Starting out on the right foot with your mobile coffee business
Plot has been operating as a mobile coffee business for almost six years this year. Along the way we have experienced so many ups and downs, of all varieties. I wanted to use this post to examine some of the highs and lows of mobile coffee, with a particular attention to new job opportunities and how best to decide what works for your business. It took us a relatively long while, I’d say as long as 2 years, to really understand our approach to mobile coffee and how best to use our time to build an effective mobile business; what events truly needed coffee, which ones didn’t; what kinds of markets had the right management behind them to bring in the customers; what are the right regular sites, and what to sell on them; how much do you pay to be at an event; where to be placed at an event; do we have competition? The list goes on. Over time we have learned that saying yes to everything isn’t the way to operate for successful longevity. Although as a coffee business you are supplying a seemingly fundamental need for visitors to an event or market, you still need to place your stamp on whatever event/market it is that you are doing, and choose the jobs that are right for you and your business/brand; the stamp you are able to make on an event, your image and reputation…and your income. Being mobile coffee there are certain aspects of ‘getting the work’ that have resembled ‘setting up shop’ with a new approach in mind many times per year. This is ok and has kept the job very diverse, but it has created a confusing image for ourselves and hasn’t necessarily paid dividends. The key for us was adding an element of experience that would reflect our brand that we could bring to the table, rather than simply supplying a product, albeit a good product. This has been key for us moving forward, helping us find the jobs that are right for us and securing the worthwhile types of work. The most recent example of this lately has been working and making decisions for future business at two sites within East London. Both seemingly very similar in what they had to offer us and how well suited we were to their visitors, and vice versa. But this was not the case. They have performed very differently. I believe it is important to remain flexible as a business, you can’t survive without being so. But as a business that is regularly moving, you need to keep your brand in shape, having a coherent message and holding on to your values, like any other business. We struggled with this at the beginning and are continuously working on it. Under the Dungarees Coffee brand we particularly struggled. We had a clear vison of opening fixed location within a shop unit and simply saw the mobile business as a financial means to this end. It didn’t work for these reasons. Things became confusing because we didn’t have a concise mobile business model in place. We treated it too flippantly as a cheap and flexible means to earn enough cash to open a place that we were certain of the business model for. If you are planning on starting your own mobile coffee business, or have done so already, we would love to hear all about it, and the issues you have faced along the way. st Text
What is entry point knowledge for a career in the coffee industry.
Last week we visited the Taylor Street roastery on Creek Road in Deptford, London. Myself and Dave from the Salvation Army, our partner in our workshops for young people, attended ‘an evening with coffee champions’. Our objective by attending this event was to obtain a better understanding of what grade within the specialty coffee industry we wanted to hit with our workshops for young people. One issue we had was how involved and detailed our courses are in terms of barista skills and coffee knowledge. But were we filling our student’s heads with unnecessary coffee jargon? This event, although an event that had a strong sales pitch behind it, (via Detpak and their new recyclable takeaway cups: other blog post to follow regarding that), was very eye opening in terms of our objective. Being a self-employed barista running an ‘owner/operator’ business, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of complacency. So, going to this event and listening to the ‘champions of coffee’, who were actual barista champions of Australia and the UK, told me that we had some aspects of our course to figure out. We realised that our course had to be centred on giving the students the practical skills and employability support, and not so much of the nuances of specialty coffee. I realised that I had become complacent and that my knowledge wasn’t enough to have such detail regarding the finer points anyway. A double win in terms of where we wanted to go, and two easily workable issues. We needed to get out there a little more and experience for ourselves the extent of what the coffee world had to offer. Mine and Dave’s strengths are with the people, the students, and teaching them the practical hands-on skills they need to GET A JOB within this great industry. This was the crucial factor. We do not need to bog the students down with so much jargon. Not at entry level anyway. We need to teach them the practical basics of producing excellent coffee, how to deal with the general public considering the role a barista within communities, and simply expose them to the huge world of specialty coffee and what it has to offer them. The rest would follow, once graduated. The champion speakers at this event allowed me to see the extent our peers go to to master the craft. These are people at the top of their game, and we do not need to relay this sort of knowledge onto our students. But for us at Plot, we need to strive to keep on a par with these guys. Through our workshops we are in the business of getting young people into work and enthused in an exciting and sociable career, not to make them coffee masters. Our objective is encouraging the possibility.
The importance of the role for the barista
We hear it a lot nowadays, how the customer experience is about much more than just the product or the service we offer as businesses. It is much more about how you make someone feel during the buying journey, and more importantly, after the journey has been made. At Plot we have always been pioneers of the fact that running a great coffee business is more than just making a great cup of coffee. Mastering the art of making exceptional coffee is very important and certainly not to be sniffed at, but in terms of running a successful coffee business, that people love to visit, we deem it as secondary to the responsibility we have towards the customer and supplying them with an experience that they can have before, during and after their visit. The coffee shop is renowned for bringing people together, a place of comfort for many away from home and work life. They are so much a part of our culture that they are considered by many now as the modern day pub. Pubs are a part of the British institution and have been the focal point of communities for centuries. In his 17th Century diary Samuel Pepys described the pub as ‘the heart of England’. Coffee shops are quickly becoming the replacement community focal points and play a pivotal role in people’s lives. In this series of blog posts we are going to talk about each crucial component that contribute to a coffee shop being an excellent one. Today we’re going to talk about our real passion, the role of the barista, and how it’s more than just a part time job. For us at Plot it is essential that the role of the barista is recognized as an excellent and rewarding occupation. We see it largely how the Irish see the occupation of the bar person – a highly regarded and rewarded occupation. Time and money is invested in them because they are important for the success of pubs, and the continuity of the community that are in. As we can see, coffee shops and specialty coffee play a huge part in the daily rituals for many people in the UK. For this reason, the role of the barista has important responsibilities within the community. Making great coffee is one responsibility, but as stated before it is the ritual of visiting the shop, seeing the same familiar strangers and interacting with people in an environment where they feel comfortable that is just as important. These aspects cannot be forgotten. People who visit coffee shops do so in groups, on their own, to meet friends, or spend lengthy time interacting with the staff. For them, the social atmosphere of the coffee shop is very important and they seek out conversation and interaction, as well as amazing coffee. Therefore, a large part of the social climate of the coffee shop is the support provided by the staff to the customers. Staff provide support to customers in that they are in the coffee shop every day and become part of the social fabric of the customers lives. For customers of coffee shops who have limited ties to the community, the coffee shop serves as a very important part of their social life. These people might be new to the community, students without long-established social ties, or others, who for one reason or another did not have a strong social network. For this group, the ability to come into the coffee shop alone and linger is a huge benefit. A great barista is able to accommodate these needs with their customer care skills and open approach to the position. We are not saying that a barista needs to be best friends with every single customer who walks through the door, but to consider the position and the mood of each one. The skill is in interpreting why the customer wants out of their visit, and to accommodate it. Gone are the days where the barista is just the person hidden away behind the coffee machine making our coffee. Coffee shops are becoming our new pubs and so should be treated as such. The barista can make up the entire fabric of a coffee shop with their personality and coffee making skills, and the coffee shop can do the same for a community. The Coffee shop has beyond doubt become a third place in many people’s lives. It serves as a place away from home and work. Ray Oldernburg, in his book The Great Good Place states that in a ‘third place tavern there is a degree of unity among the patrons that far exceeds their mere sharing of the same room at the same time’. We believe this to be true about coffee shops, and it is the job of the barista in hosting to grease the social cogs. Oldenburg also says that ‘hosting is not the only consideration in the evolution of a third place, but few factors are more important. A tavern always reflects the personalities behind its bar’. For Plot, we need to recognize the huge role baristas play, and can play in people’s lives. Making incredible coffee is such an art form and can set one business away from another. For this reason, the position of the barista is becoming far more noticed. However, when breaking down the different components that make up the reasons why we love to frequent the same coffee shops day in day out, the reasons are far more holistic, and the true factors of this experience economy of which we are a part of nowadays shine through. People visit because coffee shops are hearts of communities and it is the baristas who hold that together. Great baristas have the knack of getting their customers together and making sure that the return customer will have at least one personal greeting each time he or she stops by.