Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pissing Off The "Gods" Of Coffee

I received a rather interesting phone call today.

It was an industry friend calling to tell me that the coffee company he works for no longer will sell my company coffee.

Turns out that the company he works for is unhappy with the way we have been representing their coffee at The Spro. The company? Counter Culture Coffee.

Evidently, there are three reasons why they no longer will sell to us:

1 - They are unhappy that we started serving the Aida's Grand Reserve in February.

2 - They say Aida Batlle (the producer) is unhappy that we are serving her coffee.

3 - I have made disparaging remarks about Peter Giuliano (SCAA President and CCC owner).

There were a couple of other minor issues that were also included in the discussion (I'll go into those later).

For sure, Numbers One and Three are all true. We started serving the AGR on Valentine's Day after freeze storing it since we received the coffee in late September/early October. And I have been very critical of Peter Giuliano (as the SCAA President) of late - especially with the recent discussion on Barista Exchange (sorry, I just put the link to the thread, you'll have to scroll through to see the action - it's quite entertaining, maybe).

As for Number Two, I can only guess. We released the AGR the day that I left for El Salvador to volunteer my time judging their national barista championship, and I even sent a message to Aida that I was going to be in San Salvador and if she might have time to meet up for a visit. She said she was busy at the farm and that it wouldn't be possible. I figured that if she had a problem she would have said so - or maybe not.

To be honest, I'm actually surprised it took this long for Peter Giuliano to pull this one. I expected this to come much earlier since I have been quite critical of his handling of SCAA affairs over the past year or so.

Quite seriously, I don't really have a problem with this. It's what I expected and seems to be par for the course (you know, agree with us, or else). To my mind, any and every company has a right to sell (or stop selling) to any outfit it desires. They want to sell to us - cool. They don't want to sell to us - that's cool too.

Some of the other tertiary issues that were presented as reasons why Counter Culture no longer will to sell to us are that: a) CCC is moving away from the multiple roaster model and only wants to pursue the roaster exclusivity model (which is something Spro does not do), and b) we don't buy enough coffee.

"A" is a curious reason since a year ago they said that they wanted to pursue the multiple (non exclusive) roaster model. Maybe they've really changed their minds. Afterall, when a client uses multiple roasters, they're not buying all their coffee from one roaster and it's less profitable to that roaster. So note to those of you planning on opening a multiple roaster coffeeshop: Counter Culture is not interested in that model.

Of course, with Spro they don't have all the extra expenses of the exclusivity model. We don't ask or expect barista training, machine service or all the extras that roasters usually have to provide on a somewhat complimentary level. They simply sell us coffee at the price specified and we pay. We don't ask for anything extra or anything else - just quality coffee, at any price. In fact, the only time we take of their customer service rep is when he comes in to hang out, have a coffee and chat. We're very "low maintenance" - partly because we prefer it that way and also because we respect that with exclusivity comes those service "perks".

As to "B", I guess we don't buy "enough" coffee. From the opening of Spro Hampden through this week, we've only purchased about 400 pounds of coffee from Counter Culture, at a total revenue of just under $3,300.00 (at least that's according to our QuickBooks report).

Honestly, I can admit that it's not much. We're not the 300 pound per week account that roasters dream of claiming. We're a small coffee shop with a heavy focus on delivering a variety of quality coffees to a burgeoning coffee clientele. We source coffees from multiple roasters and brew each cup of coffee one-at-a-time.

But since they said that they're basing their decision to not sell to us based on the AGR that we offered starting on Valentine's Day, I thought I would have a statistical look at the numbers.

For the AGR, we purchased one eight ounce tin for a landed price of $26.95 - that's $17.95 for the coffee and $9.00 for shipping. This translates into .008281% of the money we've spent or .000152% of the poundage we've purchased over the past year with Counter Culture. Surely, for even a small company purchasing a small amount (read: not "enough") of coffee these percentages are a microscopic reason to tell us to piss off.

So, less than one percent of our purchases and less than one percent of our purchased weight in coffee and we're not representing their coffee properly? Curious.

Makes one kind of wonder if they hold such a hardline on their accounts that brew the coffee in airpots and let them sit around for who knows how long. Or the accounts with bagged coffee sitting around for a bit of time. I can only guess that those coffees account for more than one percent of those account purchases...

The interesting thing is that even during this period where I have been critical of Peter Giuliano, I had thought about discontinuing our purchasing from Counter Culture based on those criticisms. However to me, agreement is not a prerequisite for a relationship or doing business. Counter Culture offers some fine coffees that my staff was excited about and we continued purchasing their coffee because we felt that we could offer them to our clientele in a thoughtful and engaging manner. I would not allow my personal thoughts regarding their owner to cloud our way of doing business. It wouldn't be professional and would just be childish.

Besides, there's lots of great people working for the company and it would be just wrong to cast doubt on any of them merely based on my criticisms of their boss or his desire to get rid of me based on the reasons above. I like all of them and wish them the best - though I do suspect that I'm persona non grata at Counter Culture events now.

In the end, I'm more amused than anything else. Disagree and criticize the President of the SCAA and get told by his company to piss off?

I'm only surprised that it didn't happen sooner.