What I Learned When Opening The Lottie Coffee + Cone

Must-Read Advice for Anyone Who Wants to Open Their Own Shop

Article by Jami Nato

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The first thing you need to know is that you will never be ready to open your shop. There are too many things to get done, too many things left undone, and it will never be just perfect. 

We had the main things ready to go and at some point we just had to unlock the door and figure it out—and do it scared. You will feel afraid; it doesn’t mean you don’t move forward, it just means you’re doing something worth fighting for. That should feel kinda scary! 

With that said , Figuring it out in front of people is tough. We all like to look like we know what we’re doing, but the fact is we just don’t. And when we admit that, people are much more gracious when we make mistakes, because they do too. I can’t tell you how many times we said, “thank you for being so kind while we learn how to make a better XYZ.” 

I think sometimes we forget, people really want us to win. If you are building into their community, they are there for you. You will always have a couple “negative Nancy’s” and those could easily bring you down for the whole day. But for the most part you need to remember, people are excited for your shop to be in their community, whether you get the mocha right or wrong! 

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Understand the Importance of Social Media

Something I already knew, and brought in from my last business venture, was knowing that I need to show up every day on social media with a photo or a repost or education or entertainment. Always repost someone who posts about you! Posting one time a week won’t build your business very well; people just don’t see it these days with all the information flying at them.

I would encourage you to follow hashtags from your town and the outlying towns—and make sure that you are connecting with those people by liking and commenting on their posts. We have an Instagram page and a Facebook page and we are not afraid to spend some money to promote our product on those platforms so more people see them. The more you post on these platforms, the more you’ll figure out what works for your demographic. 

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Have Some Capital

Which brings me to my next point; you’re going to need some capital. It takes a lot of money to start a shop, especially if you are not going to be the one working there. Labor will probably be your most expensive cost. Renovating costs a lot more than you think—there’s always something that comes up. In the first two weeks our air conditioning broke. It turns out we are responsible for that, not the landlord. Surprise! 

Luckily, we don’t pull a salary out of any of the profits. You definitely need an emergency fund and you definitely need to expect not to make a profit for some time—some people say one year is what it takes to get your feet on the ground and start really turning a profit. But each store is so unique—which is why it’s hard to read articles or books or people’s advice and take it as the Bible truth. Your shop is so individual to your community and your style. It’s just going to take going through it and figuring it out, not having all the answers.

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Be a People Person

Lastly, or should I say the most important thing to know: you are in the business of people. Love your people well, and while people come in for a good cup of joe, the coffee eventually fades in the background when love rises up. 

Our shop is not a place where you need to feel bad about not knowing the difference between a cappuccino and a macchiato—we purposefully have a culture of joyful learning, not stuffy pretentious baristas who you’re afraid to talk to. 

Our shop is filled with toys for children because we want moms and dads to feel like they can enjoy their coffee and pastry without rushing. That’s our niche, and niche is very important. I would go so far as to say your special niche is where your calling is at and more so, where your profit is at. You can’t be everything to everyone , but you can authentically be you. Your shop should reflect personality not conformity. 

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A Couple More Tips: 

  • We found local companies and roasters and buy from them. Our ice cream is from a local shop, our pastries are from a local baker, and our coffee is roasted locally. Find people who are already crushing their “art” and use them. That means you don’t have to reinvent all the wheels and quality will already be high! 
  • It is helpful to have a local roaster who you can buy from and who will have a vested interest in training your staff and can help you troubleshoot. We even bought our equipment from the local roasters because they know exactly how to use it and how to troubleshoot when problems arise (and they will!). Local mentorship is HUGE. Supporting other small businesses is also a big deal! 
  • Make a name in your neighborhood: We immediately supported the local school fundraisers, the community 5K, and made friends with the next door businesses by bringing them coffee and saying hi. Knowing your community and having them see you’re there to serve them is a really big asset. 
  • We set the employee culture immediately by having trainings and casting a vision. We constantly have to say, we are here to serve people. Always make the customer happy even if you don’t feel it’s your fault. We’d rather make you a new drink than fight with you about liking your old drink. That is not worth five dollars to us. 
  • Keeping a clean store is important for sanitary reasons but also important to know that you’re setting your coworkers up for success when they walk in the door. Everything we do is for other people and about other people.
  • With staff, we want them experimenting with new flavors and we ask for their input often. Just because you’re the boss, doesn’t mean you need to know everything, manage everything, or do everything. Ask for their opinions and include them in the process—this creates a sense of ownership. 

Best of luck on your new venture! 

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Follow Jami Nato @jaminato

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