Clicking the Links on Internet Cafés

British entrepreneurs planning to set up a wired coffeeshop in Texas get plenty of tips for finding advice online

By Karen E. Klein

Q: Together with a couple of local partners, I'm planning to open a gourmet coffee shop and Internet café 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 cafés? 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 and beyond.

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."

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