the home of the current US barista champion Heather Perry you have to assume that they have a good grasp at what they do and will almost certainly retain customers after this little exercise.  But such is the fascination for the little guy standing up the big guy they’ve also generated a TON of publicity.  That publicity is available to you too.  You local papers love this type of story so sit back and think how you can use ideas like this to generate new customers and also make your existing customers proud to be a part of your business.

More tomorrow when I finally get round to giving you your “reason whys” …

 Johnnie Richardson

Give your customers a “reason why”…

On Sunday and Monday of this week Hugo and I were speaking at the Hotelympia show in London.  Ultimately both talks went very well and we had good audiences at both but it was a graphic illustration of the need to have a strong “reason why” in terms of promotion.   There had been very little promotion for the talk and we were simply billed as “Ireland’s Coffee Boys – John Richardson and Hugh Gilmartin“.  The first days talks were all delayed and we ended up speaking nearly an hour after our billed time.  This meant that people who had specifically come to see us had to rearrange their day to fit in with the disrupted schedule.

But we were the lucky ones.  The lack of “reason why” meant that the previous speaker ended up speaking to the grand total of two people.  When you’re Donald Trump you can rely on people turning up for your name alone but for the rest of us you must provide some clear benefit to spending the time to sit and listen.  Our “reason why” is that we help people to make more profits with less time working in the business of coffee and when clearly articulated it’s a strong message.

But exactly the same principle applies in your business too.  You have to provided a clear, articulate message about why customers should visit you.  We spoke to a great many people at the show who simply weren’t busy enough in their businesses.  We put together a questionnaire to establish what the main problems operators are having and I will be publishing the results of it on here in the very near future.  A quick glance on the plane back home revealed no surprises though.  The big issues are:

  1.  Not busy enough.  Not enough customers, not enough turnover, not enough profit.
  2.  A difficulty in recruiting and keeping great people.

In both cases “reason why” is a big issue.  When pushed and questioned more closely most of the people we talked to clearly were not providing their customers with a strong enough “reason why” to spend money or a strong enough “reason why” for great people to come and work for them.

Times may very well be tough for the next year or two but even as it stands it is a very competitive marketplace out there for coffee bars.  You simply won’t survive if you don’t provide a clear reason for people to visit and spend money with you on a consistent basis.  Likewise it is impossible to expect great people to work for you if you don’t provide a great job and your expectation is that they should be lucky to have a job at all and that you pay 10p more than the average rate.  Those days are long gone.

So why should people visit your business?  What is it that differentiates you from the competition?  What is it that you do so well that the sales rep makes a 5 mile detour just to get the chance to buy?  What is it that you sell that is so great that the office worker in the building across the road cannot concentrate on her work because she can’t stop thinking about the taste of it?  What is it that makes people walk past Starbucks in their prime location to visit you in your location which is a little bit further down the road?

And likewise why would somebody want to work for you?  What is it that makes your business a great place to spend eight hours a day?  What do you provide that makes the person working in the big chain down the road think “I’m fed up here, I’m just a number, I’m going to see if XXXXXX have any jobs – apparently they’re a great place to work”

I’ll give some examples of great “reason whys” in the next couple of days but in between the frantic “doing, doing, doing” of today try to grab five minutes and watch your customers to observe why they might give you money.  Also ask your staff why they like working for you.

Johnnie Richardson 

Who paid your mortgage this Christmas?

Every coffee business of almost any type (even the unsuccessful ones) manages to generate some fiercely loyal customers. These customers very often visit every day and sometimes will visit several times a day. Occasionally they can be irritating and offer you all sorts of advice that you could easily do without. But ignore them at your peril because most of us never sit down to calculate just how important these people are to our business and to our own ability to pay the mortgage!

I learnt this to my cost when I was to busy opening new businesses and ignoring the concerns of one key long term customer in my last coffee shop. The story is fully documented in our book but only when I lost these customers to a competitor (now client) did I calculate just how much money they brought into the business every week, month and year. More than enough to pay my mortgage for a two months.

Of course your circumstances will be different and your mortgage payments will be at different levels but you’ll still have those same key customers who represent a huge amount of your turnover and ultimately profit.

So here’s the question…

  • What did you do for your “mortgage customers” this Christmas as a thankyou?
  • What did you do to make sure they stay loyal to you this year?
  • What did you do to make them feel special?

Do you buy them anything? A little gift, or a few free coffees? Maybe a free lunch or perhaps some vouchers? Or did you even take the time to look them squarely in the eye and say “Thankyou – I really appreciate your business and hope you’ll be with us as much next year”

My guess is that you didn’t. Because so few people do. We get so caught up in running the business and making sure that we prepare for our own Christmas that we forget who it is that is actually paying for our Christmas and that of our team.

So make sure that in the new year you do something a little extra for those top 20% of your customers. It’s an awful lot easier to look after an existing customer than it is to try and get new ones.

So with that myself and Hugh would like to thank all our clients and everyone who bought our book. It has been an amazing success and we currently sit at number 20 on Amazon for business strategy. It is consistently the highest selling book on running coffee bars and we are delighted that so many people have enjoyed it. It’s been a great year for us and we will be doing a lot more speaking next year so hopefully we’ll see you at some of these events.

Many thanks

Johnnie Richardson