With more than 72,000
coffee brands in the U.S. as of 2023, the competition for coffee lover customers has never been higher. There is no “build it and they will come” these days—to build a sustainable business, you’ll have to hustle to get the sales machine rolling.
Getting your first 1,000 customers is the hardest part. In this article, we’ll explore practical strategies for attracting that first set of pivotal customers that are working for coffee brands in 2023.
Step‑by‑step suggestions for both coffee shops and roasters
The secret to building a coffee brand customers care about
Plus, the surprising power of leaving a note
Make yourself a pourover and keep reading. ☕
New Coffee Brands: Stand Out or Be Forgotten
Your brand is your business's reputation. It’s what comes to mind when people think of your business—and it’s up to you to develop. Brand your business intentionally, and you can build up customer loyalty and stand out from your rivals.
Coming up with an entire branding strategy can be a challenge. That’s why we developed these three rules for creating effective and bold branding:
1. Pick a Fight, Take a Stand
Picking a fight (against a concept, not a person) is one way to break out from the crowd when it comes to branding.
Picking a fight gives you and your potential customers a common enemy to unite against, and a common cause to fight for. Think carefully about this, and lean in with your branding and marketing materials.
(And make sure your company embodies these ideals in every aspect of its operation; otherwise, it’s just marketing fluff.)
2. Avoid Generic Marketing
It’s easy to fall into using the same generic marketing materials and language. What coffee company doesn’t say they offer high‑quality beans that taste great? Stand out by avoiding these cliche marketing phrases and telling your own stories instead.
Customers crave authenticity.
What got you into coffee? Who are you trying to reach? How has your story shaped your approach to business? You could target a specific audience (local university students) or a cause, like Billy & Beau’s
did by employing people with intellectual or physical disabilities. Or you could simply focus on your city or neighborhood. Whatever it is: be specific, be personal, and be real.
3. Minimalism vs. Maximalism. It doesn’t matter.
Coffee marketing design tends to follow patterns—an endless cycle of minimalist and maximalist marketing. Wild designs and bold colors become the trend and soon everyone follows suit. Time passes, someone else releases their coffee in plain white or brown bags, and the minimalism trend begins again.
These design philosophies will continue to be popular, with brands changing design philosophies every decade or so. But more important than chasing these trends (and more memorable to your audience) is telling a story, inspiring your customers, and building lasting relationships with them.
The key takeaway? Design style is fleeting. Finding customers who align with your mission and values is the foundation of powerful branding.
Up Next: Practical tips for getting your first 1,000 customers.
How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers: As a Coffee Shop
Starting a local coffee shop or truck? Here are some of our favorite strategies for new businesses trying to win their first 1,000 customers:
Get set up on Google.
Local SEO is key for attracting customers. Make sure your Google My Business
is fully set up. Without this, you won’t show up on Google Maps and might as well be located in Antarctica. Fill out as much detail as possible and post updates like you would any other social media platform. Hot tip: Show off your cafe with professional photos — don’t forget to take good shots of the interior and exterior, your menu, plus a selection of your best offerings.
Spread the word in your community. A good cafe should be more than a place to drink coffee. It should be a real part of the community. Consider partnering with a local charity to help raise money and show locals that you’re more than just another business. You could demonstrate this by donating to said charity a percentage of profits per bag or coffee sold.
The classic “free coffee” sign. Put a sign out offering a free small coffee on certain days and times. Many will want to visit your shop once they realize you exist—they just need a good reason to stop and come inside for a visit. One visit is all it may take to turn a stranger into a long‑term customer.
Make it Instagrammable. Your drinks might be delicious, but how well do they photograph? How about your actual shop, the decor, tableware, and overall atmosphere. Create an eye‑catching space that people want to photograph and share — a quick search on Instagram will show you hundreds of examples.
Invite local influencers and press. Getting local influencers to post your place on social media is a great way to generate buzz. But sliding into their DMs might not yield that many responses. Instead, consider creating a Welcome Box with some swag and a gift card. Write a note and send a picture saying, “We’ve got a free swag box with your name on it.” That’ll give you a much higher response rate and a greater chance of them showing up!
Another surprisingly accessible way you can stand out is by offering your own unique coffee.
How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers: As a Coffee Roaster
Starting a coffee roasting business? Many of the suggestions for coffee shops can still apply you to, especially if you intend to have a local focus. To get more specific about practical ideas for roasters, we reached out to our network of coffee‑roasting experts and asked them how they’d approach getting their first 1,000 customers. Here’s what they had to say:
Host Giveaways with Bigger Brands. Reach out to non‑competing brands you admire and ask about hosting a giveaway together. This can be an effective way to reach each other's customer groups and potentially collect contact information for future marketing efforts.
Get Wacky on Social Media. Couplet Coffee
is a great example of this. The brand uses bright colors, and wacky photos in their marketing to stand out from the crowd. As we mentioned earlier, design trends of minimalism and maximalism are ever‑changing, but Couplet Coffee goes beyond design to build a connection to their audience by using humor and culture in a unique way. When you have a strong brand, you can utilize this strategy similarly.
Always Leave a Note. Effective marketing is all about emotions. It’s hard to beat the good vibes of a personal touch—that’s why we recommend writing personal notes to your customers. A quick note left inside their coffee box might not sound like a lot, but when done well, it communicates authenticity and personability.
Cold Outreach. This might send shivers down your spine, but it’s still an effective way of reaching customers. Consider going to local events and handing out branded swag, visiting local coffee shops and offering them free samples of your beans, or picking up the phone and calling potential partners or customers.
We recommend skipping paid advertising as a new coffee roaster. Paid ads are expensive. Get your first thousand customers without running ads and make sure you have solid product‑market fit before spending big bucks on paid ads.
If you do ring up potential customers, make sure you have a good script and a clear value proposition — you don’t want to waste anyone’s time and unintentionally leave a negative brand impression.
Sell Coffee? You Should Be Roasting It.
There are few things as powerful for a coffee shop as starting to roast your own coffee. Even for new shops, offering branded roasts gives customers a chance to feel even more like what you sell is a locally‑created product (which helps get to 1,000 customers faster).
With a Bellwether Roaster, it won’t take you six months to learn how to be an expert roaster. We can get you there in a matter of weeks. Plus, customers using Bellwether roasters increase their sales by three to five times.
Curious what Bellwether can do for you? Talk to a customer success rep today.