EP3 Meet the Business - PS Coffee Roasters

EP3 Meet the Business - PS Coffee Roasters

James Martin-Harper |

: Hello everybody and welcome back to another new edition of Meet the Business I’m your host of course I’m Henry Stephens everybody how'd you do and today joining us from PS Coffee Roasters we have Simon. Simon hello.

Simon : Hello everybody how's it going oh it's great to talk to you well  I’m doing well I’ve had a busy few months and a busy day and what about yourself I’m sure you guys are doing really well for yourself

Henry: So tell me what was the idea that sparked your business?

Simon: I think really what it came into was my brother actually was in the coffee industry for about three years.  I had come home from traveling at that point I’ve been traveling non-stop for two years, hadn't been home and I thought well actually it would be a great idea to set up a hostel because I been to so many at that point I figured well that's one thing I know is.

My brother actually was like no well I’d love to start a business and be honest I’d love to deal with you. You've come back home I had an honours degree in management, and you know we had a lot of  good crossover skills and he just really convinced me that I suppose coffee was the better way to go now.

I was already into coffee anyway and I had been doing some light you know home roasting on a very small machine. It was literally, they called it a 200 gram I know better. I think it was more like an 80 gram machine and yeah I thought I was producing some amazing stuff on that and but I definitely wasn't. We had no idea we actually wanted to become. A rosary roasting was just purely a hobby and we actually did a bit of research on  the local town that my brother was already working in. At that point, he was working for coffee.

I suppose no disrespect to Costa’s out there but, as Peter says he got some excellent training from them but, he also learned how to do things well the wrong way. In some ways now that might be a bit PC saying that, but at the same time I think what he meant was there's certain levels to this industry. I guess cost of coffee would be what I would call second wave. The enjoyment, whereas what we wanted to do was really like target those finer copies . I guess there was a lot of naivety at the time.

I definitely think looking back had I known what I know now…. I don't know if I would have started?  What we started but I purely mean that in the sense of you we really thought what we were producing was absolutely unbelievable and couldn't be beaten.  One thing I’ve learned over time is that the more you learn I think the less you know. I think every I’m learning absolutely every day and the more I open up these rabbit holes, cans of worms as I go along it's like wow I need to really learn on that and then I start learning more on this and then it goes and goes and goes and before you know it, you realize wow, there's so much to learn in this industry. I think I could be in it for 20 years and still not know everything but ultimately, as they kind of go back a bit and when we were starting, we kind of looked around and we're like well, what we could do is we could just open another coffee shop and just do coffee really well.  Just buy in specialty coffee and just do it properly because there was nothing like that.

There was nothing like that within about 15 kilometres of us at the time and we would have been the first ones doing it. We were in a town that was already full of cafes, so we needed something that was the unique selling point so then, we looked into the idea of roasting.  We even thought of only doing roasting so then we did a lot of research walking around different cafes saying look if we were to become a roasting company would this be something you're interested in? At the time especially, we found that so many places were already tied into the bigger companies because the bigger companies would come along. They'd say here's a free grinder, here's the free espresso machine and really that's hard to turn that down in the exchange of just having to buy their coffee off them right. I guess we've all learned since then but, I would say that one thing we learned from that was there probably wasn't a big enough market in just doing that at the time.  It could have been wrong  but, I think at the time we went about it pretty much the right way.

I would have done it a little bit different if I started again but what we ended up doing was we ended up buying a very small roaster, put all our money into that. We rented an espresso machine, we pretty much got kick-started that way which is myself and my brother for about three months doing eight to seven every single day.  That was seven days a week and we did that with no days off no time off. As soon as we got in the morning we get in the morning about half seven and we get the shop prepped and open at 8 a.m.  We would then stay open till 7 and then, I’d turn on the roaster and get roasting for another 2 or 3 hours sometimes a lot longer.  You have to be up until two three a.m. in the morning doing that. Get home wake up again about seven a.m. in the morning and then go again and go again and go again. It was like ridiculous. It was it was on the point of stupidity really. We shouldn't have been doing that. It was, they say you've got to work hard when you open up a business and absolutely you do. I don't think people realize just how much it takes to open a business sometimes but I think we kind of did the extreme version of that. We were doing ridiculous hours every single week, and I suppose especially me because I was a roaster and I was putting that extra thing.  I really enjoyed the roasting so I guess that's a really long answer to your question but it kind of sums it up really why and how we got started.

Henry: Who created the name of your company?

Simon: Good question. Peter my partner in the business first off his name is Peter so P for Peter, and my name is Simon so S so PS. Now it was somebody in his workplace that was working at the time. He was working in the county council and someone in the council said to him who knew him, ‘’hey listen why don't you call it PS coffee right.’’ The idea there was that you could take the PS and you could do that whole you know traditional thing of all PS I love you pp.’s whatever like you'd sign off a letter.  The idea for us at the time was oh, we could get coffee cups and we can write on it.  Have a great day PS love or, PS all best of luck with the match. It was the conversation you were having with that person you could literally write it on the cup just before you hand it to them.

Now in practice, that was not practical at all because, you're trying to get through those in those coffees you're not going to be standing there i'll give you one second they're going to write a lovely note on this for you so lovely in theory but of course by that stage. The name had already stuck and we were already PS copyrighted. We had integrated a little bit into our bag so, we'd write on the back of the notes or something we might say.  Ultimately I think it's kind of there if we ever need it but, we haven't really used it and utilize it. We had first anticipated a lot of people thought the PS name came from popular square where is the square we're actually based on and, that was just pure coincidence.

Henry: So when it came to sort of the cost of setting up a business, how did that go in relation?

Simon: When we were setting up we just did not want to take it alone first and foremost. I think partially because we knew that the process to go through that would take a long time. We were keen to get something going. It took a long time I mean, I don't think people realize how long leases take before you go and normally like sometimes you get lucky right. You could go meet the landlord you sign something but as soon as you start getting solicitors involved, it just takes time and best case scenario I think, certainly for us in in our first shop it was four months before we got our keys. I remember like they promised us the keys on the 23rd of December, we called up on the 23rd of December saying come on so we got the keys. We got the keys and they were like nah like just you know chill out for the next while you know it's Christmas, just enjoy yourselves. We're like oh my God, we wanted to use that Christmas holidays to go in and get to get everything done. Be open because, I didn't have a job at the time. At this point I’ve been home six months so I’d spent six months at home essentially planning and prepping and researching and just doing everything that it took to get to that point, so the last thing I wanted to do was take more holidays. I just wanted to get it done.

We had a very small budget when we were starting out it was just over 20 000 Euro.  It was quite difficult with that being said, we looked at what we could get away with in terms of like we ended up  we've been invited to an old bank that had closed down so we went in we basically were told you can take whatever you like from this. We started taking things apart from the bank and we ended up using some of the tables and stuff that we actually still have in our original shop and behind the counter top. We just made stuff from as much as we could peter my brother's very handy with that kind of stuff, I’m quite good at it as well. We just kind of got stuck in and we just started doing as much stuff with that as that as we could. We called in favours from friends and family.

If you want to get started on the budget, otherwise if you start getting tradesmen involved and you know obviously you need them for the main things like you need them for electricity we weren't we're not electricians.  We needed them for plumbing things like that even though Peter's actually a very good plumber, It just we wanted to do the main stuff to a professional but then to do anything else that we could through ourselves. That would be like building a table or setting up a menu or anything like that. We got boy like I think our bank balance in the first ones or two were just a few hundred and every day, we would make money we'd literally walk straight back down the town and put it straight back in the bank. Literally every penny was reinvested into the business.  We went without a wage for months that was quite hard so, like it just like the first six months was just gritted and embarrassed and it was enjoyable.

I don't want to take that away but at the same time it was just it was hard like it was a lot of hard work. It was anybody else considering us just to be very aware that it's it does take a lot of dedication and willpower to get through those first few months.

Henry: When it came to sort of marketing obviously there is digital marketing and there is physical marketing. Which one did you solve prioritize first which one was of interest to you at the beginning?

Simon : I was digital. We did try physical marketing so we were approached by a local newspaper when we first started. They made out what was supposed to be this amazing deal. We decided  200 for like a quarter page ad on a newspaper that was a local newspaper but a big newspaper. I thought okay i'll go ahead with that I don't think we got any business from that. Now it was hard to know but I don't think we did. On the flip side when we started we put four euro down on a Facebook advert and that generated 3 000 clicks and we had people rolling in the door after that advert. Now it was in particular that advert was when we launched our burrito offering so we started doing burritos in the shop. We still do today but I remember when the ad went out, I was like wow that's the best four euro we ever spent like it was absolutely amazing yeah so for sure or value for money you just can't beat digital marketing.

Henry: So now when it comes to  the manufacture of your products, the design. How did you go about with that?

Simon: I suppose that was a very gradual process. It wasn't the time we would have looked around and see what all of our competitors were doing and we took a fairly basic approach to it. At the start, we had this romantic idea that we would paint in each logo but what we did was we did try a few but it just took too long. It wasn't really practical and we eventually revised it completely. We thought the best approach was to go for this craft looking bag with this kind of aluminium inside. We weren’t happy with the bag design I won't get into that we ended up changing it to a white bag. Our logo looked better on white and we could buy stickers that went on that and then in addition to that we could actually apply a paint to a colour.  Literally a paint my mother used to paint every single bag and that's kind of where we moved to then and then we realized that you know not even so much that we realized. We'd always wanted to take the most sustainable approach as possible environmentally we had gone with the compostable cups.

From day one and we're actually the first in definitely our town anyway to go compostable. We were probably two years ahead of everybody else in the town that way but we also wanted the same from the bags coffee that we were doing.  We tried to search and search and search to see if there was compostable options just couldn't find anything really and then eventually we came across a company who said that if we waited six more months that they would be ready to do it and that box fox pack is the name of that company and we ended up you know basically going ahead with them in the end uh they're able to provide custom-made bags for us so they're absolutely beautiful

The valve is made from corn-starch. It's got a hp print and the whole thing is it's just it's a pretty amazing bag. I think the only thing I have against it is the crinkles a bit easy and but other than that it's been really good for us. It's got a lovely little clipper on the top so very handy for someone at home they can just open it up and then reseal it very easily uh 250 grams pretty standard size for most people. They are marine tested as well which is particular question I was interested in especially because at the time I’d seen a lot of documentaries on plastic waste at sea so, I liked the fact that if these ended up at sea they would break down there as well.

Henry: Tell me more about your clientele. I mean how did you become aware of what your clientele was?

Simon: At the end of the day it's kind of anybody because you know most people drink coffee. Generally that would be pretty much anyone 16-17 years and up and it really is anyone and everyone so whoever that is we you couldn't even you couldn't narrow it down. It's mad I guess, I even tried the only thing I could do is say let's go onto Instagram and see what my insights are and generally those tend to be slightly more female and people between the ages of 25 and 35 but generally that's also the type of people who use Instagram. As well so that doesn't really tell us that much either ultimately what I see is people coming in the door and what I see is a huge range of people. I think probably the youngest people I’ve seen coming in drinking coffee now is probably I don't know, 11 or 12 years of age, not that I’ve seen many people do that and I often feel weird about it but at the same time it's not bad for them, it's uh it's I guess it's up to them what are you what are you going to do you know if they're into coffee at that age.

Henry: Simon this is now the chance if you will pass on your knowledge and wisdom down to the generations and generations. If you have any advice or tips when it comes to marketing the company?

Simon: We got extremely lucky with the post that we put up and on our page alone has been seen over 350000 times in the last three days which is pretty amazing so that's got us over 2 000 followers literally in the last 24 hours which has just been mind-blowing. In a more realistic what you really you know I mean of course you could realistically do that but it's not easy just put get something that goes viral we just got lucky um in terms of marketing. You just got to be I think really good photography on Instagram it's good a different approach to what other people are doing. |If you can be very engaged always do about three posts a day on your on your daily feed is what I find works. I know Facebook originally had an algorithm whereby only the people who didn't post that often actually got onto the front page at the time but that's all sort of started to change. I guess it's hard when it comes to digital stuff to give a long-term recommendation because it is changing so fast but generally I think, this will probably never change maybe is that you should always keep everyone updated and you should have a consistent presence  on your social medias especially if that presence is on something like YouTube. People get used to it especially on podcasts because people get used to it maybe not so much on Instagram. Definitely to keep some sort of a presence there.

I think Instagram of all the platforms at the moment is probably the most valuable and we see that because what they did with snapchat for example they basically gobbled up that you're looking at them now and what they're doing with titoki they're starting to do.

I’d say and they're just then I just can't see an end to them in probably the next three or four years they're just going to keep going really well so yeah I’d say that's probably the platform to be on if any. Then of course the other is as much as you can spread yourself.

Henry: So Simon are there any events you'd recommend people attending?

: It's a good one,  I guess now with COVID in normal times I would recommend just go to all the big ones especially uh like the World of Coffee. I mean that's the holy grail of the coffee world. Every year get to the World of Coffee.  

Henry : So when now comes we're going to talk about you know building a workforce. Simon when you were building your workforce when you looked at the future of building your workforce, what are like the things that makes you really excited about you know hiring someone and also in contrast what's the thing that's bringing that massive alarm bell saying danger danger danger?

Simon: So building a workforce I mean look you're only as good as you’re your workforce really. It's vitally important that you hire properly. I guess what's more important to me when I’m hiring is literally just getting a good feel of the person in an interview, I think that a person's personality and sitting within your current team is more important than what skill level they bring to the team so for example, if you had person a come in and they're absolutely amazingly skilled but they had a horrible personality, were conflicts with everybody in the place and they were just causing a toxic relationship it doesn't matter how good they are. You want someone you can trust and someone who's going to create a good vibe. Life is so serious as it is and stuff happens every day that you sit out of your control. It makes all the difference when you hire people who can just create a really positive atmosphere and obviously you want to have them as skilled as possible that's kind of up to you to go and train someone. I think it's better to take someone almost who's got a little bit of training but hasn't had you know too many bad habits or has come in from somewhere else that's as good as yours and then you can just kind of tweak what they have and then get them going.  That's probably the better way to do about  training with people but, yeah  I could give you an example of a guy we had and I won't name his name but, he wasn't very skilled, couldn't do a whole lot. We would put him on the tail and he had the best personality in the world that man really knew how to make someone smile and when you're having a bad day. You were just so delighted that he was there because he was just so amazing at lifting your spirits and like that i don't think that you always have to hire for skill.

In my industry in particular there's a lot of like births that work. You can get absolutely very detailed on it and like I mentioned earlier but you can train someone and it generally only takes about two months to train someone into a decent basic level. After that I mean you're trying to get someone who's genuinely interested because, if they're genuinely interested in what they and where they are. Then you're going to get someone who's going to want to learn and it's going to stay there and other than that I’d say try to get someone with some decent level of intelligence. I’ve maybe they shouldn't say any more I’ve had someone in the past who uh was a very lovely person but again probably not the most intelligent and that didn't go too hard either so I guess you need to have elements of everything in all people that you hire.

I’m lucky that the team we have now is all excellent. I don't think I’d change anyone in it and yeah I’m very happy with where we are now. I think we're actually looking to hire a new person at the moment and which is brilliant. I didn't know I’d be saying that now after our lockdown a few months ago. I suppose the coffee industry in particular has at least maintained itself a little bit. Kind of kept some sort of decent level I do feel sorry for people who are working in cities and or have places in cities and because obviously those have been hit a bit harder.

Henry: When you look back at the history of your company.  What are some of the biggest issues that you've had to face and overcome?

Simon: I don't want to sound like a broken record but obviously covet is probably being the hardest one for us because it's so hard to plan now that's been the hardest.  You're kind of scratching your head going do we want to invest x amount of money into this because is this the right way to go are we going to review this in the sense of uh are we going to be going back to seeding soon because it's a lot of stuff started at the moment.  I don't know we're kind of we're just at the moment we're kind of taking it week by week that's really the only way we can do this. Most people can do this and but in general, I suppose general stuff we're just kind of thinking ahead and we're taking it with a slightly positive approach in that oh yeah okay we're going to be there in a few months and so let's kind of work towards that. We're only working in a vague direction at the moment and the more micromanagement stuff. We're not and we're just going to take in that week by the week in terms of other stuff. I guess big challenges yeah, there's been a couple of things that I would have presumed when I was hiring experts that they were experts and that they would completely advise me on things what I’ve learned. I really need to be a jack of all trades in this job and I need to learn certain things that I never thought I would need because, as it turns out some of these might have all the paperwork and all the qualifications. They don't know maybe they may not know the right thing for your particular job and they might give bad advice. I guess sometimes you just you're just unlucky and sometimes it's just I can think of numerous examples where we just hired people to do certain jobs for us and they didn't fulfil what we had anticipated and it's a bit frustrating because, as I’ve learned over time the best thing to do is to really properly outline what it is that you need to who's about to do a job. I want full communication and clarification on what we're doing here.

What would I do different? Maybe research their job a little bit more before I got them to do a big job for me, at least I’d have some sort of a vague idea as to what way this should be going.  Like I think sometimes you just got to be lucky and just hope that it all works out. I spoke to a plumber recently when we were installing this place and he was advising me on something and I was doing actually research like I was saying I should do and I was drawing stuff off and blah blah blah. He goes no no no you don't need to do that the expert's going to do that you don't need to stress yourself because it was getting stressed because you it's quite easy in the business to get stressed about things because there's so many different things within the business that you need to do. You have absolutely no idea about you don't have the skill level of everything it's impossible to have everything so it's quite easy then to get stressed about things that obviously you have no control over. You're trying to figure it out in your head and you're just going I have to trust someone. I don't know to do this job but yet that's what I was trying to do and this plumber had come up to me and you go no you don't need to worry about that it turns out that I didn't need to worry about that. Sometimes you just got to be, I don't know lucky or hope that you're not unlucky I guess, yeah and things just work themselves out.

Henry: So in a world with thousands of other coffee roasters other coffee companies. What did you do to stand out from the Crowd?

Simon: I mean really when you put it down to it, you see a whole bunch of people and they're all offering speciality coffee and they're all doing something sustainable and they're all providing the best whatever the best is coffee in the world how do you shine right and absolutely how do you shine? I suppose for us there's two genuine passions we've had from day one and that was we genuinely had a great passion for coffee and we genuinely had a great passion for the environment so both of those two things are probably our strongest assets here. We are totally obsessed with nailing every single coffee we have we're stickers about consistency. This might sound bad but we won't actually sell to certain people who we don't feel will represent our brand properly.  Often that has lost us quite a bit of business but I think that ultimately we have to I'd rather sell to fewer people but then know that the people who are representing us. Then when people go in and have a coffee in those places they're going oh wow that's really good where do you get your coffee huh you got it there The idea being is that all people ever hear over time is really good things rather than someone hearing a bad things where did you get your coffee and the next question our next  answer is someone negative so yeah we  don't target lots of different bases for that reason. We basically haven't targeted anyone really like it's all been a lot of organic growth which has been much slower than this way but I suppose then we don't have the expense of the sales team but, it's been nicer to kind of grow this way because it means we can we can settle in to our progress easier rather than going okay we're going to sell to 15 different clients. We just realized overnight oh my god we can't handle this and then we just give a bad experience to everyone and then everybody's stressed and no one's having a good time so yeah, how do we separate ourselves ultimately it's kind of focusing a lot on quality. I know it's easy to say because everyone says it but we genuinely do and the other thing is as.  I said the environment we offer reusable stuff for our wholesale clients we've been working with a well trying to work with its pending at the moment the company down in county about doing a recycling thing through plastic unfortunately plastic code 4 plastic in Ireland.

Unfortunately these are not recyclable in this country so what we've been trying to do is work with a fencing company, to be able to recycle anything like that that we might have or want to get in the future. It's going to serve another purpose at a later stage and obviously going down the compostable roof like I mentioned earlier, that's been huge for us and I think that is probably the most sustainable option in Ireland at the moment. At least and other than of course it's a reusable option and that's something that we've done in two different forms.  We've done it in the form of containers to locals who around us and then the other form we do it in is grain pro bags which are these six kilogram pro bags which have a double seal at the top so we seal them off they transport really well. Then what happens is people collect those and then once they return them to us we give them a credit on those towards their accounts. It's they're being rewarded for being sustainable and that's kind of that's they're the two main things that will kind of help separate us um other than that.

It's having certain standards on the coffee like not buying below 85 as much as we can avoid it. I am thinking about doing a slight change on that though in the future whereby we might create a second label so that we could buy a slightly lower grade coffee but with the main focus purely being on sustainability as in like buying consistently from the same farmer even if it isn't an 85 or 86 grade coffee for example if it's an 84 83 as long as it's reasonable then maybe the fact that like this, is so sustainable like you're able to consistently say yeah I’m definitely going to buy from you that the farmer knows then I’ve definitely got this income coming in next year. He knows then he can pay his staff or higher staff knowing that this sort of income is there and going to come next year because we've committed to it. Sometimes I’ve got to balance these things out and if that means having to create a second brand to do something like that then maybe that's the best thing for me to do but I’m just an absolute passionate person for the environment and forum creating good quality coffee so those two things.

Henry: We SCAYL we provided you bought from us a Phil 5000 machine. How useful has it been you know since you bought it have you felt you've got your return of investment on it and has it expanded and improved your business?

Simon: I don't think I could live without it. It's been a brilliant tool to be able to just simply grab your bag stick it under a thing press the pedal and it just shoots straight out. To be honest, the machine goes sometimes slightly faster than we could even keep up which is great because you know that when you press the pedal there's always going to be something there and that's obviously what you want. It probably saves us at least an hour or two a week which is great so while there's a reasonable investment in these. I definitely think over the long run it's worth it and you know if nothing else it'll I'm not just saying this it's been very good and whenever we've had little niggles. It's been easy enough to fix too so yeah really yeah, no worries at all.

Henry: Well Simon, thank you so much for being here, and thank you for your questions and answers.