Coffee roasters like to think the key to success is simply roasting the best coffee beans out there.
It’d be great if success was that straightforward, but the coffee business is a bit more complicated than that.
The problem with this business plan is that EVERYONE else is following the same one. Coffee shops have more options for high quality coffee than ever before, and even more shops are taking up the craft of roasting for themselves.
Quality is just the foot in the door for coffee roasters, as one coffee shop owner put it. What else can coffee roasters do to stand out from the crowd?
We recently conducted a survey with the help of Barista Magazine to learn more about coffee shop and customer habits. Along with learning a lot about consumer preferences, we also learned what coffee shops look for when choosing a roasting partner. The most important qualities for a coffee roaster are:
But when we asked coffee shops to explain in more detail, there seemed to be other strong factors that played a role in how coffee roasters earned their business.
We picked out the best pieces of advice from coffee shops and list them below. Scroll through the 4 main categories and find the advice that resonates with you. You have our permission to steal it and turn it into a booming business. Happy roasting!
“Go above and beyond for your shops. If they want to do cuppings, send them free samples or offer to come down and teach! Your shops are a direct influence on the image of your roastery.”
- Devin Parham, Head Barista at The Coffee Cup, Poteau, OK, USA
“Offer flexibility within roasts and support your vendors with training. It helps the cafe and ensures that your coffees are being brewed and served the way you intended when you roasted them.”
- United By Blue Coffeehouse & Clothier, Philadelphia, PA, USA
“Offering trainings and being available are some things that I appreciate most about my roaster. They anticipate our needs and follow through. They do an amazing job.”
- Tina Contes, Dough, Tampa FL, USA
“Be familiar with skills needed to be a good barista first. if you cannot connect the two, how can you know what your customers want. Make it a point to connect with people purchasing beans from your shop, or the shops where your beans are being sold.”
- Matthew Lynch, Street Bean Coffee, Seattle, WA, USA
“Display prudence when selecting a shop to prepare your coffee and oversee their procedures to ensure a proper representation of your brand and product.”
- Zachary James, Peddler Coffee, Philadelphia, PA, USA
“For a roaster, having highly detailed information about the beans you're sourcing, tasting notes, the ability to host baristas on site and to articulately conduct trainings and coffee cuppings are all critical to success in the industry. This is particularly relevant if your clientele is local and actively pursuing education and transparency about their buying practices in their shops.”
- Ryan Barker, Bourbon Coffee, Washington, DC, USA
“Be a resource! Offering classes, equipment, technical support, and being a familiar face adds value to your brand.”
- Doug Stone, Corvus Coffee Roasters, Denver, CO, USA
“If you want to roast your own coffee you must know how to do it. You can ruin a great coffee if you don´t. Begin with the courses and then buy your roaster machine. Create a profile as so you can always roast the coffee the same way as before to have a consistent product.” - Dri Menezes, Blueberry Pie Café, Niterói, Brazil
“Listen to your client. Our roaster was very open to creating our custom blends, and roasting the single origins to our specifications.”
- Lyndsey Lee, Coffee Studio
“Take risks. Do new things and pull in obscure coffees. Never compromise the craft of coffee roasting for profit. Remember why your coffee is special and always do your best to honor the hard work of coffee farmers.”
- Ben Hernandez, Oak Lawn Coffee, Dallas, TX, USA
“We absolutely point blank refuse to serve coffee from roasters who aren't absolutely transparent about sourcing and blends. Put the name of the producer on the bag. Tell us what's in a blend. Source ethically and advertise that.”
- Alex Evans, M5 Espresso, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
“In our region, we have at least 25 fantastic roasters within two hours of our shop. Our decision came down to relationship and trust. Messenger Coffee (our primary roaster) has taken a personal interest in our business and has gone out of their way to help us grow and reach our goals. As a result, we have grown into one of their largest accounts. We couldn't have reached that without them!”
- David Adkins, Arrow Coffee Company, Manhattan, KS, USA
“Be proactive. Build a full service business that consults, installs and finances equipment.”
- Avery's Coffee Roasters, Las Vegas, NV, USA
“Build personal connections with shop owners and management--it goes a long way! We've been so lucky to forge a strong bond with our roaster. Happy to keep this going for years to come.”
- Mike Balderrama, The Potter's House, Washington, DC, USA
“Our [coffee] order was very small at the beginning but we had roasters who worked with us and helped us grow. Because of this positive relationship we are very active about promoting our roasters to our customer base.”
- Kim Wilson, Commissary Cafe, Portland, Oregon, USA
“Constantly checking in and sending samples to existing accounts really shows you care and will help them to grow sales, gaining you more business.”
- Michael Hoshstrasser, University Book Store Cafe, Seattle, WA, USA
“Customer service is key. That can easily be lost when your product becomes the primary focus. If there's no customer to by the coffee, then the coffee's not worth anything. If people feel valued by you as a roaster, then they'll value your product.”
- Seth Enos, Copper Kettle Coffee, Colorado Spring, CO, USA
“Keep your clients engaged and constantly communicate with them to ensure the product you're delivering is keeping up with their tastes as preferences change over time and if you don't reach out to them in time, they may switch roasters.”
- Minnie Antonio, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
“Visit your local shops more. It's easy to stay in the roastery all day, and neglect the shops around you. But making a dual-effort to serve excellent coffees to the community around you goes a long way. Local partnerships speak volumes in communities where coffee isn't yet being fully appreciated.”
- Jared H., Java Jolt, Jacksonville, AL, USA
“Focus on quality, and focus on building relationships with wholesale accounts. For us, quality is the foot in the door, the relationship is what gets us to order again.”
- Justin Carpenter, Foolish Things Coffee Company, Tulsa, OK, USA
“Be involved in the cafes that carry your brand. Offer cupping nights for the cafes patrons. Maybe more small free samples of beans to customers.”
- Kelly Fennell, Cool Beans Coffeehouse & Cafe, Madison, WI, USA
“Don't underestimate the power of the waitstaff. Drop samples and free coffee cards w/ them so they are familiar w/ your product and will recommend and sell. (and make sure it gets reordered)”
- Sondra Powell, Red Hot Roasters, Louisville, KY, USA
“Drop off samples, follow up, make a personal connection, don't get discouraged if you don't wind up getting my business--at least you've made a friend!”
- Josie Hunckler, Rabble Coffee, Indianapolis, IN, USA
“I'm the roaster too. I will say, quality is as important as brand image. Working on branding and marketing should not be an afterthought.”
- Daniel Noguera, Urbana Cafe, Cincinnati, OH, USA
Urbana Coffee in Cincinnati, OH
“Approach new places that are looking for coffee - take the work away from them.”
- Avocado Cafe, CA, USA
“Be consistent in their marketing to shops, be respectful to smaller shops (don't become inconsistent when you start getting bigger purchases), be accessible for questions, have an active social media so we can point to you (social media means a lot to small shops and it helps if we can highlight what you are doing).”
- Renee Blanchard, Church Alley Coffee Bar, New Orleans, LA, USA
“Clearly communicate information on pricing, the coffee, and other services you offer. I shouldn't have to look for it or ask.” - Matthew Scott
“For me an inviting website is always a plus for me. Something not to complicated to find out about the business and the coffees they offer.”
- Victor Hodgson, Sonoma, CA, USA
Earning more business as a coffee roaster isn’t difficult; it just takes time. Being proactive about marketing will help roasters find new prospects, but business always boils down to the same three things: quality, relationships, and going above and beyond for customers.
It’s easy to get caught up in the act of roasting and forget there’s a whole wide world out there to explore. Don’t do that. Be active in the community and coffee shops will reward you with their business.