Are you a coffee connoisseur? Can you go a day without a coffee? No? Well, you’re not alone. That’s why it’s a perfect opportunity for you to start a business.

Whether you want to kickstart a related online business, test the waters for a physical store or create a new brand — a pop-up coffee shop is perfect.

This guide discusses how to start a pop-up coffee shop, which includes:

  • Purpose
  • Funding
  • Product
  • Location
  • Preparation
  • Equipment
  • Marketing
  • Bookkeeping

How to start a pop-up coffee shop

Let your ideas brew and find out all you need to know before you prepare to open.

Define your purpose

Starting a pop-up coffee shop is a great opportunity. But pop-up shops are temporary, so they often have a long-term purpose.

To help you decide what you’d like to do with your business, here are a few routes you can go down.

Create a brand

One of the reasons you could open your pop-up shop is to create a new brand and drive awareness.

Your branding is the public identity of your business, and it’s vital to help customers recognise you.

A brand is your:

  • Name — what’s your business called? (e.g. Cool Beans Coffee).
  • Logo — what’s your icon to help people recognise you? (e.g. a coffee bean with sunglasses).
  • Colours — what 2-3 colours do you use? (e.g. blue, silver and white).
  • Tone of voice — how will you speak to your customers? (e.g. conversational and relaxed).

When you build your shop and sell cups of coffee with your logo, you could encourage people to follow you on social media. 

You could also use a QR code that people can scan to follow you. Then, if they upload a picture of your coffee to Instagram, they get another one free the next day, for example.

Launch e-commerce

Another possible purpose for your pop-up shop could be to introduce people to a product they can buy online.

If you use specific coffee beans, then encourage people to try it, and if they like it, buy a bag online. You can do that by providing a coupon or discount code with every purchase.

Your e-commerce store might want to find a new way to reach people. If you provide them with coffee in public, it could be a great way to get new customers to engage with you.

Testing for store

A pop-up coffee shop could be the ideal first step if you aim to open up a permanent store. You could learn some valuable insights:

  • Customers — is there a market for it? Who will be interested?
  • Sales — what demand would you expect? Which times are the busiest?
  • Operation — what’s the day to day of coffee shops? Can you keep up with the pace?

A new business is an investment, but a pop-up shop will be cheaper to open than a permanent one (e.g. the costs of rent or purchase of property). 

So it might be an excellent way for you to dip your toes into the coffee  pool before you commit to taking a financial dive.

Secure funding

Even though it might be a little less of a strain than a store, a pop-up shop is still likely to cost some money. These expenses could include equipment, for example.

Small business loan

As a small business you have the option to ask a bank to give you the money you need, but you must pay the loan back with interest over an agreed period.

To get a loan, you need to present a business plan, and at least include:

  • Executive summary — your business description and goals.
  • Competitor analysis — detail who your main competition is.
  • Marketing — plan how you’d like to spread the word about your business.
  • Financials — your current finances, the amount you need and how you expect to do (often use a sales forecast).
  • Sales forecast — a projection of your sales in the next month, quarter or year. Calculate from the price you’ll charge and the number of customers you estimate.

Angel investors

Aside from a small business loan, another option you could to seek funds from is angel investors. These wealthy individuals will offer the money you need in exchange for a stake in your business.

People who become angel investors often help those in industries they have experience with. So you could find one who has experience in coffee or pop-up retail that could support you with advice or contacts.

Develop your product

When starting a pop-up coffee shop, the product you sell is crucial to your success. There are plenty of places that sell coffee already, so what’s unique about yours?

Unique selling point

A unique selling point (USP) is the element of what you offer customer’s can’t get elsewhere.

Some examples could include:

  • Ingredients — flavours that create a new taste.
  • Process — made in a new way that changes it.
  • Service — and experience you provide with the coffee (e.g. you while you make it).

Choose your location

For pop-up shops, the location to set up is crucial. It can determine:

  • Customers finding you
  • Competitors affecting your sales

Customers

Your pop-up coffee shop need customers to be able to come to you.

If you find a location in a busy city centre, there’ll be many people who will want coffee on their commute to work. Think about where people are likely to go and aim to open up there.

You could open up just outside an office building, for example, or a music festival.

Competition

Your two main competitors are companies like Starbucks and Costa, and they are everywhere, from small towns to major cities. But if you offer something unique or at a cheaper cost, you could even set it up next door.

Both companies are known for their expensive coffee options. Still, they also have massive success from the people who make them a part of their daily routine

If you can manage to persuade some of their customers to break their habit and try your coffee, you could cause a stir.

Alternatively, if you sell similar coffee and are not cheaper, then you might want to avoid their stores. Find areas they aren’t present and set up there.

Preparing to open your pop-up shop

Once you have your ideal location, there are other steps you need to take before you open. These include:

  • Licence and registration
  • Insurance
  • Design of shop

Licence and registration

Food business registration

In the UK, you’ll need to register for free as a food business before starting to trade. If you don’t, you can receive a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years.

You must register with the council of the areas you want to open. You can do that through the UK Government portal. It also takes at least 28 days to process.

Street trading licence

In addition to registration, you also must apply for a street trading licence. If you don’t have one and open up anyway, your local council can fine you up to £1,000.

When you apply, you will provide the days and times you’d like to trade. There could be a waiting list in your area, so this should also be a priority for you.

You can also apply for a street trading licence through another UK Government portal, but the cost can vary per council and be as high as £399.

Insurance

Public liability insurance

If you only work in your pop-up coffee shop, then there isn’t any compulsory insurance

Although not required, you could benefit from public liability insurance as a business that interacts with the public.

The cover will help you pay for any injuries or property damage your business might cause (which could be helpful when you sell hot drinks).

Design your shop

Before you can open up, you have to create the shop, which means you’ll have to design it. If you need help to build it, the average rate of a builder is £150-£250 a day in the UK.

Plan out how much room you’ll need and think about all of the space you will use to prepare coffee

You may also consider the branding you’d like to put on the shop or the way it looks. You’ll look to attract people towards it, so it has to look enticing.

Finding the right equipment

When you consider how to start a pop-up coffee shop, think about the types of equipment you’ll need. The first thing you need is a source of power, so consider a portable generator (£199.99).

Coffee making

The variety of equipment you can use to make coffee can depend on how you plan to make it, for example:

  • Basic — kettle for hot water (£7.50) and mini-fridge for milk (£40).
  • Advanced — coffee roaster with chaff collector (£379).

It’s important to note that you’ll need to learn how to use whichever equipment you decide to purchase. So expensive machines and equipment may be difficult and more time consuming to use (or at least at first).

Taking payments

Other vital equipment you’ll need is a system to take payments from your customers. You’ll have to decide if you’d like to accept cash, card or both.

Cash

You can get a retail cash register (£239.95) to accept payments of notes and coins. That might be an easier option for some customers, especially if you set up around cash-only businesses in markets, for example.

Card

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses switched to card-only payment. Many still offer their customers to make through apps (in bars and restaurants), so the public would likely have a card on them.

You can get a card reader (£29) that will accept debit or credit payments or even allow people to pay with their phones (Google Pay and Apple Pay).

Whether you use cash, card or both — a separate business account can keep your money organised

Countingup is a business account with built-in accounting software. It allows you to check card payments through your phone or upload paper receipts from cash to your accounts.

How to market your pop-up coffee shop

Another thing to consider when you think about starting a pop-up coffee shop is to let people know you’re there.

You can aim to build interest before you open and continue that to drive customers to the business. Social media could likely be an excellent tool for you to use.

Market research

Before deciding on which social platforms to use, conduct market research to learn more about your customers.

That can include looking at your competitors’ social media accounts and what demographics of people they seem to target.

Demographics are groups of people that share similarities (e.g. age, gender, location) that could be useful in marketing.

Beyond competitor research, look for your information by creating surveys or interviews to share with the public. You can ask them to give details on themselves, if they’d buy your coffee and what social media they use.

Target audience

All of the information from your research can help you understand your target audience’s demographics. These are ideal customers you think are most likely to come and buy your coffee.

Social media marketing

With your audience and research, you can start marketing on different platforms. For more information, see our articles on:

Managing your costs and income

Expenses

We’ve mentioned a few different costs throughout this article, so now it’s essential to learn to keep track of them.

If you have a separate business account set up with Countingup, then you’ll be able to sort them automatically.

The apps’ expense categorisation sorts costs by HMRC approved labels, which make your finances clear but also helps you prepare for taxes.

Taxes

As a pop-up coffee shop (and any business, for that matter), you’ll have to pay taxes. With the HMRC labels on your costs, it will be clearer what you can note as an expense.

Further, you’ll also have to work out your income tax Self Assessment at the end of the tax year, which can usually be time-consuming. 

Fortunately, with Countingup, you’ll receive tax estimates throughout the year, so you will already know how much to put aside.

Cash flow

Your business cash flow is the money that comes in and out of it. If it’s not managed, you could face a situation where your costs exceed the cash from sales.

That could mean you won’t be able to buy essentials like milk (or coffee) for your pop-up shop. 

To ensure your finances are always available, Countingup has a cash flow insights feature to keep you out of hot water.

Get started for free.