EP 5 Meet the Business - Two Dogs Coffee

EP 5 Meet the Business - Two Dogs Coffee

James Martin-Harper |

Right, everybody now before we start today's interview and learning about Two Dogs Coffee, you can find us a variety of social media platforms detailed below.

Henry: So, without further ado, let's meet our new friends, tell me, what sparked the idea to begin the company?

Sian: John wanted to retire. He's working at the moment as a project engineer, and I've always worked in hospitality so we were looking for something that we could build up now and then carry-on once john's retired, because nobody retires properly these days. We're going to have to work till we drop! So, we thought we'd do something that we enjoy doing. We had a look at a couple of projects and decided on the coffee. Originally, we looked at a microbrewery, but at the time, everybody was into microbreweries and there were a lot of them about. We then came across an article that said for “every pub that shuts, two coffee shops open”, so as I said I've been in hospitality before and had my café, so we thought about roasting coffee. That's what we did yeah.

John: I put myself on a roasting course through a company in Winchester to learn the basics and we just took it from there. It's been quietly steadily growing ever since.

Henry: Please tell me, you saw an opening in the market, you saw how you could sort of fit into that. What was that opening that you found and how did you feel that you could use it?

John: Well, I did some research on the rise of art design coffee shops within the UK. Using the business model that they use in New Zealand and Australia, where a lot of coffee shops have their on-site roastery. So, they’re roasting fresh coffee on the premises where they serve it so. I thought that was a pretty good idea, I noticed there's an upward trend of roastery setting up in the UK, we have a couple in Wales but not that many. We saw an opening and thought, well okay, let's see if we can set us a Roasting business with the aim of potentially supply Delhi's and doing food festivals and markets.

Henry: The name “Two Dogs Coffee” is quite unique, how did you decide on the name?

Sian:  We have two dogs, who you may hear as every so often as they’ve been shut out next door. One being a Jack Russell and a another, so they became the symbol of the company really.  

Henry: When it came to imagery and identity, how did you go about self-starting that? Creating the aesthetic and name for your company?

John: I started off with two things obviously, the two dogs and the fact that we're in the Rhonda, so our original imagery my son designed our logo of the two dogs. We also use a lot of background shots of the Ronda and Treyarch. We have now rebranded, so it's less to do with the area and more to do with the coffee and where the coffee comes from, because we don't want to necessarily have to stay with the valley theme. Should we decide to retire to west wales, which would be lovely, we'll take it with us!

Henry: How long overall did it take you to create the identity of the company?  Did you go with one plan then decided halfway through execution that it wasn’t right? Have you stuck to your original plan? If so, have you deviated from that plan at all?

John: I think the main aim from the start was to offer freshly roasted coffee. That was the aim, and we've got our different routes on different avenues, but we've always been able to check ourselves to say, “is this working?”. If not, can we deflect to it to another direction. I think the whole aim of the business is to be as flexible as possible and responsive to the needs of business. Even though we've gone down the direction of what Shannon said, setting up in Treyarch and Rhonda. Our aim is not to be stereotypical of the valleys around the coal mine industries and the past, this is about looking forward on offering new futures and new opportunities. It's just all about being flexible, understanding your business, where you want to take the business and keeping you in the USP. And our USP is selling freshly roasted quality coffee.

Henry: Please tell me about the legal process that you went through when you started the business and what kind of financial impact that had?~

Sian:  Firstly, we had to get the business registered, then we went to the food and hygiene people to get that registered with them as well. It wasn’t a huge amount of fees; we just registered the company with “Companies House” which I think meant it was roughly £50. We had to register with the council, and with the Environmental Food & Environmental Health, so that's what we did in the beginning. We had all our checks done. Having run a café before I was quite competent on sorting out all the paperwork, in fact I think I overdid it a bit, the guy was a bit surprised because he wasn't even sure whether coffee comes cast as the food. But we went ahead as if it was anyway, so we've got all our legal stuff in place. Starting in our shed in the garden, we had to make sure that it was all safe for producing a food product.

Henry: Moving forward, once you had established the company, did you focus more on the physical or digital approach of marketing?

Sian:  The intention was to sell online so, we started with setting up the online shop. We set up a website and an online shop, but we found that we didn't know enough about how to get people to the website. We carried on with it, though we also decided to go to markets and food festivals, signed up with a lot of local markets, going further afield with the bigger food festivals like “Navigate Venue Food Festival” and “Brecon Food Festival”, meaning we were going out about three times a week regularly up to markets to sell. Since Covid-19, obviously there’s very few markets that we can go to, but we found that the online sales have increased dramatically. I think this is partly due to the Covid-19 and partly due to courses I’ve done on how to increase traffic.

Henry:  Let’s talk now about your products themselves. How did you go about designing the packaging for your packaging? Did you outsource your labour? Is there any symbolism to the product?

John: I think initially we banded a couple of ideas around, we're very fortunate that Sian’s son is a graphic designer. He has his own company, so he was able to obviously massively reduce the costs for us to be able to get the branding up and running. With the flexibility to be able to chop and change the design until we got it to what it is now, the company logo of the two dogs. We’ve seen the need to register going forward, we've just continually improved the packaging as we've developed it, understanding what other companies are doing, how they are marketing their product. What we try to do is to give a unique product, in the hope that people will easily recognise the logo like they do the COSTA logo, maybe one day if we’re competing against COSTA then happy days.

Henry: What about physical storage? Could you tell me how you tackle the storage of your stock and any difficulties you have faced?

John: We tried to, like Sian said, attend markets regularly and we try to keep the product was freshly roasted. We turn over and roast more or less to order, but we've always got about a week stock in the roastery at any one point, so it's basically roasted within two to one to two weeks of people getting it. We're trying to keep it as a quick turn turnover, I mean coffees got quite a good shelf life anyway but the whole emphasis is on freshly roasted coffee. The company that we buy the beans from, where we can order one day with it coming the next day, means we roast it the next day and it can go out the next day. So, it can be that fresh, but we do tend to keep a weeks’ worth stored. As I said, we started off in a shed in the garden with a small, tiny little roaster which, I don't know if you could see, behind me it's up there on the shelf. Then, obviously we needed to get a bigger roaster, so we've now converted our garage, which is where we are now, into a roastery and we've got a fair bit of storage and stuff in here. But we are now getting to the stage where we need a bigger roadster again. We're now having to think about moving out to a premise away from the house, it's been handy having it in the house, but it is starting to take over.

Henry: Tell me about your customer base, how did you work out what your who your customer was?  How did you find them and how did you attract them to your company?

John: Well, I think in the early days our Sian said, we had the luxury pre-Covid, that we were attending as many farmers markets and local markets as possible, so that was allowing us to get our product out. We started initially by offering samples of all the coffees that we do, so people could taste before they before they buy. That's quite onerous to set up in the morning, to take all that, but that's what we had to do to make people aware of the quality of the product that we were selling. From there we've grown the customer base around that. There's nothing like tasting the coffee to decide which coffees you like, and you can't do that in the supermarket, you can't buy the coffee, try it, and then take it back. I mean we weren't looking at any sort of age or anything like that, what we were looking at was people that appreciate coffee, but we didn't necessarily want people We wanted people who just enjoyed good coffee, that's who we've been aiming at. Going to farmers markets has got us that sort of “base”, but online we might now find that we're going all over the country. We're selling all over the country, to all age groups and all sorts of people really.

Henry: Following on from that, how much of your marketing budget goes to electronic marketing and how much goes to real-world marketing?

Sian:  Most goes to our online marketing now, obviously because a lot of the markets have shut down. We've also now converted our van, so that we can sell cups of coffee out of the back, we've got obviously got the signage on the van. We've got the gazebo, that's all marked up and whatever, but that's really about it. We don't do flyers, we do magazine adverts in quite a few of the welsh ones and we advertised locally in local magazines. We've recently joined the “Fine Food Guild” so that gives us a connection, but the majority of it is through social marketing.

Henry: Looking back from the beginning of your company to now, can you talk us about some sort of like trials and tribulations that you've had over the years and how you have overcome them as examples to our um audience you know if they ever come across these situations private tribulations.

John: Understanding your process is probably one of the biggest obstacles initially, to understand the drop temperatures and all the variables. The impact this has on the quality taste of the product, and obviously as you mentioned earlier, when we buy the roast the product, we have to check the humidity. I check the humidity daily and record it, I record all the various process parameters. By nature my job is a project engineer, so I fairly switched on with putting through processes into companies. So, understanding your variables I think is the biggest one, consistency of roast but also to get a consistency of taste. Once you understand those variables, you need to be diligent around it as well, so you need to monitor regularly and understand all the variables. At the end of the day the customer will decide whether or not the product is good and the last thing you want is to give them a varying product in taste and quality. Understand your process, initially right from the start, and I think that'll put you in good stead.  

Sian: General point of view of business, is knowing all the processes all the legal loopholes you have to go through. I found  in Wales anyway, I don't know whether this is just Wales or whether it goes all over, we have businesses such as “Ice Wales” who will give you free help. It is worth taking any help you can get from anybody anywhere, because it just helps. It's can be so confusing, when you're setting up a business, to know what you have to do, and all the legal stuff so just take whatever help you can.

Henry: I've got to ask this question, I'm going to say in advance forgive the pun, but with so many other coffee companies trying to be top dog, how do you fight to become the top dog?

John: I think you have to let the customer make that decision. We can name probably quite a few high-speed chain coffee shops, that portray the good coffees sign if you like, but I know a lot of people don't like their coffees. I'm not going to name these companies; I just think you have to let the customer decide. At the end of the day our USP is quality fresh roasted coffee. There's quite a few people that we've come across on the markets who say “I always take my coffee with milk”, and I always try to give the opportunity to taste coffee in its raw format as a black coffee. With whole bean type roasted coffee, they might be surprised because you haven't got a lot of the bitterness and they say, “oh that's quite sweet, you don't need milk”. So, it's trying to convert and educate people in good coffee because you don't need milk and you don't need sugar with it. As soon as you start putting milk and sugar then you sort of mask in the flavours and we always try to push people to drink it black.

Henry: Just to round us off, how has Scayl’s Phill300 helped your business? Has it helped you grow? what have been the advantages of it?

John: Yeah, yes is the answer to the question, yes, we are happy with it. There are a couple of foibles with the machine when you're setting it up, but predominantly we use it to fill these small coffee bags that we develop. These are filter drip coffee bags.  It's quite a monodromic process to fill by hand, as you can imagine, weighing them out. So, what this allows us to do, is to push these through quite quickly now, the cycle time is as factored by, I would say, down by 75 in how we can process these. It still leaves us other problems, there are other bottlenecks which now come up because we need to automatically fill and package these into the outer sleeves. But these allow us to fill the bags fairly repeatedly, as far as the weight is concerned, it's been a big advantage to the to our process, to the extent where we probably look to buy a bigger machine going forward.

Henry: Do you feel it's been a real return of investment for you?

John: I think so yes.

Sian: It certainly saved me a long time, because I was one had to fill those little bags by hand, and it took forever. Now I just stand there, put the bag underneath and it doses out the coffee. Yeah, it has saved a remarkable amount of time. Took me a while to get used to, but I've got it now. Yes, we would look going forward at probably would look at buying a bigger machine to do the general coffee backing, yeah to do the larger ones.

Henry: Well, everybody that is the end of today's episode of “Meet the Business”. I want to thank John and Sian so much for being here today. Don't forget everybody if you like this video you can always like comment subscribe and go watch all the other episodes of the series as always, I'm henry this has been met the business everybody goodbye.

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