Updated: Jan 25, 2020
As a coffee drinker, I enjoy changing things up and trying new coffees from roasters around the country.
I hear many people say they want to extend this idea when talking about opening a coffee shop. They want to change out the coffee roaster they carry on a monthly or quarterly basis.
While this sounds fun, it is a logistical headache. Keeping track of trying new samples, opening wholesale accounts, dealing with unpredictability of new vendors, etc. Most of the time, your customers are looking for something consistent. Changing things up sounds like fun, but it doesn’t satisfy your customers.
Find a great coffee roaster that fits your needs and stick with them. Here are my suggestions on what matters most when choosing one.
I’ve boiled it down to these four main ideas that will make the most impact.
You will probably be surprised by what made the list!
Coffee roasters roast coffee to sell to people, but their biggest customers are coffee shops. Therefore, the more coffee those shops sell, the more coffee they’ll have to buy from the roasters.
It’s in the best interest of the coffee roaster to support their wholesale customers as much as possible.
In my coffee roasting business, I help coffee shop owners and coffee retailers with all the branding support and marketing tools they need. This is just one unique aspect of support that we offer to our wholesale customers.
Coffee roasters may also provide swag with their own branding on it. I’ll talk a little more about this later in the post, but this could be important if the coffee you carry comes from a recognizable brand.
Another support service would be training. A coffee roaster that I used in my shop offered free training to all my new hires. They would instruct them on the basics of pulling espresso shots, steaming milk, manual brew coffee, and more. And they would do all this in a coffee lab at the roasting facility, meaning they wouldn’t be interrupted with customer orders and I wouldn’t have to stay up late training them after hours. They also offered ongoing training on a multitude of topics from latte art to espresso machine maintenance. For anyone new to the industry, this sort of support can be life-saving!
Other support services might include private labeling for your establishment. Maybe you want to have your own brand of coffee, or a blend named after your shop. Also, will your coffee roaster help promote your shop? Give you advice on staff training? Maybe give you training on running a coffee shop and increasing sales?
Another coffee roaster, here in Austin, helps new coffee shops with startup costs by offering a lease-to-own program on big equipment like espresso machines, coffee brewers, etc.
Yes, price is a factor.
But why? If I choose the most expensive coffee, I’ll just charge more for it, right?
I’d like to reference two articles I’ve previously written here: This Is The Most Important Thing In Your Coffee Shop, and How To Find The Break Even Point Of Your Coffee Shop.
The main idea is that there should be a balance in price between what tastes good, what your customers are willing to pay, and what helps keep your profit margins at a reasonable rate.
I always recommend not choosing the cheapest or the most expensive coffee.
The location of your coffee shop will also factor in here. As discussed in my article on Break Event Points, your location will probably be first or second biggest expense. If you are able to save some expense on location for whatever reasons, and feel like applying that to your coffee, that’s great. Go for it.
Your geographic location will also determine who your average customer is. Is your coffee shop in a higher-income area? Well populated? Or maybe your area is more rural and sparsely populated. People in wealthier areas are typically willing to pay more for coffee, BUT also expect to receive more value (possibly in ambience, taste, or service).
Shop around as a potential wholesale customer and don’t get married to a coffee roaster until you’ve tried many. Just having a good price should not be enough to win you over. Make sure to ask what services you can expect from them as a customer and any other help they can provide.
Of course! But, it’s less important than you think.
I like to put this in terms of the 98% and the 2%. The 98% of people are the ones who value your coffee shop because they like the location, the hospitality, supporting local, and a decent cup of coffee. They will (most likely) be 98% of your business.
The 2% are the people who love coffee like wine. They don’t come in everyday. They order just an espresso (not a high ticket or high margin item). And they hold no real loyalty to your staff or your shop.
The pull is to try and satisfy the tastes of the 2%, when most of your customers are actually evaluating your business more holistically. The taste of your coffee is one factor of your business, don’t make it the end-all be-all. That being said, you still own a coffee shop — so, serve good coffee!
Serve people, not coffee snobs.
I believe this comes with a balance of taste and price. But it brings me to the last (most important) point:
4. Customer Opinion
Your customers will have many, many opinions about your coffee. You don’t want to listen to all of them, but consider if you hear a running theme.
I’ve seen coffee shops carry some of the “best” coffee roasters from around the country. But, the majority of customers really didn’t care. They cared that it wasn’t overly priced, tasted decent, and came from a friendly face.
Look local first.
I live in Austin, Texas and there are many incredible coffee roasters here in town. Also, being in a city (and state, for that matter) with a lot of pride, it really mattered to people that their coffee was roasted locally. I tried out some (really good) roasters from out of state, but my customers would always frown when they found out their coffee wasn’t from an Austin coffee roaster.
Next, I suggest looking at some of the well-known coffee roasters in your town. They can come with brand recognition that you leverage to gain a loyal customer base. I did this in my coffee shop with a local roaster that had been around for a long time. They were known as one of the city’s first specialty coffee roasters. When customers would come in and see that we were using that brand of coffee, they would immediately trust my coffee shop.
However, don't rely just on brand recognition when choosing a roaster. Since the coffee you serve will be the backbone of your business, you want it to perfectly meet your needs.
If you're not sure where to start, check out my coffee roasting business supergoodcoffee.co
The coffee roaster would often give me and my staff free t-shirts, stickers, and other merchandise just as a show of appreciation.
Lastly, does great tasting coffee actually matter to your customers?
Will they be happy (or even notice) if you use a less expensive, more basic coffee? Remember back to what I said about 98% and the 2%? This is for you to figure out and decide on your own. And every business’s situation is different. Maybe your 2% is actually more like 20% or 30%.
You’ll never know if you don’t try out some different things and ask your customers what they think. I would send out surveys to my customers every couple months or so. I didn’t even offer a freebie or discount with it, I just told them I would appreciate 2-3 minutes of their time.
What support does your coffee roaster offer? Are you taking advantage of it?
What other support do you think you need?
Are you using coffee you think your customers want? Or is it just coffee you want?
Survey your customers on what matters most to them in your coffee shop.