Have you ever met someone that was so eager to help you that you turned and ran the other way overcome with fear and suspicion? I've gotten that reaction recently. I've also been pushed away by people's egos. That was much less surprising to me.
I am no saint. I am not trying to convince you that I am. I am a problem solver. If I have any saint-like quality it's that I like to see people prosper and experience freedom.
From the coffee roaster's perspective you can't really say that the coffee industry is broken. It's not. It works. What I saw in it were opportunities to make it work better. Of course, for the farmer, but also for the roaster. You can't have one without the other. If one side of the equation is suffering it drags the other side down.
One of the fist things I saw I could improve was the traceability of the coffee. Today, there are still a lot of other importers that go to great lengths to keep their suppliers a secret. They give enough vague details to make you feel just a little more connected. And a lot of others have no idea who the farmers are themselves. They buy coffee from traders or export brokers at origin and have absolutely no clue about the farmers. I'm guessing that's because they don't care. This isn't a problem to every roaster, but having more information about where your coffee comes from can be a huge asset in your marketing and storytelling. Every cup of coffee should represent another triumph. What do you think happens when a roaster's customers (by customers, I mean people) drink their coffee and feel like they just tasted the happy ending to their favorite underdog story? I feel like it's our responsibility to give those tools to roasters whether they make use of them or not.
I also saw an opportunity to do more than just take orders or resort to high-pressure sales. It takes more time and effort but I want The Coffee Co-Mission to be built around long-term relationships. Hell, our name says it! The solution was to focus on providing solutions. Every market has its own customer base. Every roaster has its own business model, own style and its own goals. I want to know everything I can about the roaster's business and their market so that I can help them put together the best offering list for their goals - year after year. Instead of acting like bean pushers, I want to act like their business partner. Again, this isn't a one-sided equation. The more their business succeeds, the more our programs succeed and the more our farmers succeed.
Direct Trade (whatever that means) is becoming more and more popular. I wanted to find a way to open it up to every roaster. That was a complex problem. We found a way to make it work. It doesn't matter if you want 100 boxes, 100 bags, or 1 bag. We can connect you with the farmers and contract the coffee for you. We even warehouse your coffee free for 6 months - because it doesn't make any sense to contract 100 bags of your favorite coffee for next year if you've got no where to store it.
I also don't like it when I see a price for coffee I know is sky high get marked way down, knowing some poor roasters paid that high price just a few days ago. It really bothers me when I think about the price the farmer got. Anyway, we don't do this. We price our coffee fairly and consistently. If you see a price for our coffee you think might be high, there will be a good reason. Like the time we helped one farmer bounce back after a family feud that almost ruined her.
The distribution model for coffee to the roaster was easy to improve. Up until now coffee was stored at warehouses close to the big ports. There are exceptions of course, but nonetheless, transport costs are a huge consideration for almost every roaster. We are rolling out a distribution network that will see a stock of green beans located within a 3 hour drive from almost every roaster in North America. And then we'll do it in Europe and elsewhere. After this is completed we'll roll out the next evolution of our distribution model which....is a secret for now.
I'm going to all of these lengths because I care, but why? Like I said, I'm no saint. I'm a little hard-headed punk that got tired of hearing people talk about how hard it was for things to change and decided to do something about it. Now that I've stuck myself right in here I feel a personal responsibility for seeing it through.
From a pure business sense, I decided to do things this way because it creates more value for the roaster. I think that makes good business sense and I don't want to be just another commodities trader.
- Daniel Ehrlich, Founder