You are well on your way to starting a successful coffee roasting business or you’ve already opened your doors and started breaking in your roaster. Now your focus is on how to get business moving and keeping it booming. Some of your strategies are going to depend on what kind of roaster you are–big or small, for example. As a coffee roaster, for the most part, your customers are going to be coffee shops, but you may be open to individuals who like to go right to the source (or close to it) for their coffee. I’ve got 20 tips for getting more business for your roasting business; I’ve tried to make them as universal as possible, but they may not all apply to everyone.
1. My first tip is to consider opening a coffee shop of your own. There are more people out there who want to have someone else grind and brew their coffee than want to buy whole beans and grind and brew it themselves. Coffee shops are also a staple in artsy towns, hipstervilles, and metropolitan areas. They cater to the freelance culture, travel-weary tourists, friend reunions, lunch meetings, collaboration sessions and more. People come to coffee shops either to caffeinate quickly and get on with their day or to caffeinate slowly and spend a big chunk of their day hanging around. Having a regular customership that is addicted to your brews is a fantastic baseline for customers who will buy your whole/ground beans. Having people hanging around your business for hours is also a great way to get them to try new and different products.
2. Even if you don’t add a coffee shop to your roastery, if you have the space, you should use it for social events. The power of the coffee shop is its social draw. Events like public cuppings, coffee education classes, or artsy parties get people into your space, familiar with your brand, feeling positive vibes about it, and remembering it when they (or someone they know) need some quality coffee. Classes and cuppings are also a solid networking tool for bringing in coffee-shop owners and their buyers; being a part of the coffee community is how you talk to people about your brand, offer them samples or deals, and get them, in turn, to talk about your brand for you. If you’re first starting out, invite the local coffee shops to a cupping of your coffee(s); this combines free samples (a great selling tool) with networking and is very likely to get you some loyal big customers.
3. Work with your coffee shops. One of the best strategies for garnering loyalty in your coffee shop customers is to be willing to give them what they want. Many shops are sourcing their own coffees, at least in part, and are particular about how they want it roasted. If you’re willing to roast-to-order they’ll be more likely to come back with more of their special requests because they know they can trust you and they know that you’re flexible.
4. Even if you’re not doing “specialty” coffee, most of your customers are going to want as much information about your coffees as possible, especially if they are coffee shops who are going to resell the products to their customers. Know the details of your sourcing; the bare minimum should include the region where it’s grown. Remember that terroir is trending, so if you can tell a customer the region, farm, farmer’s name, altitude, annual rainfall, etc. about your coffee they’ll feel more connected to, and trusting of, your product. You should know how your beans were processed (natural, partially washed, washed), because this can have a big effect on the flavor profile. Is it arabica, robusta, or a blend? You should be cupping whatever you’re roasting so that you can provide a list of flavor notes for each of your coffees. Many coffee shops may advertise their own perceived flavor notes, but you can give them a baseline. It is also good to be as transparent as possible about your buying practices; are you direct trade or fair trade? Did you and your team go to each farm or did you buy from a wholesaler? You want to spin the sourcing as positively as possible; people want to know they’re buying humane products, they want to know if it’s organic or heirloom, and they want to know they can trust the quality. Even if you go through a wholesaler for your green beans, make sure you sell them as a trusted source for quality coffee.
5. Depending on the vision you have for your brand, another way to draw in a broader clientele is to invest in rare and unique coffees. Third-wave coffee is all about sourcing and “special” sourcing. Single-origins or unique blends, maybe that you crafted yourself with the help of the farmer are great selling points for those coffee purists in your area that are in it more for the experience than the caffeine.
6. In addition to hosting your own events to garner business, offer your space for local coffee shops to host events. This could be trainings for their baristas, latte competitions, cuppings, classes or even parties. Coffee people talk to each other; if you let it be known that your space is open for the art of coffee-making and its improvement, the whole coffee community will know about it.
7. Invite coffee shops to bring their employees on a tour of your roastery. People love transparency. Walk them through your roasting process, show them your equipment and explain why you chose it, what makes it the best, show them how you store your roasted coffee and your raw beans, let them see the clean, shiny, and functional space where their coffee is going to be coming from. Maybe finish the day with a cupping of a featured roast to tie the whole experience in together.
8. Be proactive. With existing accounts, check in regularly on how your products are working for them. And send them samples of new products or products they haven’t tried before. Fostering a strong and caring relationship with your clients will keep them trusting you, which means they’ll try your new products and recommend you to their friends and colleagues.
9. Keep a killer website. Your website should be clean and contemporary looking, easy to navigate, informative but not overloaded. Just like you want to build a social community around your physical shop, you want to build a social community around your website. Your online presence is how you are going to get people outside your local community talking about your product, thinking about it and wanting to come out and try it. If you can sell online, that’s another fantastic strategy for building your client-base. One of the strongest features of your website is the blog. This should be a blog about your business specifically, but also about coffee roasting, coffee trends, coffee history; it can include how-to posts helping people roast or brew at home. Keep up with the coffee community and its trends and blog about them. You can do reviews of local coffee shops, even if they don’t buy from you (yet). Your blog, and all of the information on your website, are full of keywords and phrases that will help to make you more visible in search engines. A blog, an aesthetically pleasing website, and informative but personable pages will keep people on your website, and thinking about your product, for much longer.
10. Take suggestions from the customers you have. Whether you have them submit comment cards, shoot you an email, or have an informal conversation at a cupping, pay attention to what your customers are talking about. You may find out that you didn’t know that no one in your area has tried the mythical Gesha coffee and you have the opportunity to bring that magical experience to a community that would be eternally grateful (and loyal).
11. Take a page out of the old-school business-building strategies and try cold-calling. This can involve calling coffee shops, cafes, or other coffee-selling/using businesses and asking if they want to sample or buy your coffee. This can involve inviting all of those people to a cupping to sample your product. You can go above and beyond and go around personally, dropping off a sample at the business, meeting the owner, manager, and baristas, talking to them about your product and their business, laying the foundation for that relationship that will create loyal customers.
12. Just like your website is one of your greatest tools, social media can be a life-saver to a new business. Social media is free. Create a Facebook page for your business; invite everyone you know to like it. Have your entire team like it. Create an Instagram and Twitter account. One of the best ways to promote your accounts is to follow a bunch of other accounts. Find the online coffee community and make it really hard for them to ignore you. Post on those accounts regularly. You can have your employees do this as well. Good quality photos of your beans throughout the roasting process, your shiny new machinery, your workers focused or having fun doing what they love, your friends and customers in the coffee business, your public events. Utilize hashtags to get your posts seen. When you host events, make Facebook event pages and promote them on Instagram and Twitter. Do social media promotions, using coupons exclusively for people who like your Facebook page or a free small bag of a featured coffee for the first 10 people who like your picture of that coffee. Social media interns can be compensated in coffee and school credit; have someone whose job it is to interact with the online coffee community, tweeting about coffee news and events, promoting coffee businesses that you admire to foster positive associations with your business, post pictures regularly, answer customer questions on your pages. Social media is also an awesome place to interact with your customers, answer their questions, get them talking about your products (which their followers may be able to see), and getting their feedback.
13. Just like you should be paying attention to coffee trends, you’ve got to pay attention to the trending prices. If your product is superior, people will pay for it; but, they’re not going to pay more than they need to, especially if someone is offering a similar/comparable product for cheaper. If you have to charge a high price, make sure you can justify it. Note: You should also clearly communicate/advertise your prices so that there is no confusion or frustration among your clientele.
14. Know why you’re unique and own it. Your branding is imperative to getting people’s attention and helping them remember who you are and what you do. Have a strong, contemporary visual logo, a memorable name that speaks to who you are as a business. You can go cutesy with a pun, or hipster with an obscure or multi-syllable word, just make sure it matches your brand. Have packages and labels that people will recognize and pick out immediately; most people shop based on color and shape instead of name. PBFY.com is one of the best (and most inexpensive) packaging services for coffee; they’ve got you covered with air-tight, water-proof, stand-up, and light-proof packages. And they work with you to customize those packages so that they aren’t just functional, they’re marketable and memorable, too. If you’re a new business, they’ve also got deals so you can sample their products and services. What your product looks like reflects what it stands for and is a key part of getting people to remember and trust it.
15. Educate yourself on brewing and the work of a barista; you should know how your products are best brewed so that you can walk your customers through the way to get the best quality cup out of your product. Being able to speak the language of a barista and a home brewer will make those people trust you and your product.
16. If you have the resources, offer classes to your coffee-shop partners’ baristas. These can be classes in roasting, cupping, or specialized brewing methods like pour-over or Aeropress. Especially if you are focusing on specialty coffee, single-origins and light roasts, walking people through grinding and preparation methods best for your products will help connect them to your products and will further create that sense of community you are looking for. Coffee-shops will also appreciate the furthered education of their employees, who are vital to the success of their own business’.
17. Even if you don’t have a coffee-shop linked to your roastery, you can implement some type of customer loyalty program. Do the numbers with your numbers’ person and see what you can afford to offer in the way of free bags per number of purchased bags. If you sell brewing equipment in your shop (or grinders, or other merchandise) you can offer those types of goodies with a certain volume of purchase. Rewarding your returning customers, especially the ones shelling out the most dough, is a great way to keep them returning and happy to be doing so.
18. That leads me to my next tip: sell stuff other than coffee. Based on what you can afford, sell at-home roasting and/or brewing equipment, merchandise with your logo on it (coffee mugs and thermoses are a great start here, bags are also great, maybe coasters). These are products that don’t go bad, so you can invest in a bunch and let them hang around until they sell. Having products with your logo are another way to market your brand. You can even go as far as selling t-shirts or hats with your logo; I would only recommend this if you have a killer logo and a fairly loyal following.
19. If you have a coffee-shop attached to your roastery, offer a variety of coffee drinks; this is especially beneficial to promoting your range of products: espresso in lattes, drip coffee, decaf, single-origins in a pour-over. You can also partner with a local bakery and sell pastries with the coffee, advertising their business and possibly setting up an exchange where they sell your coffee (or advertise your shop) as well. The goal with selling more things is to draw in a diversity of customers and to keep them in your shop longer. If they linger to look at your mug selection or stay to have a coffee and a muffin, it’s a benefit to your business.
20. Enter roasting and/or brewing competitions. There’s the US Roaster Championship, the World Coffee Roasting Championship, Roast Magazine has their Roaster of the Year award as well. This will not only promote your product (especially if you place/win) it will get you into that coffee community, into the minds of coffee people across the country and the world, it will get you noticed by coffee magazines and blogs. It’s a way to network, learn, prove yourself as a roaster, and promote your brand. If you have a coffee shop, enter your baristas into local, regional, national or international competitions. In NYC, the specialty coffee shops have latte art “throwdowns” regularly where their baristas intermingle and become familiar with more of the coffee world. This is also a fantastic way to get your employees and team members pumped about your business; if they’re rooting for someone from your shop to kick someone else’s butt, they’re building a strong and lasting sense of loyalty to your brand. Happy and loyal employees are one of your strongest resources for a successful and lasting business.
Get creative with your business. That’s what coffee is good for. Without coffee we wouldn’t have the Industrial Revolution because people would still be drinking beer or ale all day. Without coffee we wouldn’t have the work of some of the most prolific writers in our history or the successes of innumerable industries and moguls. Pull yourself a double of your unique espresso blend, sit down with your team, and figure out how to grow this business that is, essentially, your baby. You know your community and vision better than I do; think hard about how you can best serve both. Focus on building relationships, fostering good feelings about your brand, and getting traffic to your store. If you believe in your brand then I believe in you. You’ve got this.