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How to run a coffee shop

James Dickson, founder of Workshop Coffee Co, discusses the day-to-day running of a coffee shop business and the future of the industry.

On managing a work/home life balance...

"You go through phases where there's slightly more time to work from home and therefore be around a lot more. Then there are periods of time where you're just not there at all - you're out and about, you're running around meeting people, looking at new sites, you're worrying or concerned, analysing trade figures at times.

"So it really just depends. In the early days it was pretty full on. 

"You don't get a lot of time, then it kind of settles as it becomes a day-to-day operation. There's more a structure in place, systems in place, and we have the right people in the right positions, which helps."

On the day-to-day running of the business...

"Monday tends to be in the office with my financial controller and office manager and we look at what's going on in the business across two stores, what the wholesale division is doing, where there sales are coming in, then comparing it with like-for-like sales from last year. Then it will normally be meetings.

One of the great things about meetings is that you have meetings over coffee, so people in general tend to come to Workshop Clerkenwell or Workshop Marylebone, then I probably schedule the meetings, liaise with the manager of Clerkenwell, then very briefly with the manager of Marylebone.

"Quite frequently I'll liaise with the director of operations and understand what's going on the coffee side, what's in season from the green side, where do we need to be to buy the best green [unroasted coffee seeds].

"In the last four or five months that's been invariably Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda. So we need to have a presence there, we need to understand how we are going to keep up our commitment to procuring the best green possible.

"And then it's business development mostly, looking at new sites, understanding why the brand should be in that area, understanding why landlords would want a Workshop in that area. So it's a whole variety of things from operations to business development and to a lesser degree, marketing as well."

On the burgeoning coffee culture…

"We differ in lots of ways. As you can see, we're not a typical coffee shop. 

"We roast all the green on site, which makes us a fully established coffee company as opposed to a coffee shop company.

"A lot of what Workshop is about is what is called 'speciality coffee' and being committed to sourcing the best possible green that we can, which is gradient-specialty coffee as opposed to just coffee, which is a graded product and has to be - by definition - of a certain quality. 

"We then take the product and roast it. Every coffee has a different roast profile.

"Roast profiles are designed to highlight the individual nuances in every coffee, so we're trying to highlight the most bespoke flavours in every coffee, through the roasting process and the sourcing process, that we can. 

"It is a convenience product, it has caffeine in it, which is a poison, but as western consumers it acts to stimulate our bodies in the morning. The coffee industry in the UK is growing at a quick rate - that is, British consumers are drinking a lot more of it at an increasing rate.

"The downside of that is that you have to be very, very good at what you do.

"I don't think you can just open a coffee shop now and just say 'oh, we sell coffee'. 

"What sort of coffee are you selling? Where has it been roasted? How as it been roasted? When has it been roasted? Is it fresh? How are you extracting it? What kind of espresso technology are you using? Are you using reverse osmosis to take the hard solubles out of the water?

"All this information is becoming increasingly important in coffee, and that's where the industry is going to go.

"Is that lucrative? Is that growing?


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Matt Skinner

About the author

Matt Skinner writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other industry publications.

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