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

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