How not to run a coffee business (or any business)

Several weeks ago I visited a coffee roastery, a tiny 1kg roaster. They told me they were expecting any day, two new 2.5 kg coffee roasters. I was not impressed the new coffee roaster were supplied from Israel. I tried a filter coffee from Kenya. They asked I come back once the new coffee roasters were installed, which were expected to be installed the next few days. I said I would talk to a few coffee shops who may be interested in their beans. They said they had never supplied coffee shops.

A week or more passed by. I do not like chasing people. But nevertheless sent them a reminder, that if in the area, I could drop by.  I also mentioned I had talked with a  few coffee shops who may be interested.

The farce then began. Each time a meeting was arranged, or I suggested a meeting, they would have reason to say no or cancel, often cancelling at very short notice when a date and time had been agreed.  On one occasion extremely short notice, an hour or so, to say do not come, we have decided to re-arrange the office.

Re-arrange the office, out for the day, electrician visiting, no one here, running a food bank … a few of the excuses given.

I would receive a message suggesting a date and time, to be followed a short time later by another message either contradicting or cancelling.

Contrary to their stated claim on facebook, they do not respond promptly, often not at all.

To say the least, very exasperating.

One place that had expressed an interest in their coffee, went elsewhere. Another did contact them, for reasons I cannot recall, decided not to pursue.

I was becoming more and more exasperated. I was having grave reservations recommending to anyone when they demonstrated this level of unreliability, and expressed my reservation to those to who I had recommended as a source of coffee.

Had I visited, I would have advised they had to get their act together, as I could no longer recommend them to anyone, from what I had observed.

Finally, getting absolutely nowhere after many frustrating weeks of banging my head against a brick wall, I sent them a message, explaining their level of unreliability was not acceptable, and I could no longer recommend them to anyone, especially as there is no shortage of excellent coffee roasters who I could recommend.

The next morning an unbelievable rant, which simply reinforced my initial reservations were well placed.

Well I’m sorry you feel this way.

I can’t say I’m surprised at your outburst, when reading your blog posts it strikes me that you only have negative and unhelpful criticisms I make of people trying very hard to make a living in a very busy and competitive industry.

Whether or not you like how I run my business is no concern of mine, we are just different people who do things differently. But put bluntly I don’t actually care what you think.

As for all the reasons you sited for not be able to visit us. If we are not in then that’s your problem, we’re not a cafe or a drop in centre. Wimbledon was because we had a meeting with a commercial customer. Rearranging the office was to accommodate new equipment. Electrician was for the new equipment, we couldn’t have been able to put the kettle on let alone show you our roaster. And if we want to cancel a meeting at any time WE WILL!

Thanks for suggesting us to other cafes but you did do that off your own back, we didn’t ask you to do that for us, we’re perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities.

As for reliability, at least you can rely on us to be unreliable.

I can’t say I’m surprised at your outburst, when reading your blog posts it strikes me that you only have negative and unhelpful criticisms I make of people trying very hard to make a living in a very busy and competitive industry.

I made no outburst, I simply pointed out the unprofessional way they were conducting business, that I had never before experienced this level of unreliability. That I could no longer recommend them. In response, an unbelievable childish rant.

Maybe the tweets of Donald Trump have become the new norm.

The rant shows a lack of understanding of the blog, a lack of understanding of the coffee business.

Blog is the good, the bad and the ugly, it is not a bullshit PR exercise.

At top level, coffee is not highly competitive, people cooperate. At least that has been my experience. People go out of their way to help others in the coffee business. And with direct trade it relies on openness, transparency, trust , cooperation and long-term partnerships.

James Hoffman, co-founder of Square Mile, world barista champion and author of The World Atlas of Coffee, recently wrote a blog post on cooperation. If we look at the history of speciality coffee in London, it is a story of cooperation. I see this cooperation all the time.

Recently an indie food store sought my advice on coffee. I recommended Union. A few weeks later I was thanked. My more recent advice, talk to the recently opened indie coffee shop. They have regular guest coffee. Stock the guest coffee. Send people to the coffee shop to taste, the coffee shop in turn can send to the indie food shop to buy the beans.

In Brighton, an indie food shop, I suggested to them source their beans from a local indie coffee shop that also roasts their own beans.

Everyone benefits from cooperation. What harms is naked aggressive competition, dog-eats-dog mentality.

Where there is competition, and it is friendly competition, it is a pride in the art of making good coffee, always striving for the best, and helping others to achieve the best.

Many at the top level have personally expressed their thanks for help and support.

If the author of the rant is struggling, all too easy to see why.

So much negativity.

Whether or not you like how I run my business is no concern of mine, we are just different people who do things differently. But put bluntly I don’t actually care what you think.

How people run their business is of no concern of mine, if run badly, as is the case here, then doomed to failure.

Only of concern if I suffer as a customer or investor, and in this case I am neither.

Maybe wise to heed advice, even if not liked.

As for all the reasons you sited for not be able to visit us. If we are not in then that’s your problem, we’re not a cafe or a drop in centre.

At no time have I simply dropped in, though with most people I do, I have tried to arrange a mutually coneveninet time, which was at their invitation. Nor have I treated as a drop in centre or cafe. Maybe they thought I was dropping by for a free coffee,  when I was actually bringing some very expensive coffee for them to try

But if not available, that is someone else problem, if they keep changing, cancelling, do not bother to reply.

And if we want to cancel a meeting at any time WE WILL!

Says it all really.

Thanks for suggesting us to other cafes but you did do that off your own back, we didn’t ask you to do that for us, we’re perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities.

During me first visit, I said I would talk to people I knew.

As for ‘perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities’ when I suggested I could talk to people I knew, they said they had never supplied any business with coffee. And with only a 1kg roaster it would not even have been practical.

And being ‘perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities’ with this level of unreliability, this attitude, I somehow doubt.

As for reliability, at least you can rely on us to be unreliable.

My original reservations spelled out, they can be relied upon to be unreliable.

Not a good business proposition in what they describe as a highly competitive business.

Who wishes to be supplied by a business that can be relied upon to be unreliable?

It would be of no use to a coffee shop, cannot rely upon the roastery to supply an order on time, if at all.

They claim

We’re a voice of justice for the poor, ending poverty through compassion in sustainable communities, bringing the message of the gospel to a new generation.

Our journey with coffee began a few years ago when we had a vision of meeting with people in a relational way over a cup of coffee … a vehicle for spreading our message of compassion so that we can reach more people in a new way. We take all steps necessary to ensure that the green coffee beans are sourced ethically and that the farmer receives a fair price for the crop. Each bag we send out is individually roasted by us, for you! This allows us to ensure the quality of every bag of coffee and to maintain the freshness we would expect from a craft coffee.

Coffee is something that we are passionate about and we recognize that it has the potential to break the cycle of poverty in the lives of those we work with. 100% of the profits from every bag sold goes back into the projects … supports.

With such concern for poverty and compassion, not evident in the rant, why are they supporting Israel that is carrying out ethnic cleansing of Palestinains, maintaining Gaza Strip as one large open air prison camp, where the people are in dire poverty, where in the West Bank, apart from illegal occupation of Palestinian land, farmers see their olive groves destroyed by illegal settlers?

Apart from being a business, they are also a charity.

The charity trustees should be very concerned.

Also questionable, are they interested in helping poor coffee growers, or is it a front for religious fundamentalists to peddle their message to poor struggling farmers?

Religious fundamentalists and compassion tends to be an oxymoron.

I have intentionally not stated who they are, though many may correctly surmise, I have not stated as they seem more than capable of destroying their own business, without my giving a helping hand.

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