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Bison Coffee: David and Goliath

Nouse speaks to Bison Coffee, one of York's most well known Independent coffee shops, and finds out how they are dealing with the pressures from the multinational coffee brands and what they intend to do in the future in order to ensure longevity in their business. (Thumbnail credit Photo credit: Niklaus)

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With the recent rise in the numbers and influence of High Street coffee shops and franchises, smaller independent coffee shops are having to adapt and diversify themselves in order to survive.

Nouse speaks to Bison Coffee, one of York's most well known Independent coffee shops, and finds out how they are dealing with the pressures from the multinational coffee brands and what they intend to do in the future in order to ensure longevity in their business.

Branded coffee shops have increased 7 fold over the past 13 years, showcasing a shift in the consumers' tastes.

Currently, Costa Coffee are the leading brand in the market, with 1,342 stores in the UK and 40.4% of the market share, providing stiff competition to the likes of Bison. Costa Coffee now has many of its coffee shops built into other stores, pubs and cafes, including University of York's Library Cafe and The Lounge.

Bison Coffee House, founded by Gavin Burke, lies between the campus and York city centre on Heslington Road. When asked how Bison differs from big coffee brands, Burke remarks that Bison "provides a service that is standard in any other country", yet is hard to find in the UK.

Bison pride themselves on delivering high quality coffee, vintage goods and furnishings along with holding various events and live music - most recently they hosted an alternative radio show and drafted in a guest chef from a local restaurant to serve brunch.

This is unlike coffee chains, where there is no real feel of community and a culture of coffee, made fast to take away.

The former Newcastle University student comments that he is able to deal with the pressure from the coffee franchises, "luckily because we have a different feel about the place, you can buy everything, it feels more relaxed."

Burke also mentions that there is almost a small community spirit amongst the smaller coffee houses, where they try not to cannibalize each other's trade "because it would be detrimental".

In theory, shops like Bison should struggle to survive among the global companies such as Starbucks, who have billions of dollars of turnover annually, have large departments for each section of their business and benefit from large economies of scale.

Despite all this and the poor economy, Bison have continued to be successful and show no sign of slowing down.

Along with this, Gavin has mentioned his desire to diversify by creating a late night coffee shop, an evening venue and possible opening a hostel.

All of this can only help Bison and other coffee shops successfully compete against the large chains.

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