Top 5 Tips to Opening Your Own Cafe, By London Gecko Coffeehouse's Founder, Andrew Shovlin
'Offering refuge from the everyday bustle of London is a little oasis called Gecko Coffeehouse.' - Andrew Shovlin, Founder of Gecko Coffeehouse.
In the autumn of 2021, Andrew Shovlin opened Gecko Coffeehouse, a verdant sanctuary of plant-based goodness that has since ensnared the hearts of all who grace its doorstep. Tucked away at the intersection of Redchurch Street and Bethnal Green Road, a bustling thoroughfare that leads to the vintage haven of Brick Lane, this café serves as a respite for students, workers, and bibliophiles seeking refuge from the city's frenzied pace. Upstairs, patrons sip on aromatic brews while taking in the sights and smells of the open bakery, while downstairs, the clacking of laptop keys and the hushed murmurs of headphone-clad individuals create a soothing hum of activity. With its Mykonnos-inspired decor of plush beige cushions, wooden furnishings adorned with lush greenery, and a serene atmosphere, Gecko Coffeehouse is a true oasis in the heart of London.
Hailing from the Emerald Isle and a graduate of Trinity College, where he studied both Computer Science and Business, Shovlin came to London in pursuit of his professional ambitions and found himself entranced by the city's vibrant coffee culture. Over time, he carefully honed his skills in the art of coffee-making, meticulously selecting the finest beans, crafting a delectable menu, and curating an inviting atmosphere that has become the stuff of legend.
Each and every day, Shovlin and his dedicated team pour their hearts and souls into creating a warm and welcoming space that embraces all who enter. And now, this coffee savant is offering his top five tips for those looking to follow in his footsteps and open a café of their very own.
1. Clearly Define Your Brand
These days, it is easy for cafes to get lost amongst the crowd, even if they are great! With that in mind, it is essential to have something unique about your brand or offering that helps it to be noticed and gain the best chance for success.
Take your time as you sketch out your ideas around what your cafe could become, considering aspects such as the brand style, internal atmosphere, menu and the customer experience you wish to achieve. Along with claiming your place in the market, this process will also help to define where to open your cafe, what size of property you will need and what sort of customers you will expect to attract. It is also super important to be able to clearly communicate to the customer what you are about. Clear messaging on your shopfront and social platforms is underrated.
In any case, don't try to be too niche. Be different but approachable.
2. Understand Your Costs
It sounds obvious but truly understanding and budgeting your costs for opening your cafe is invaluable and could be the difference between making or breaking your new business. Assuming you’ve already answered the question of if your business idea is feasible, rent and staff will be your primary costs to manage as you move forward.
Rent Percentage = (Rent + Rates) / Net Revenue
When finding a property, your projected revenue levels will indicate your rent budget. It is of course dependent on many factors but, typically, you should target a rent percentage of 10% stretching up to 15% in more restricted cases. Any higher than that, you will be wrestling with your rent costs indefinitely. Any less and you risk becoming too profitable (unlikely!).
Staff Percentage = (Total Salaries + Tax) / Net Revenue
A similar logic applies when it comes to planning your team and rota.
Your end game target for staff percentage should be around 30-35%.
Running at a level much lower or higher than this, when you are an established business, will cause its own independent issues. A correct staffing level is not only conducive to a healthy business but also a happy, sustainable team and atmosphere.
In any case, you will always be restricted by a minimum headcount, which will be dictated by the amount of work there is to be done on a daily basis. If you find that your team are stretched, review your workflow before adding more hands!
3. Focus on the Important Things
When setting up your own business, there will be a million and one things to think about and get distracted by. Take note of the important items that will lead you to your desired outcome and put them as a priority. This also applies to how you spend your money and efforts.
In general, only spend what you need on various opening costs. Where possible, avoid spending much money on physical aspects of the property you are renting. If you need to leave the property in future, none of those costs will be retrievable if they are painted into the walls!
E.g. rather than installing an expensive new ceiling, instead you can paint out the ceiling (and everything you want to hide!) in black and hang some nice light fittings to accent the space. Both serve the same purpose but the latter is cheaper and has an undo-ability to it.
Understand what your customers will appreciate about your cafe. Typically, they will notice the general atmosphere, customer service and quality of product you serve them. With this in mind, optimise these things before anything else.
E.g. No point in wasting time designing an updated menu style for your shop if your customers are not already being greeted by a friendly interaction at the till.
Repeat customers and word of mouth are what you are looking for. You should always aim to please the customer as the primary focus and let them do the marketing for you!
4. Assemble the Correct Team
This is a point that I feel very close to because, at the point of deciding to open Gecko, I didn’t even have the knowledge of how to make a cup of coffee! I was blessed by my chance to find an amazing team of baristas to help me with opening the cafe.
Not only does your opening team provide you with additional experience and ideas, but they are also part of your support structure for getting the business off the ground. No doubt, there will be a ramp-up period where everyone will be working a bit more than they bargained for but, with the correct team members, this can become a fun process and hopefully everyone will come out of it feeling like they made their mark on what the cafe developed into in the long run.
The first few months after opening your doors will determine how you are received by the local customers so you want to have the right people on your team to ensure that the correct service and quality standards are being hit from day one.
5. Look After Yourself!
This one is for you, the person who will be opening the cafe!
Going about setting up your own business, especially for the first time, can be a daunting, lonely and sometimes unachievable-feeling task. You are guaranteed to go through difficult periods but this is all in the mind of trusting the process and looking forward to the day you realise it was all worth it.
Although you may want to put all of the hours in the world into your cafe, remember that you have a team for a reason. Everyone needs to play their part and nobody’s part is to work themselves into oblivion! As an owner, you have many responsibilities beyond the shop floor and you shouldn’t feel guilty letting the rest of your team take on their role, while you focus on yours.
Above anything else, always remember to enjoy yourself.
Running your own business can be a beautiful thing. Flow with the ups and downs and always keep a positive mindset, regardless of what part of the rollercoaster you are on today!
All imagery is provided by Gecko Coffeehouse.