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How to Develop an Unfair Advantage for Your Coffee Shop

What is an Unfair Advantage?

In the bustling world of coffee, where every local cafe offers a cup of something special, the real question isn't about your coffee's origin or whether you know the perfect brewing temperature for a Chemex.


No, the battleground shifts to something much deeper, something inherent to your business and utterly unique: your unfair advantage.


An unfair advantage may sound a bit shady at first blush, but really it's simply what gives you a competitive edge in the market.

Don't assume a fair playing field


First of all, take a look at the market you're going into.

Don't assume that your competition is playing with same tools you are.

Competitors might have a sweetheart deal on their lease agreement, a source for super cheap supplies, a built-in customer base, a team of owners/investors with much more capital to work with, or more.

Unfair advantages in business exist all around. Identify them when you can (especially if it's your competition) and gauge if you can compete by fashioning your own unfair advantages.

Tangible vs. intangible advantages


Let's get this straight—your unfair advantage isn't just a quirky feature or a novelty brewing method.

It's some infrastructure, the very backbone of your coffee shop that makes replication by competitors not just difficult but near impossible. It's not merely about what you do but how and why you do it that sets you apart in a market saturated with choices.

Consider the possibility that your unfair advantage could be something as tangible as a lease so favorable it feels like you've won the real estate lottery, or as intangible as a well-known brand.

I'm a fan of the tangible advantages, because they can be measured and quantified. Making business decisions simpler.

Developing an unfair advantage for your coffee shop


Identifying your unfair advantage isn't just an exercise in business acumen—it's an exploration of what makes your coffee shop truly indispensable.


It requires you to dig deep, to search all the aspects of a coffee business and find little hidden gems that you can illuminate to work for you.


So, how do you unearth this treasure? Cue music for Link opening a treasure chest


It begins with a deep analysis about your business. It's about leveraging this edge in every decision, every marketing message, and every customer interaction.


Some unfair advantages (or places to look for one):

  • Location - the most obvious place to look for unfair advantages because it's gonna be one of your biggest fixed costs. How about partnering with a real estate group as an anchor for a new commercial strip and paying rent as a % of sales (with a cap) instead of a fixed rate? Read more about location ->

  • Coffee - the next most obvious place. Do you already roast coffee? This can save you some margin by cutting down costs you'd pay to other roasters.

  • Local business - Can you be the coffee supplier to some other local businesses? Locking in a contract and promoting your cafe simultaneously?

  • Unused space - Cafes are busiest in the mornings and early afternoon, can you turn your space over to another use in the evenings? Perhaps partnering with an event coordinator or photographer.

  • Shared use of space - Can you find a baker or someone else in need of commercial kitchen space that you can rent out to them without interrupting your operations?

Planning for coffee shop success


I've said if before, and I will again: starting and running any business is difficult.


Don't expect things to "take off" without a ton of work and planning.


Don't expect running a coffee shop to be easy just because the business model isn't complicated.


There are many challenges you'll face, so any work you can do to lock in advantages will pay off massively.


Remember this: In a world where anyone can sell coffee, your unfair advantage is a key factor in your cafe's success.


Find it, flaunt it, and let it propel you beyond the competition. Because when you plan an unfair advantage, you're planning success. Stack these success factors where you can.


Now, go out and win!

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