By Karen E. Klein Q: Together with a couple of local partners, I'm planning to open a gourmet
coffee shop and Internet caf? in Spring, Tex. We're in the process of
preparing a business plan and doing field research on limited budgets. How
can we get demographic reports on this very specific area and also reports
on both coffee shops and Internet caf?s? Thanks and regards.
--K.M., New Malden, Surrey, England
A: First, congratulations on your choice of location. Spring appears to
be a tourist destination that has more than 150 shops, galleries, and
restaurants that draw local residents as well as people from the Houston area
To get specifics on the local population, including demographics, start your
research with the U.S. Census Bureau and the local chamber
of commerce or economic development agency. Such business-development groups
typically have collected a good amount of extended demographic information,
according to Cindy Nemeth-Johannes, a business researcher for
(Venture Consult), based in Fort Collins, Colo. Try this page at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Web site for directory info.
The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a variety of resources for
local entrepreneurs and startup business owners through its Houston district office, the University of Houston Small Business Development Center
, and the SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) association. SCORE has resource centers in Houston and Beaumont that can be reached at 713 773-6565.
"INVALUABLE" RESEARCH. Nemeth-Johannes says About.com (owned by Primedia) has done a nifty job of pulling together information about the business category you're investigating. "Check out http://coffeetea.about.com/cs/yourownbiz," she
recommends. "After you explore the 'Getting Started' section, pay particular attention to the information you can get from the associations, trade shows, and Fresh Cup magazine."
She also recommends that you check out information provided by the franchises
that are ubiquitous in this industry. "The information they've researched
and provide can be invaluable, even if you decide not to become a franchisee.
Starbucks doesn't franchise to individuals, but a wide variety of companies do," Nemeth-Johannes points out. Two that have information on franchising online are Deidrich Coffee and Seattle's Best Coffee.
For more research and information on the Internet café side of the business, take a look at the detailed specs provided by software company Internet Caffe Server, and order a $99 manual, The Internet Cafe Guide, published by some successful entrepreneurs in Bend, Ore.
LEARN BY DOING. Nemeth-Johannes found a sample Internet café business plan from Palo Alto Software and a link for Spring's town newspaper, Big Spring Herald, that will be helpful as you research the area.
"Of course, my favorite way of learning to run a new business is to get a job
working for a similar business," she adds. "Learn on the other guy's dime." Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 46th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.