Coffee shop growth: 10 tips from GAIL’s Bakery and Blank Street at the London Coffee Festival

Industry trends, Latest from Vita Mojo

April 24, 2024

Coffee shop growth depends on a number of elements coming together for the perfect brew. 

For operators, it can be an overwhelming puzzle trying to work out what to focus on to ensure your coffee brand can scale. 

Luckily, experts from growing coffee businesses are often more than happy to share their insights. 

At the London Coffee Festival 2024, two of the most exciting – and fastest growing – players in the UK coffee shop scene took to the stage to talk about their separate growth journeys. 

GAIL’s Bakery

Marta Pogroszewska – Managing Director of GAIL’s Bakery discussed the brand’s continuing expansion into the coffee scene, with the craft bakery planning the launch of its 135th site in May 2024.

Blank Street Coffee

Elsewhere, the UK MD of Blank Street Coffee – Ignacio Llado – dove into the brand’s astonishing growth story, from the first UK site opening in 2022 through to its 30th this year (and more incoming).

Check out some of the best coffee shop growth tips we heard during the talks below…

1. Find your niche within the UK coffee market

“We make two big promises.

First and foremost we promise that everything we do, it’s going to be the highest quality ingredients possible, and give as much consistency as possible. 

But at the same time, there’s the promise to break the rules a bit, make things that are fun, innovative, not part of the status quo.

Most of the time we’ve seen players go for one side or the other. 

We truly think that these two things can come together. That you can promise incredibly high quality products, incredibly high quality experiences, but still have some fun. 

For example, coming up with things like the Blueberry Matcha which is taking London by storm. I think that’s really it, finding an intersection, and in between those two points of tension we built a USP.”

Ignacio Llado
UK Managing Director - Blank Street Coffee

2. Ensure new order channels reflect your coffee shop brand

“Our stamp cards were paper, and we were one of the last to keep doing that in the coffee industry, because we thought it was cute, real and honest. 

So when we moved to an app, we kept the same mindset. We still give stamps to our customers, but now we can see data. 

We definitely now know a lot more about our loyal customers. 

I’m really grateful to see how many people are using it. It’s really simple, we haven’t overplayed on the tech side.

Nearly a third of our customers are using it, which is one of the highest engagements across the industry. We love that people are so passionate about the loyalty scheme.”

Marta Pogroszewska
Managing Director - GAIL's Bakery

The GAIL's loyalty app: behind the scenes

Discover the power of mobile apps – plus behind-the-scenes insights from GAIL’s Bakery – in our full guide

3. Create a 10/10 experience for your ideal customer first

“Some of the early customer mentality was around ‘there’s not enough seating, plugs or wifi.’

It does open up an interesting question – should we try stores that have seating? 

But first, let’s try to understand who Blank Street is for, and make that experience 10/10, instead of making everyone’s experience 7/10.

80-90% of our customers grab and go, so let’s focus on getting that piece really right. Then think about how we crack the other rituals.”

Ignacio Llado
UK Managing Director - Blank Street Coffee

4. Stay true to your brand when expanding

“When we were going to Manchester and we opened our first site there, we had a great debate about changing the pricing, model, and range. 

But we decided to go with GAIL’s as it is anywhere else. We kept to our truest and purest and it’s been a great success. SInce then we’ve opened another four bakeries and are looking to open another two.

It shows that if you really stick to your values, stick to your core and stand for what you mean to do, it works, Everyone that tries to scale definitely has to have some ethos and mission they own, sticking to the mission is really important.”

Marta Pogroszewska
Managing Director - GAIL's Bakery

5. But there’s still room to be flexible and experiment when growing in new markets

What we figured out was that we had to build our own soul here in the UK that was really tailored to our London consumers. 

We’ve been able to build the brand bottom-up, instead of top-down. Meaning with a constant dialogue with the consumers, instead of trying to come in with a brand that was already rigid, and trying to shove it down a particular region or new city.

We’ve had the flexibility and opportunity to try things. If you were to ask me where Blank Street will be in terms of product offering and brand two years from now, I hope I don’t have the full answer already. That’s what makes it exciting.”

Ignacio Llado
UK Managing Director - Blank Street Coffee

6. Listen to the customers from your first coffee shop location

“We’ll be so grateful to our Hampstead customers for sticking with us for 20 years. They’re our biggest champions and biggest challengers. Those first people that you know will tell you when something needs to change or move, because they love us so much. That they will always give us the best feedback on what we do.”

Marta Pogroszewska
Managing Director - GAIL's Bakery

7. Hold your coffee brand accountable to a mission statement

“When times are tough, and they are tough, if there’s one thing that’s more than just a transaction and it’s a small spend that makes you happy every day, it’s probably the last thing you want to cut out.

That’s what we want to hold ourselves accountable to. We don’t want to just give a product, we want to give you that moment that makes you happy every day.

The very core of our mission statement is “to create daily rituals that enrich your life”. 

So in everything that we do, there’s a question of ‘are we designing this to be daily?’. If it’s not, then it’s out.”

Ignacio Llado
UK Managing Director - Blank Street Coffee

8. Find managers that connect with your ethos

“For all the operators in the audience, the secret is to find the best manager who can build the best team, absolutely understands the brand, and connects authentically to what we do. It’s just so important.

You cannot underestimate the importance of the managers and the teams. How important it is to have the best team with continuous passion to grow.”

Marta Pogroszewska
Managing Director - GAIL's Bakery

9. Embrace specials to appeal to a wider audience

Speciality drinks have been super popular. In a lot of stores, one in every two drinks we sell is a drink that is only available at Blank Street. 

And there’s a big audience – for instance with matcha – that serves a slightly different purpose. There’s lots of people out there who don’t drink coffee, or at least not all day long. We have very different people coming for very different reasons, and that’s very exciting. 

It’s really understanding these communities, and building around them, that’s allowed us to take the brand and product to the next level.”

Ignacio Llado
UK Managing Director - Blank Street Coffee

10. Consider how you can scale your coffee shop sustainability

“Every single time we open another bakery, we can buy better equipment, more sustainable ingredients, and get to know the small, local producers.

It’s a little more difficult to scale the sustainable ingredients. We look for partners that are absolutely able to scale and are passionate about the bigger impact. 

We debate how far we can push the dial to make a better choice rather than an easier or cheaper one. We don’t start from the cost of ingredients; we start from, ‘Is it the best ingredient? Is it going to help good things go further? Are we going to help the cause?”

Marta Pogroszewska
Managing Director - GAIL's Bakery

Almost two-thirds of GAIL’s Bakery customers are now using the brand’s loyalty app – developed in partnership with Vita Mojo to ensure it reflects the character of the iconic craft bakery.

gails bakery mobile omnichannel loyalty

Every coffee shop operation is on a different growth journey. But partnering with the right tech supplier – one who understands your brand inside out – can make all the difference in how far that journey takes you. 

Book a chat with one of our coffee shop experts to learn more about how the right tech can help your coffee shop grow, confidently.