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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 24 September 2020
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How one coffee business is adapting to Covid-19 changes with a new support scheme

Ferg Brown from Roasted Brown has come up with a way to boost his own coffee sales while supporting his customers.

Ferg Brown

Businesses are having to adapt to survive in the midst of the Covid-19 restrictions. One coffee supplier, Roasted Brown, has come up with a way to extend its own online sales, while also supporting its customer base. Here, Ferg Brown tells how he had to think fast to put the scheme into play in order to keep going:

IT WAS SUNDAY 15 March that the reality of Covid-19 really hit us. I was scrolling through Instagram with a glass of red and, one-by-one, the cafés we supply our coffee to started putting up notices that they were closing. By Monday morning we had effectively lost all of our business. It had unravelled, just like that.

Our coffee business up until now had been going really well, we had a tough enough year in 2019 but 2020 was carrying all the promise we’d hoped for. We’d just taken on some new customers and there was another three or four due to open by the end of March. The week before we had just roasted more coffee than we’d ever roasted on a regular week and we were all set to make up for last year and have our best year yet. 

The Covid-19 shock

The first few days were surreal, there was a buzz in the air, everyone huddling around talking about the same thing and a strange experience almost like excitement at this crazy new emergency. The only comfort I could devise from this was knowing there was nothing I could do to stop this and that almost everyone was in the same boat. 

As a business owner, there was this ever-increasing pressure setting in and as the hours passed, the realisations around cashflow, losing sales, honouring contracts and salaries and “what about the money owed to us” all bore down heavier and heavier. I think in times like this I tend to get upbeat and try to reassure the people around me, so my first reaction was to reassure my staff they still have a job and they’d be paid as normal for the foreseeable. After that, one by one all the bigger picture stuff started to land. 

I realised very quickly that in order to survive, we as a business would have to adapt to this new reality and fast. Our positioning in the industry in which we work felt like an opportunity that could be harnassed, we just had to work out what we could do in practical terms.

A coffee roaster sits right in the middle of this chain of hard-working people, from farmers and producers on one end to passionate baristas and grafting hospitality folk on the other. The stark reality of the impact of Covid-19 would not only hugely affect my company but also the companies we buy from and the those we supply. It was in this moment I started to brainstorm ways to try to support both ends as much as possible. 

Our online shop has always been very solid, we have a healthy number of subscriptions and a wonderful crew of loyal home brewers buying coffee regularly. I knew this would grow, but I had no idea by how much, with so many people working from home and realising their local cafés were now closing too. 

As someone who has owned and run cafés for a few years now – Roasted Brown in Temple Bar and Laine, my love on Talbot street – I know well that on the best days maintaining margins is a fine art.

My heart was immediately pulled in this direction as I could already sense the level of stress coming from café owners with sales so abruptly ended and costs still largely coming in.

We worked hard on ideas and finally came up with a system that could work for our customers, the end customer (the coffee drinker) and our own business. Eventually, we launched “Our Shop is Their Shop”.

With the terrible effects of Covid-19 on business, I figured this was a rare opportunity to show our appreciation for our customers’ loyalty over the years. We are hoping this initiative can significantly help with the future of everyone’s business.

How it works:

1. We did a two-week promotion in partnership with our wholesale customers. We offered a 10% discount online and gave our cafés all the markup with a discount code specific to them. That meant that customers could buy from us but also support their favourite cafe in the process.

2. After the initial two-week offer we kept our online shop open to the cafés we supply and now it continues to operate as “Our Shop and Their Shop”. The idea is simple. If you frequent a café or coffee shop that uses our coffee, then you’re most likely making your coffee at home now. When you purchase coffee for home, you’ll be prompted at our check-out to name the café you normally buy our coffee in, pop in the name of that cafe, they make the sale and we process the order. This way, we make our sale to them and they make their sale to their customer and they get free shipping over €25.00 Everyone wins. 

The campaign has gone really well so far and it’s continually growing. We’ve since been asked can we donate the sale to other shops that we don’t supply, but we’ve limited it to only the cafés we supply so that the sales generated can build up and actually make a difference.

This isn’t a PR stunt and the last thing I want to do is use it to try get new business off another coffee roaster by giving their customers money. 

Time to jump out of the box

This is really a time where creativity is needed in truck loads, staying caffeinated helps with that so I’m lucky! Being in the food and beverage industry, we’re in a unique position to work together help our clients do business online. We’re simply helping them continue to sell to their regulars through our platform.

At the end of the day, Their customers are Our customers so why can’t Our shop be Their shop?! 

That being said, creativity and community is great but we will really need our government to do something amazing in this season. They did it for the banks in the last crises, Simon Harris is doing an incredible job for health and I think Pascal Donohoe needs to step up more as Minister for Finance.

Businesses need a bailout this time, we don’t need loans. I think the government should literally put money into business accounts to ease the pressure and shore up our industries and job creation sector.

For years, small businesses have felt overhwelmed by banks and Revenue. It’s tough out there anyway as a small business, let alone during a pandemic. I think now is the time for the government to show an appreciation for SMEs, the backbone of our little country.

Ferg Brown is the owner of Roasted Brown, A husband and a father of 4 lives a full life of parenthood and coffee adventures, says he may get a job some day but right now he’s busy!

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Ferg Brown

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