Small Business Heroes

By any beans necessary

24 Jun 2014

It’s all out turf war for the concentrated community of coffee shops in Camden town so is it survival of the fittest for small businesses or can they co-exist?

In the case of Black Sheep vs Brew Bar is would appear that it is not the latter. Black Sheep,  Camden’s indy coffee retailer, have trumped Brew Bar, a pop-up coffee shop which is closing after a three-month stint with no plans to pop up again elsewhere.

Could it be the raw simplicity of Black Sheep’s product and message, combined with its carefully calculated promotional offers and loyalty cards which have enabled it to establish a loyal client base.

Bean around the world

A bad tasting coffee bean is not the most obvious ingredient in a successful coffee shop’s most popular drink but Black Sheep’s differentiating factor is the fact it uses Robusta coffee beans. “Robusta is usually quite, well, disgusting,” explains one of the baristas, but by picking the beans at optimum ripeness in India and having them “perfectly roasted” in trendy East London, they yield a coffee which is less bitter, with a smoother flavour and super attractive to the fashionable set which Camden attracts.

Although their intended demographic is young people and sportsmen – this is high-performance coffee – they also attract a lot of creative types. Again the combined draw of the hyper-caffeinated coffee and the ultra-hip clothes is a powerful custom magnet.

Black Sheep keeps the artistic ones happy by drawing pictures on your flat white with the milk foam and if you’re feeling like showing off they will accept a kitten drawing challenge; all of which adds to the winning vibe.

Thanks a latte

Over inflated rent in London’s most desirable commercial zones is often stumbling block for a lot of start-up’s who want to benefit from affluent footfalls but Black Sheep but Black Sheep had that covered in their orginal business plan. They had a helping hand in the early days as a part of the Camden Collective, a rustically trendy wood-panelled showcase of up-and-coming designers, Black Sheep have benefited from the concessionary rent it receives.

Collaborations, concessions and hubs should always be considered by modern start-up’s; they can save you money when you need it most while also helping you build business relations.

Give it a shot

Now, they might have lost the war of the caffeine drinks but Brew Bar can still teach us a thing or two about quirky ways to encourage custom.

The obligatory “witty” blackboard has become a regular feature outside the coffee shops of our high streets but Black Sheep have gone one better and incorporated theirs into a clever incentive tool.

If a customer can write a pun worthy of the blackboard and it’s used they will receive a free coffee. Caffeine and brain training; it’s a nice way to alleviate the Monday morning blues although this customer loyalty scheme is less quantifiable, and not directly tied to sales.

Alas, despite this great consumer engagement technique Brew Bar has elected not to prolong its stay to six months while Black Sheep have progressed to their very own shop in Camden, a new pop-up in Old Street station and another in Oxford Street’s Urban Outfitters, scheduled to open this weekend. 

Keir Wright-Whyte


Managing Director

0207 043 4000

About the author

Originally graduating with a degree in geography from Edinburgh University, Keir claims that he was then tricked into becoming an accountant by one of the UK's top 5 accountancy practices.The deception extended to the usual training in audit and associated activities.

Keir subsequently worked in a number of advisory roles with clients including in the energy trading, pharmaceuticals and financial services sectors.

He loves working at Accounts & Legal because of the variety of work and clients, the excellent team ethos and morale, the importance placed on genuinely helping and being useful for clients and because he believes what he does matters to clients and helps the firm.

Keir's primary role is to ensure that new clients with complex businesses or needs are on-boarded in the best way and he is a "trouble shooter" both for clients and where complex issues arise internally. He also helps the accounting teams strive to improve what we do for clients, whether processes or services.

When not debiting or crediting, Keir has a penchant for fixing old buildings, skiing, surfing and cycling.


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