One Size Doesn’t Fit All

How we think about coffee businesses – and how it can help you

As United Baristas grows, coffee people and businesses use our services in increasingly different ways. To make meaningful decisions on things such as what improvements to make next, which new functions we should implement or who we should target, we segment coffee businesses into categories to identify their needs and serve them better.

For example, you might be surprised to learn that small and large businesses use United Baristas Market differently. Or metropolitan and rural businesses have different recruitment requirements.

One of the most active types of coffee business on United Baristas is what we call coffee retail. These are consumer-facing, bricks-and-mortar businesses selling cups of coffee to consumers. Our coffee retail category includes establishments such as coffee shops, delis, restaurants and cafés. 

This article explains how segmenting this diverse range of coffee businesses has helped us – and how it can help you.

Saint Espresso Angel Central

Identifying coffee-led businesses

The first distinction we make is between coffee-led and food-led coffee businesses.

We define a coffee-led site as one which the majority of revenue comes from coffee.

For example, in our latest New Openings roundup many of the sites profiled, including Wildcard, Rosslyn, Old Spike, Saint Espresso (pictured above), Over Under, Queen of the Suburbs and Scandinavian Coffee Pod, are all coffee-led. A typical proprietor would look at these propositions and anticipate that at least 50% of revenue will come from coffee beverage sales.

For comparison, in the Autumn 2021 roundup we featured a range of non-coffee-led sites, including BloomsYard (pictured above), Marmaduke’s and Bristol Beacon. Plus Frequency and The Gentlemen Baristas’ new sites are probably in this category as well.

All of these locations are likely to earn the majority of their revenue from the sale of food, wine, beer and grocery.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ve call this category food-led – although clearly there is a broader range of propositions amongst this edit of businesses.

Food-led sites can still have a strong coffee focus and even be esteemed coffee establishments. Good examples include coffee businesses such as Caravan, Ozone and Hard Lines Cafe.

BloomsYard Bishopsgate

Thinking about coffee businesses like this creates interesting points for investigation. 

For example, Rosslyn (top image) is clearly coffee-led. Another similar central London coffee shop Kaffeine has significantly greater food sales (let’s guess food contributes to around 50% of their revenue). 

So consider this thought experiment: if Kaffeine was to operate out of a Rosslyn’s site with their Eastcastle Street proposition, would it be more or less profitable than Rosslyn’s proposition in that same site?

We think these are the types of questions coffee shop owners should spend more time asking. 

It also explains why barista jobs across various coffee businesses can be surprisingly different. When baristas looking for a new job, it would be prudent to think about what types of coffee establishments are likely to make them happy. As we speak with baristas from across the community, it seems that their personal fit with the site’s proposition is as important for their satisfaction as the shop’s culture. 

Old Spike Piccadilly

Size also matters

When understanding sites, we also segment by size.

For example, Old Spike’s new Piccadilly location (pictured above) is clearly small, as is Over Under’s new South Kensington site. 

The Saint Espresso Angel Central shop is medium as is WatchHouse’s Bishopsgate site. But the new WatchHouse location at Seven Dials is on the cusp of medium and large – and would probably be categorised internally as a large site.

BloomsYard’s Bishopsgate site and Marmaduke’s Sorting Office are both clearly large sites. 

In general, smaller sites tend to be more coffee focused and larger sites tend towards being food led. However, it’s not uncommon for small, medium or large establishments in the same area to sell a similar volume of cups of coffee per day – with the variation in daily takings largely being attributable to food.

It’s a useful set of distinctions. Again, baristas need to be mindful of the size of site they are working in to understand what their day-to-day work is actually going to entail. 

Managers also need to consider options carefully as it might be more beneficial for one’s career to be an assistant manager in a larger, food-focused site than a manager in a smaller, coffee-focused site, depending on what you want to do in the future.

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Putting this all together

Using both coffee sales and size we can segment to create six categories.

We’ve named each of these six categories after the most common use type:

  • Espresso Bars
  • Coffee Shops
  • Roastery Cafés
  • Sandwich Bars
  • Cafés
  • Restaurants

Espresso bars, coffee shops, cafés and restaurants are the main coffee retail business users of United Baristas (shaded blue above), in part because they are currently the most common specialty coffee formats.  

Using sales and size to identify common retail coffee business types

We also have found that some of these types of businesses are more engaged users of United Baristas services. So, if we are going to spend time acquiring new business, it makes sense for us to focus our efforts on businesses that will use our services more. 

Similarly, as an example, roasters could use this segmentation to understand which of their customers require more account management, have better payment histories and are more valuable customers. 

Make this insight your own

We are sharing this insight now both because we have found it useful and because we have some forthcoming articles that use the terms espresso bar, coffee shop, café and restaurant with these definitions.

Also, we think further discussion about segmenting by focus and size is now best carried out at the community level, rather than just internally at United Baristas. For example, what types of sites in which locations are more profitable? Or we are the first to accept that ‘roastery cafés’ is not an ideal term, but it was the best we came up with at the time.

You can use these segments as you see fit. But please do let us know your developments, thoughts and experiences.


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