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Opinion: Grounds for Concern – Are There Too Many Coffee Shops in Guildford?

Published on: 17 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 19 Jul, 2023

Joseph Bickle is a young adult born and raised in Guildford, currently studying media and communications at Cardiff University.

This summer he is writing stories for The Guildford Dragon NEWS. Here, in an opinion piece, he questions whether there are too many coffee shops and the like in Guildford.

In the last few years, Guildford town centre has become a hotspot for cafes and baristas. 

At my last count, North Street and the High Street has 19 different coffee shops and cafes.

To understand the excessiveness of this, it should be put into perspective that these two streets are merely a combined length of around 1 kilometer. 

This means that of about 70 shops that are in North Street and High Street, about 30% of them are coffee shops. 

Even for the biggest coffee fanatics, this amount may seem overabundant because the figures mentioned do not even consider other food establishments in the area such as Greggs or Pret a Manger, which also sell coffee, tea, and so on.

Are there too many coffee beans and too little customers? How can these coffee shops each make enough profit to continue with all the competition?

It is important to understand towns such as Guildford are a perfect place to set up an independent coffee shop business. The town, being majority middle-class, most shoppers can afford to spend an extra few quid on a “luxury” coffee rather than buying cheaper options at Greggs or McDonald’s.

Additionally, it is seen as rather trendy for some to spend their money on up market coffees, with special flavours and colourings, in places like Starbucks or independent establishments.

Costa in the Friary Centre.

Have these coffee shops exceeded a sustainable level from a business standpoint?

And having this many coffee shops does it makes the consumer experience worse for people visiting Guildford?

From my observations of the number of customers in each of the coffee shops, I find it hard to see a future where the smaller coffee shops can achieve a business model consistent and profitable enough to continue paying the high rental fees.

Speciality Coffee in Tunsgate.

As I see it, smaller coffee shop businesses generally see a small level of commerce on weekdays and are generally only somewhat busy on weekends. 

From my experience, people looking for a coffee and a small bite to eat will generally gravitate toward the larger coffee shop chains such as Starbucks, Café Nero, and so on.

Cafe Nero in Guildford High Street.

I believe this is because those customers are generally very familiar with the specific products they sell at these places, and therefore know what to expect.

On the other hand, for the smaller independent businesses, for most of their customers, it is their first time visiting their shop. 

Pret A Manger in Swan Lane.

Despite many surveys, and comments made to The Dragon, suggesting people prefer small businesses over larger chains, this “preference” often does not translate into an increased quantity of commerce for smaller businesses, as many people still tend to gravitate to actually buying things at larger chains.

Is having a high proportion of coffee shops in the town centre good or bad for the overall shopping experience in Guildford?

To me, it seems that it generally never benefits the consumer experience when a shopping mall or town centre does not have a range of different types of shops.

Black Sheep Coffee in North Street.

It is preferable to have a range of shops when it comes to fashion and clothing, as each clothing brand sells different products, whether by design or style.

The same cannot be said about coffee shops and the like, as they lack diversity of products from brand to brand, with most selling relatively similar coffee and food products to one another.

For those who have set up a coffee barista business, and the large chains who have added another branch, Guildford seems like the perfect place. But it seems they have all had the same idea at the same time.

So in Guildford, are there too many coffee beans, and too few customers? For me, the answer is yes.

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Responses to Opinion: Grounds for Concern – Are There Too Many Coffee Shops in Guildford?

  1. H Trevor Jones Reply

    July 17, 2023 at 11:27 am

    I’ve no problem with multiple coffee shops as long as there are still also town centre shops where I can get things I actually need (as is the case now).

    I think it’s good to have lots of independents, which I prefer to use when I want a coffee in town, and which do offer many little variations. Some annoyingly won’t take cash (which I prefer for just a £3 coffee). Some have nicer coffee than others. Some give better service than others. Some have the same staff all the time who get to know you as a regular, which is nice. Some have better ambiance, some have nicer crockery. Some have at times spare space where a small group of you can have an informal meeting over a coffee without upsetting management. Take your pick!

    By the way, they do also sometimes close down, presumably if not making a profit, as did one in Jeffries Passage, a year or so ago, which had specially nice coffee and usually the same friendly staff member I got to know.

    • John Hutchinson Reply

      July 19, 2023 at 12:12 am

      I know the one Mr Jones means, Koja Coffee. I thought it was a pretty good too, and I was sad when it closed.

      They moved to the Arts Centre/New House in the Bedford Road car park and I managed to get there one time and chat to the staff member there, who told me it was an issue with the landlord of the Jeffries Passage place (which is frankly a whole other issue far bigger than the topic of this article).

      I don’t know what’s become of it, they can’t have got good business in that location (especially since they weren’t open at the weekend), so out of the way from the town centre and not in a good place to be able to point towards.

  2. Jacob Allen Reply

    July 17, 2023 at 12:30 pm

    The free market at work.

  3. David Roberts Reply

    July 17, 2023 at 12:50 pm

    I always thought coffee was a modern phenomenon in Britain, but reading some old Anthony Powell novels I was struck by how often his characters drink a coffee – in the 1950s, of course, powdered Nescafe or Maxwell House – rather than the stereotypical British cup of tea. So perhaps, at least among the better-off, caffeine addiction has been a craze since coffee shops first appeared in the seventeenth century.

    I wonder how many of Guildford’s 19 shops are really independent. Capitalism thrives on creating an illusion of choice while reinforcing monopolies. How many of the small coffee brands are actually owned by the big players? Something Joseph Bickle might try and clarify.

    • John Lomas Reply

      July 17, 2023 at 10:37 pm

      I can remember that in the late ’40s and through the ’50s Lyons on the High Street were serving “milk with a dash”. The milk was heated by passing steam through it from the water boiler (similar to what the Gagia machine did in the Espresso Coffee cafe by Tunsgate Arch) the dash of coffee was, if I remember correctly, Camp Coffee.

      • David Roberts Reply

        July 18, 2023 at 6:12 pm

        For those too young to know, Camp Coffee is a disgusting concentrated liquid padded out with chicory and sugar. Its original label (not the later, racially equalised one) is like fractal mathematics: a picture of an a Sikh bringing a British army officer a bottle with a picture of a Sikh bringing… etc. ad infinitum.

        • John Perkins Reply

          July 19, 2023 at 7:27 pm

          I liked Camp Coffee as a child, thinking it was what coffee tasted like.

          It was supplanted by instant and years later I bought a bottle to remind me.

          The horror.

  4. Richard Hodgson Reply

    July 17, 2023 at 2:11 pm

    If they are making money there is a demand for them.

    I disagree about the big chains though. Starbucks is always quiet. Could this be because people recognise that their coffees are weak and their service is poor?

    Krema is an independent but always busy because the quality is excellent. There is a theme developing here!

  5. Charles Hope Reply

    July 18, 2023 at 8:13 pm

    It’s not just Guildford where there are large numbers of coffee shops. Visits this year to both Cambridge and Edinburgh show me it’s a widespread phenomenon.

  6. Sara Tokunaga Reply

    July 19, 2023 at 1:22 pm

    Yes there are too many coffee shops in Guildford town centre, but there are plenty of people willing to pay over the odds for bland coffee and poor service. The more discerning among us will seek out the independent coffee houses (of which there are very few).

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