Last updated Apr 03, 2024 and written by Peter Mcilhone

What You Need To Know Before Opening Your Coffee Shop

Move over, Starbucks! Independent coffee shops are back on the rise, and ready to challenge the big brand monopolies.

In 2017, shares of Whitbread, owners of the multinational Costa Coffee fell 6% after the coffee brand’s annual revenue slowed to 2%. Meanwhile, SimplyBusiness reported that independent coffee shops are cropping up across the country at a rapid rate. The site reported a 69% growth in independent coffee startups in Nottingham compared to the previous year, a 53% increase in Birmingham and a 48% rise in Sheffield. So how do you start a coffee shop?

The good news for you is consumers realise that the larger chains can’t compare to the intangible charm of the independent coffee shop. For all that the industry leaders try, they can’t replicate the quirky and self-aware local cafés.

Why a coffee shop?

It’s never been better to own a coffee shop of your own. Especially in a world where community sourced crowdfunding can open up excellent and meaningful investment opportunities in your neighbourhood.

By inviting your local community to invest in your coffee startup, you can forge an early fan base with a stake in a business they are proud of. In return for funding, offering incentives like discounts and promotional materials can make you money while advertising your new company through word of mouth and interest-building freebies.

Emphasise that the community will be supporting a local business. This will place you in a great position to benefit from generous members of the community looking to help independent, unique companies flourish.

While your coffee shop doesn’t need to behave differently to its multinational competitors, an important part of brand building is carefully considering the type of products you offer, and how they’re sourced. While it’s cheaper to invest in less ethical coffee sources, it won’t sit well with your target customers who are becoming increasingly socially conscious. They will be expecting their independent coffee shop to have ethical values.

Cost effective credibility

Luckily, there are plenty of ethical coffee sources that are cost-effective. Fair Trade is a great option that shows you where your money is going. Direct Trade, for example, provides strong premiums for workers who source the coffee by removing the middlemen. Workers receive 25% higher than Fair Trade price in some cases, according to

For even more credibility around your business, source organic coffee. This approach is slightly more of an investment, but customers are keen to support ethical practices in coffee outlets and it will differentiate you from other coffee shops on the high street.

Remember that big brand coffee chains have a reliable customer base because visitors can enjoy a familiar taste no matter the time of day or location. Your best chance of competing with famous outlets is by outclassing them for quality. But how do you find a trustworthy supplier, and guarantee a higher quality bean?

When choosing your supplier, don’t be afraid to ask for samples. Ultimately it’s crucial that you buy the best quality in your price range, and you’ll need to taste the coffee to decide if it’s right for your business.

Make a checklist of what to keep in mind before seeking out your supplier. It’s vital to ensure that you’re working with a company that can handle regular deliveries with no fuss, and at a manageable price. Flexibility is key too – if your stock is running low, you’ll need a company that’s on hand to arrange an emergency delivery at short notice. But fundamentally, shop around. Shortlist prospective suppliers and assess them on their individual merits and weaknesses. There’s no right or wrong answer; you, as the business owner, will choose the coffee that best suits your business model.

Keeping it legal

As an independent shop owner, it’s essential to keep on top of the legalities. As a food and drink establishment, particular attention needs to be made with hygiene, too.

Your coffee shop will require all of its food hygiene ratings, which will be awarded after your local authority runs checks on your premises. It’s also important to obtain all the licencing you need. For example, if you’re planning on playing background music or live music in your shop, these require licences. Setting up CCTV and placing advertising boards outside also needs a licence. The same goes for placing tables and chairs outside your shop. Fortunately, makes this process easy and you can apply in a matter of minutes.

Don’t forget about insurance. As an independent coffee shop owner, you’ll need to keep on top of Public Liability Insurance to protect your customers from any accidents that may occur on your premises, as well as Commercial Property Insurance – which will ensure peace of mind should anything happen to your shop.

Taking out the right insurance is especially important for a business that deals in catering because food preparation brings an increased risk of accidents. For example, scalding from proximity to hot water and machinery is something you should be aware of.

Finally, you’ll need to plan for the formation of your business. Should you establish yourself as a sole trader or limited company? There are various pros and cons for either, so let’s explore them.

Limited company vs sole trader

As a sole trader, the process of setting your company up is much more simple, and your accounts won’t be subject to audits. Your payments will come in the form of yearly tax returns, and accountancy fees will be relatively low too.

However, being a sole trader means that you’re personally responsible for the company’s debts – which means that your personal assets will be at risk. There are also fewer opportunities for tax planning and fewer government departments to liaise with in getting support.

Setting up as a limited company is more complex, but it positions you as a separate entity from your business. This means that your personal possessions won’t be at risk if you spend an extended amount of time in the red. Many ventures aren’t interested in working with sole traders, either. If you are looking to collaborate with outside companies in future, your business can come across much more professional as a limited company.

However, this is a much more expensive method. You’ll be required to file accounts, company tax and corporation tax calculations with HMRC each year. You would also need to file accounts with Companies House annually, which will be on public record.

While setting up a strong independent coffee shop may seem daunting at first, as you can see, with the right guidance the process can be simplified. That’s why Companies Made Simple offers a range of formation services designed to take the strain out of setting up, and ensures you’re ready to go.

Coffee is complex enough, so register with us and take the legal stress off your shoulders, so you can get back to reviving the local, independent coffee shop for your community! Also, if you’d like a little more help regarding company formation, feel free to check out our help centre.  For more information on our company registration packages to help get you started, you can view them here.