The coffee industry is pretty mature, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that another coffee roasting company would be standing room only.
But that didn’t stop Mike Shea from starting his coffee roasting company.
‘The trigger to start up was after dad bought a coffee shop in Florida and I worked with him during the busy winter seasons. We always thought we could make the coffee we’d buy in the shop better, so we developed and worked on new blends and which roast profiles would maximize the taste of a specific bean’ says Mike. Eventually they decided to sell the coffee shop, move North, buy a coffee roaster, switch from retailer to manufacturer, and supply grocery and coffee stores around Massachusetts.
Mike’s start-up advice
Mike is particular on maintaining the coffee’s quality and integrity, from overseeing the original roasting profiles, to guiding the process from green bean into a deliciously roasted end product with fantastic aroma and taste.
If you’re starting any business, whether it’s food and beverage or construction, Mike’s tips are:
- Guarantee the result is consistent and excellent as it only takes a few poor results to destroy your reputation
- The journey is ongoing. Never stop improving
- When times are tough, remember why you’re in business. Every time I drop roasted beans into the cooling bin, it reminds me of the first time I recognized the wonderful smells of coffee
- Keep a loyal group of experts around you for advice
- Stay close to customers and adjust your business as you go to suit their needs
Finally, if Mike could have his startup time again, he’d have organized more capital and invested in larger equipment faster. ‘If you believe in your business and you feel it’s going to succeed’, he says, ‘go bigger and harder earlier, and then chase the business to make it work’.
Apart from his father John and his immediate family, Mike gains much of his enjoyment from his customers. ‘Knowing someone is enjoying my coffee every day is a great feeling. I really listen to customer preferences, and then I experiment with the roasting formula to develop our unique coffee customers will love’. Customer inspiration certainly helps, but Mike also credits two of the most respected coffee roasters in the specialty coffee industry, Stephen Diedrich and Willem Boot, who he trained with. ‘Anyone that gives you that burst of enthusiasm and drive is worthwhile to follow’ comments Mike, ‘and if you can’t meet them in person, connect inside their social media networks’.
Mike also believes every business needs the first break. ‘For us, getting our first customer grocery customer was critical, as it gave us a vote of confidence from another business. We’ll always appreciate that first order from Bill Trucchi of Trucchi Supermarkets.
Developing new product lines
If you look at Mike’s website, you’ll see a range of products and services. There’s coffee (of course) retail, wholesale and bulk) but you can also order your own private label of their coffee, branded hoodies, mugs, trucker caps, and recently they’ve branched out into supplying other retailers and restaurants equipment packages and training.
The reason to diversify seemed to make sense to Mike. ‘Though we began with coffee, we saw opportunities to sell more products to our customers as time went by. We watched industry trends and the needs of our customers and potential customers’. Mike uses the wholesale segment (the largest part of the business) to help fund other products and services, exploring selling online direct, private labels and the coffee bar. They’ve even branched out into a subscription model, where customers are sent a regular shipment.
It’s this online model to the consumer which has the most potential and to help execute this strategy, they’re busy building a marketing program to increase their direct exposure.
It wasn’t all plain sailing of course. Every new business needs to get new customers, find which marketing tactics are working (and which didn’t) and deal with whatever the industry throws at you. Over the last few years, Mike’s obstacles to overcome have included:
- How to get physically in front of prospective customers (the best way to sell)
- Where to advertise and what message inside social media
- Ensuring everyone knows about their quality processes
- How to encourage word of mouth
- The impact of COVID-19 on how business is done
- Being aware of price increases within the supply chain and how to pass that cost forward
- Focusing on costs and eyes open for the next opportunity.
Online sales is a very important channel to their future development, not only for their brands but also the online business customers we provide private label services for. It’s this that we’ll aim to solve over the next few years as we continue to grow.
Mike firmly believes that if you’re aiming to start a business, learn all aspects of the industry you’re entering before you take the leap of faith, even if that’s working part time or for free to get an understanding of how the business works. ‘If I hadn’t worked in the coffee shop with dad’, Mike says, ‘I’d never have found the gap in the market for specialty graded coffee and had the confidence to buy our first coffee roaster. Finally I think you should be what you want to be, and be prepared to work for it’.
We think that’s great advice.