About Dale

wholesale director, barista competitor, father, husband, brother, coffee drinker, brewer and lover

still inspiring

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.

heritage battles

as someone who spends a great deal of time talking to businesses who wish to start, develop or ‘fix’ their coffee offering I’m amazed at how often I seem to be fighting battles I didn’t choose, I didn’t want and I don’t have any interest in

often these seem to be conflicting ideas of whats expected from a transaction, relationship or service – sometimes neither the fault of the customer, or the seller, but the fault of the previous incumbent supplier, or their predecessors, choices. Whilst it seems more common from less coffee focussed businesses (hotels, restaurants – should they be less focussed?) it’s common in places offering exclusively coffee too

examples

  • discounted pricing based on volume purchasing
  • free on loan equipment
  • maintenance of pre-existing equipment
  • pre-portioned packets of stale coffee, in incorrect portion sizes

I’m naming these ‘heritage battles’ – please feel free to spread the concept and make me posthumously famous as the guy who said something once

these battles are similar to ones you see in most quality focussed cafes and other speciality industries

  • I’m sad because this tastes nice – isn’t it meant to be horrid/boring?
  • I asked for something different (with an identical foreign name)
  • It’s my right to have extra flavourings

But there is a difference -Those are fights we’re often encouraging, through our menus, our store design our staff training – fights that help us say why we’re special, how our products are unique, and help us position and define ourselves

The others, often don’t carry these benefits, they do however bring costs, costs I’m unwilling to accept and acutely pissed off that I’m expected to incur. They stem almost exclusively from an industry’s industrial scale race to the bottom in price and ‘perceived’ (i.e. not real) value in order to buy market share and short term benefit at the expense of quality – a race they started because they saw our product as a commodity with little value or potential for improvement… 60 years ago…

I’m pointlessly angry at the people who started it, and point-fully (why is that not a word?) angry at those who continue it when it impairs their goals as well as mine

  • discount pricing suggests economies of scale that aren’t always or often present in artisan production
  • free equipment gets paid for from somewhere – if that’s within your coffee price you raise the market price of something that needs raising for otherreasons, or by lowering your cost (and quality)
  • maintenance and set-up of existing (often incorrect) equipment costs money – it (and the education necessary to allow it) requires investment that’s often specific to one instance only and therefore incredibly inefficient
  • recipes that don’t deliver good extraction won’t work better with better coffee

For a long time my response to requests for some of these has been just to say no, normally with a witty response such as ‘you wouldn’t expect your potato supplier to give you a deep fat fryer’ – usually i accompany this with the lie ‘I’m sorry, this isn’t something I can do’ – I’m not sorry.

This intelligent approach has not led to me converting potentially remarkable accounts to great ingredient

I see two potential problems with this beyond my personal chance at being able to buy more and tastier coffee

  • failure to convert non-coffee geek accounts (geeks often like to choose their toys rather than get the free ones, and when they spend their money invest love and energy maintaining them) risks marginalising quality coffee – making it appear something only the few can achieve whilst most of us know this isn’t true
  • refusal to offer these things often strengthens the pockets, revenue-streams and marketing efforts of the businesses that most damage our product and the sustainability of quality coffee, particularly those who promise better flavour and deliver better signage

I’ve been told maybe this underlines a failure in my pricing policy – maybe I should charge more for my services to build the resources I need to better fuel growth – I wonder? should those who see value in investing in tools and paying more for better ingredient because it matters to them, subsidise those less willing to accept the costs of quality?

I wonder whether this is where trade bodies should help, engaging with media, educating ‘trade’ (I hate that word) customers? Maybe it’s my fault for not whinging about it enough – consider the whinging done!!!!

In the mean time, I commit further to not giving away things that have intrinsic value, to pricing my coffee based on the cost of the coffee and explaining to anyone who asks for things I’m not willing to do, the reasons that underlie that decision.

surprise

I like surprises!

Tasting apricot when you thought you’d taste nescafe, sweet where you expected bitter, freshly mown grass when you thought you’d taste tea.


The joy of a joke that we think is leading one way, and then flips it – a man walks into a bar… syncopation in music, the magician who leads you to believe your watch is broken then finds it in your wrist, the serotonin high of momentary confusion, becoming awe, wonder and delight

I feel something similar when I learn something new, when I ‘understand’, when something finally makes sense, a solved puzzle


Engineering these moments in our customers experiences isn’t just memorable, useful and clever, it’s  fun


metrics

Within coffee we talk a lot about the way we might measure the quality of our coffee product but rarely how we measure the effectiveness of our businesses and our service – in a previous life I enjoyed jobs in retail and training, one of the things that I found really interesting were the metrics that stores I worked in used to measure growth, success and effective service and particularly how they were inextricably linked both to each other and also the business’s mission of stronger sales

To have an useful system of measurements you have to begin with how they will get you closer to the end goal – what are you trying to achieve?

If your end goal is the perfect cup of coffee I suggest you don’t open a shop – i f you already have, close the shop, get rid of all those distracting and inconvenient customers and focus just on perfecting coffee – when you nail it, give me a shout and I’ll come round and pay lots for a cup, provided it delivers

if your goal is to share the most perfect coffee you can prepare then your focus needs to be on getting the people* to share it with and raising money to allow you to afford the technology, training and ingredient to prepare the product they deserve

Let’s simplify business growth

  • Get more customers
  • Get customers to spend more (happily)
  • Get customers to come back more often

This takes lots of important things out of the equation, especially cost management – bit that will never make your sales higher, and is ultimately limited – sales growth isn’t limited, except by our choices

Get more customers

Hundreds of ways to do this, all with costs and benefits, some slow some fast, but measuring the effectiveness is limited to a couple things – measuring transaction numbers and measuring footfall

In most retail environments you would then measure conversion rate (transaction/footfall) how many visitors your service/layout/design/product converted into buyers – you could argue that in a cafe almost everyone who enters, enters for a reason and buys something – I wonder?

Are more people buying a drink for them and for their friends? Which is more desirable – ambassadors introducing new people (some right/some wrong) to you or new opportunities willing to stump up the entry fee? I don’t know but I’d like to know more about who I was serving, and how many of them were buying

Get customers to spend more (happily)

Measuring average spend is easy, tills do the hard work for you, lots of cafes I know measure it- harder is what you compare it to?

Your average transaction value is dependant on products sold (a cafe that doesn’t sell food will have lower ATV – that’s ok) so telling me your average sale is £6.66 tells me nothing – what’s useful is your ability to grow your ATV through good pricing, more desirable product and good service, including up-selling

Up-selling is often thought to be evil – a symptom of the disease of corporate greed, it’s not – skilled up selling is the ability to recognise and pre-empt a customers needs, fulfil more of them and make them happier – every customer doesn’t need or want a sandwich or a tasting flight- recognising those that do and helping them find it with you as opposed to elsewhere is a skill worth noticing, measuring, improving and rewarding

Happily is the important part as it leads to the last goal

Get customers to come back more often

A quotidian customer (love you DNF) is more valuable to you than a geek from out of town, no matter how much you enjoy the conversation, even a seasonal customer who returns once every three months is more valuable than every accidental visitor on that busiest day of the year when the international congress of women’s sword jugglers happened to be across the road

Daily customers, regular customers, love you, they live you, you are a part of them and their story about themselves and they are willing to pay for you and would miss if you we’re no longer there- they are also much cheaper than buying new visitors who may not ‘get your concept’ or more honestly may not like your concept enough to finance it

How do we, measure repeat custom in a cafe? Four square? Keep cups? I don’t know – loyalty cards are not it- they are not effective, they communicate a questionable message about the cost of your goods, and no one values them (in fact many people expect them – I adore playing with expectation!) disloyalty cards aren’t any better, at least not for encouraging this (actually they are all about new faces – turning new faces into part of the furniture is the real deal)

Improving customer return frequency and loyalty is at the core of what we spend most of our time talking about – improving product, improving service- daily sales total don’t give you effective feedback on your success at driving this

Measure these three things, regardless of what results you have, measure your improvement of them, get better at making money and use the money you make to serve better coffee and help your staff buy houses – that’d be cool
*as well as on product (in fact arguably product is a part of the equation of building your customer base, and also the results of sales based metrics should tell you more about the success of product quality initiatives than anything else)

perfection

Perfection isn’t a goal, it’s a process

The process of taking what you do and making it a little bit better every single time you do it, continual improvement

A little more consistent, a little more efficient, a little more tasty, a little better communicated - Small change, plus small change, plus small change, equals big change
Don’t strive for perfect, strive for perfection

repeat business

almost every week I get curry from an indian takeaway just around the corner from me. Whilst my first visit was based on convenience and locality that’s not why I keep returning – sites like justeat make getting similar food delivered as easy and convenient if not more so, technology makes convenience a USP of the past (the world changes every day)

I don’t return because I’m desperate for spicy food I can’t prepare myself – I’m not so good with spicy stuff! – and whilst the quality is really good (it tastes delicious to me) I would be hesitant to judge it’s true quality within it’s industry and it would be a lie to say I return because it’s the best tasting curry I’ve ever had, I return for a different reason

Every time I phone they ask how I am, when I say it’s an order for collection and give them my name I’m rewarded with ‘Harris, how are you my friend?!’ when I walk in to collect I’m smiled at, treated nicely and quickly, a bag of food is seamlessly placed in my hand as money is painlessly transferred from my wallet to their till, the door is opened for me and I am wished a ‘good night’, and an ‘enjoy your meal’

I leave feeling good, I have a good night, I enjoy my meal

I spend about £20 a week, 50 weeks of the year – total income generated by 2 mins a week of niceness – £1000

(£1000 is a hefty percentage of my income – I may re-assess my spending habits)

you should buy some curry if you’re passing, maybe take the food to the beach with a nice bottle of beer  http://www.pappadoms.co.uk/

no vacancies

About a year ago Steve and I initiated a policy at Hasbean that we wouldn’t take on any new wholesale accounts serving our coffee as a ‘guest’ alongside other roasters offerings. 

We offer all of our coffees through our online store that anyone is free to order from, brew, and serve to their customers or drink as they see fit, but the closer relationship we build with our wholesale accounts we reserve for exclusive clients

I’m using the term ‘guest’ – I think a better term might be infrequent lodger – I don’t mean the interesting coffee a barista picked up at TED or the WBC or from a friend or customers holiday and serves excitedly and with interest and adventure – i mean the ‘second grinder/rotating espresso) kind of guest that is present in many cafes

As a caveat we already supplied a number of fantastic multi-roaster or guest only accounts when we established this policy – they were there when we started this side of the business, were part of how we built our brand, and their continued support is both recognised and valued – we’ll be proud to be part of their business as long as they choose to serve our coffees, but we also recognised that more often than not an open approach to taking on any account that would offer our coffee made us sadder, not happier – we were working really hard to deliver excellent product and service only to find that the following week we lost 50% of sales because customers fancied a change.

I believe we’re the only speciality roaster in the UK doing this, (I’m unsure of but interested to hear about policies elsewhere) but it felt and continues to feel important to us.

There are a number of reasons why we chose to do this, which I believe are still valid, but it has been one of the hardest choices we’ve made as a wholesale business and one that we’ve repeatedly looked at – I believe progression comes from thinking hard about what you do and why you do it, not being afraid to do something different, but also not being afraid to change direction if you’re moving the wrong way

I’m interested in what people feel about it – I can’t promise that I will change my mind but i promise to read any comments with an open mind, think and answer, and act clearly in response – if you feedback somewhere I might not see (i miss 99 out of every 100 tweets and forum posts) please add a link to the comments

I understand some of the benefits of guest coffee to a shop. To a shop the ability to offer guest coffees may mean

  • a wider range of flavours to offer their customers
  • diversity in terms of origin, story
  • educational opportunity for baristas to work with different, changing, coffee

I understand some of the benefits of guest coffee to a shops customers, beyond the above choice

  • the ability to taste different coffees in an environment you enjoy
  • the ability to taste these coffees made by someone whose ability/taste you trust
  • the chance to discuss these coffees with people you share a common conversation with

I see real value in all of these.

I encourage people to try different, new and varied coffees, in our case it’s one of the main reasons we work hard to source a wide range of incredibly different, varied and new coffees – as of today we have over 80 separate lots, a number of which are multiple selections from a couple farms, most are from the small number of regions whose crops have just arrived with us in the UK, but every single one tastes good, has character and is different to our other selections – we’re excited to be able to supply an account with 2 different coffees changing every single week of the year, but beyond that…

I understand why a shop would want to taste coffee from a roaster other than their main supplier, to serve coffee from multiple roasters, but I don’t see the value of this to a strong, sustainable wholesale business, or more specifically an argument for why I would subsidise the price of coffee for non-customers who want to extend their offering beyond their normal suppliers range

If I want to taste coffee from another roaster I’ll happily buy it at the market price – this week I’ve enjoyed stunning coffee from other UK and international roasters – but when I determine pricing for wholesale, I base my calculations on the goals that help me develop what betters my business for my core customers and in line with the values we believe in – increasing, consistent, volume allows me to buy more coffee from individual growers, to fill containers with more and better selections from a region, to offer a better long term relationship for our suppliers which means a more stable and valued supply of improving coffee that we as buyers can have a beneficial impact on in terms of flavor, quality and therefore offer better choice for my customers

if someone wants to offer my coffee as a guest offer in their shop they would need to buy it from my retail site, pay 25% more, and either absorb the cost per cup, or charge it to their customers (who if the demand for this offer is there wouldn’t worry, right? – 10p extra cost per 20g – this doesn’t make your margin better but better margin was not the intended benefit of offering guest coffees? or was it?)
there are potentially also the following USP’s for a shop selling guest coffee

  • a choice of roaster/brand to offer their customers
  • greater level of provenance for a premium selection

a choice of roaster/brand to offer their customers I don’t see value in this

how many customers are screaming for a shop to offer multiple brands of coffee? How important is that name or label to them? If it’s that important to them is is because the shop told them to value this?

we choose the stories we sell our customers, the things that we add value too and infer value upon – I don’t want people to choose whether they want to drink a coffee offered in a store because of the colour of the bag or whether my business name* is on it – I want people to choose a coffee because the person brewing it wants to share it’s flavours, it’s texture, it’s story and the customer trusts their judgement- I accept that’s idealistic, I work in the tiny niche of speciality coffee that believes in better and I believe in being idealistic

greater level of provenance for a premium selection I’m offended by this

This refers specifically to businesses that have a commercial, compromised main option, but then offer speciality coffee alongside as a weird guest offer for geeks – if you value provenance, traceability, honesty (and arguably quality) with your product you have to value it in all your product – you can’t pick and choose these values from week to week or at separate price points (in the same way if you value a traditional, dark roast, secret master blend cooked in a pizza oven – that’s fine – but it’s confusing and damaging to say you value this and you value the above option)

That’s a personal opinion, but one I believe in deeply, and I reserve my right as a shopkeeper to not to sell to people who I don’t think share that core value

http://colonnaandsmalls.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/the-lay-of-the-land/

i know I’m a terrible person – sometimes it’s good to be bad

reeling back – Lets look at the benefits of guest coffee to a coffee wholesaler

  • Increased volume
  • Increased brand recognition
  • Increased geographical range of customers
  • Increased chance of converting other people’s account to my coffee

Lets get this straight, I want to make more money, to validate my role in the business but also to allow me to be able to buy more coffee, taste more coffee, buy more toys and tools, employ more people to do bits of my job I’m less good at (like thinking about policy!) to be able to learn more, do more and be better at serving, preparing and selling delicious coffee, but with the way we have chosen to roast and ship coffee there is very little economy of scale – roasting more coffee for us means roasting more coffee, not acheiving better margin, the benefit of volume is purely volume

the volume from guest accounts of weekly coffee roasted is small compared to the main volume of those business’s coffee – that’s why it’s a guest – the account numbers grow more easily, with less effort, but involve more invoicing, shipping, logistics, credit control, account management, phone calls – I do not have the resources to manage that well – I do have the resources to build a relationship with a smaller number of people who pay for my time with more consistent buying, or stronger ambassadorship of what my business does

increased brand recognition/wider geographical range – I am busy, I want to get better, not busier – less visits with more value, less sales with better margin and aftercare – retail sales grow every-time a trusted friend recommends another friend our coffee because of something they see value in, at a higher margin and on a more loyal, honest basis

chance of converting other peoples accounts – why would i want someone elses account? if you love somebodys coffee, thats what you should serve, if you don’t love it change it, but why the hell should I try and court new customers? i like visiting places who serve somebody else coffee – I get to give them money and enjoy something different and special – I’m quite happy to walk around a city and taste many different coffees in different places and I meet super loyal and proud patrons and proprieters in every one

less well reported- Lets look at the costs of guest coffee to a coffee wholesaler and their customers

my brand has limited value, it resonates with some customers, it doesn’t with others but for those it does, that resonance and value is one of the few products I have to offer a wholesale customer beyond amazing coffee (which often looks like normal coffee as the magic bit is invisible) – I value it highly, many of my customers value it highly – By being selective with wholesale accounts I choose I can better protect my existing customers

part of our offer is our extended range**, part of why our customers choose to buy our coffee rather than someone elses is that ability to choose from a large selection, to change regularly, to offer something unique in their area – If I’d just bought 50kg of an expensive but incredible coffee to serve for the week and my nearest competitor bought 1kg and tweeted about it and damaged my uniqueness I’m not sure I would feel great about my partnership

my wholesale clients and our retail business have shared customers, true fans who like what we do and trust our recommendations – We want to feel comfortable recommending people to visit our clients businesses but feel uncomfortable recommending somewhere that may no longer be serving our coffee because this week they feel everything else is better – not good for our brand or our morale, may be selling coffee from another supplier that we tasted and rejected at the cupping table due to fault or defect, or selling coffee that we feel has been roasted badly and doesn’t reflect/relate to quality

that last one is really tough – should i assign a list of roasters I’m comfortable my coffee being served alongside/banned ones that just aren’t good enough – i think i can smell the lynch mob’s burning torches

the sum of all of these, and the extension, is we feel hurt by guest accounts – we feel they strip key parts of the value we have to offer our loyal customers who believe and celebrate what we do, damages their ability to grow and develop, and damages our sustainability as a business offering what we do – speciality coffee is not a goldmine, almost every decision we make to improve quality and drive better tasting product costs more, we offset that by locating ourselves in the middle of nowhere, not having expensive retail premises, not supplying customers with table talkers or employing a team of field staff to train/repair/counsel and haggle on price (I am team wholesale – to all my clients I apologise for this!)

in true coffee blogging style I offer an inappropriate analogy – wholesaling coffee is about relationships – lets talk about romance

most personal relationships start with a chance meeting, a friend of a friend puts you in touch, eyes lock across a crowded room, there follows a brief flirtation where you talk about different things and see how your ideas, goals, values pair with anothers – maybe things fall away, maybe things progress, maybe just maybe love blossoms

to us wholesale relationships are about true love – if you love our coffee you won’t want to serve anything else, if you love our coffee you’ll serve it as well as you possibly can because it matters to you – when you fee like that we love you back we work to support and promote you, drive as many customers to your door as we can because we want people to taste our coffee made that way, we build a synergy that benefits both parties

If you are single and lonely you may want to be in a relationship – that’s not the same as being someones bit on the side – that situation often makes both the mistress (apologies for gendering – I’m sticking to the analogy anyway!) and the recognised partner unhappy, and both relationships become less supportive, honest and sustainable as a result

at any point relationships can break down, or slip away – that’s OK – if you fall out of love with our coffee or fall in love with something else you should move on – it will make us sad – but no one wants their ex girlfriend crying in the corner every time they go to work

If a wholesale partners we’re in a long term relationship but you’re sleeping around, particularly if you’re telling the world and her iPhone about how much fun you’re having we feel we’re allowed to be sad, hurt, wonder what we did wrong, where we failed – when we feel like that we quickly fall out of love

goodness that’s depressing – I prefer everlasting love (link to jamie cullum) but I’ll take honesty and good communication over almost anything else, because that’s what builds long term, valuable, self-re-inforcing and growth driving relationships businesses and futures

hit me with your feedback

*coffee sold by Roaster/Brand – I think I mind this a lot less when it’s implicit, when roastery names aren’t thrown in my face – I like being sold coffee by a farm name or a cultivar or a flavour – but I also wonder whether the thought implied by ‘we source the best tasting coffees available at any time from a number of good roasteries’ isn’t a horrendous lie – am I being told that in any shop with a similar statement that every coffee currently available has been qualitatively assessed and these are the winners, or that this is a curation (I’m coming back to that word another day) representing a higher form of selection? based on different values? i digress….

**when i describe our wholesale business I’m proud to prioritise three things only, all of which have nothing to do with me! roasting is easy, the rest raises that to something incredible
1. I believe we are the best at sourcing, directly and with our partners, delicious and unique coffees,
2. We carry the largest range of good coffee, without making compromises on quality/age,
3. We roast all wholesale coffee to order and deliver the next working day – it’s always fresh

 

pointless descriptor #2

Balance

noun

  • 1 [mass noun] an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady:she lost her balance and fell
  • Sailing the ability of a boat to stay on course without adjustment of the rudder.
  • 2 [mass noun] a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions:the obligations of political balance in broadcasting

Balance is not a bad word, it communicates well what we often strive to achieve when presenting delicious coffee, it in fact helps define what delicious is (i think this is delicious because it is not unbalanced), but it doesn’t communicate much beyond ‘we think this is quite nice’ - unbalanced is easier, unbalanced suggests over the top or extreme flavour, and we often assume that must therefore be bad, but some products and flavours are unbalanced and delicious – Lambic beer is not balanced in comparison to most session beer (though balance is a huge part of it’s blending) but it’s extreme sourness is what excites many of its lovers

espresso scoring in barista competition asks for a harmonious balance of sweet, acidic and/or bitter flavours, but doesn’t define what this balance is – it’s certainly never suggested that balance is equal amounts of each flavour group

I argue that balance is a less effective taste communicator than most, whilst being the most often used

pointless descriptor #1

com·plex

/kämˈpleks/

Adjective
Consisting of many different and connected parts.
Noun
A group of similar buildings or facilities on the same site: “a new apartment complex”.
Verb
Make (an atom or compound) form a complex with another.
in terms of describing taste ‘complex’ is over-used – it is not precise, definitive and communicates little beyond
  • there are many flavours
  • there are flavours I can’t articulate

it is often used to communicate quality – ‘this coffee is better because it is more complex’, suggesting coffees with less flavour variation and diversity are, well, less – i think many who have cupped a coffee that perfectly epitomised a flavour note – strawberry milkshake, blueberry, caramel fudge –  would argue with this

complexity is rarely a useful word on a label or at the cupping table – it is however very often true

Perspective

I listen to a lot of radio 4 – excluding the Archers  - but it’s often the stuff I catch by accident rather than my purposeful tuning in that yields the most thoughts

Yesterday I caught 15 minutes of the PM programme whilst dropping my daughter at Gym club – a report on financial aid in Ethiopia – coffee was mentioned and the perspective from Whalid Bagersh’s mill was interesting - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01shwkv/PM_20_05_2013/

The mill considers the financial impact of roasting businesses and the ‘value added’ by the processes normally occurring in the consuming industry an internal industry economic failing – you can hear similar thoughts from Andrew Rugisera here on The Bottom Line http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01qmxg6

whilst these points contrast with speciality coffees focus on freshness and the craft and skill involved in roasting, (perhaps this bears more relation to larger commodity grade buyers) it’s an interesting perspective, and quite different to the relationships we have with many of our direct partners in south and central america who see value in the marketing potential and actual income a good roaster/buyer can bring a farm

I wonder if it’s not that different to the ‘added value’ I could see my customers achieving with our coffee, and me not considering the ‘added costs’ of creating that value