Coopetition (A Suggestion For Cafe Owners)

Since starting up in the bean trade proper, Jesse and I have created a surprising number of relationships with other roasters. Given our early stage in the game, our interactions with the honchos at established Melbourne roasteries like AESP Coffee RoastersCoffee Supreme and Code Black consist largely of them giving us their valuable pearls of wisdom and encouragement, and us giving them our eager ears, nodding heads, and bewildered looks.

The pursuit of a good coffee roast, it seems, is more likely to unite than to divide competing roasters – which wikipedia calls ‘coopetition‘ – and I wonder if cafes could stand to benefit from supporting each in a similar way. Given that cafes rely overwhelming on customers who frequent their immediate location, a cafe’s only real competitors are other cafes in the local area. In theory then, it should feel safe cooperating with cafes outside of the area if it improved significant aspects of the business. So, like what?

Well, sharing best practices and know-how is the big and easy first thing, and while Google delivers all such wisdom in online form, it’s surely nicer to talk shop with other operators in person. But here are two further things that might be significantly improved by collaborative action: loyalty card-style marketing and a coffee bean bulk buying and clearance scheme.

The first is simple: you create a regular little loyalty card that earns a customer a free coffee after so many visits, except that you also list a bunch of really high quality cafes who’s coffees can also count towards your customer’s freebie with you. Does that sound a bit flakey and kumbaya? Well, what if you heard that one of the hottest cafes in London called Prufrock is happily doing this, and they don’t even ask for permission from their competitors before listing them on the card – I mean, who would possibly object to being sent new customers? And where did we hear this crazy story? From Seth Godin (in the video below), arguably the most celebrated marketer alive today (and not just for his great hairstyle).

Ok, so the coffee bean bulk-buying and clearing scheme is completely our own idea but is seems common sensical enough. Coffee roasters, like most wholesalers, offer better prices on larger quantity purchases so if the quite little cafe around the corner threw in its order for coffee with the giant cafe on main street, it could access the lower prices while the big cafe earned even a  little bit more bargaining power.

The clearance side seems even simpler and potentially more interesting: if you have a good few kilos of beans approaching expiry that you know just won’t be able to get through, why not sell, swap or give them away to other cafes (or even to private folks) using some simple online exchange platform?

Screw it, this last thought deserves a chance. If any of you folks, be you cafe owners or simply coffee lovers, think you’d give some kind of online coffee clearance thing a chance, holler and we’ll get our web guy to whip something up for us all to have a play with.

Alright, we’ll wait to hear from you, meanwhile we’ve got roasting to do.


Jono & Jesse

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