Jeremy Mason is the founder of Craft and Mason, a small roasting company out of Lansing, Michigan that combines an intense passion for coffee with Midwestern hospitality.
Find out how he turned his hobby into a business that’s doubling in growth year after year.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How to find out if your hobby is worth turning into a business.
- How to stay disciplined in your business spending.
- How to make sure you’re not burning yourself out from running a business with a day job.
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Felix: Today, I am joined by Jeremy Mason from Craft and Mason Coffee, which is at craftandmason.com Craft and Mason Coffee is a small roasting company out of Lansing, Michigan that combines an intense passion for coffee with Midwestern hospitality and was started in 2013. Welcome Jeremy.
Jeremy: Hey, how is it going?
Felix: Good, good. Excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about your story and tell us more about the coffee that you sell.
Jeremy: Yeah, we sell specialty coffee so from the very beginning, we wanted that to be our focus and we started back in 2013. Really, for us, it started … I was at a beerfest called Darkwood Day, for any craft beer fans, and I was not a coffee drinker at the time. There was a little cart in the parking lot there, made my way across the parking lot and ordered a drink, and I didn’t really have any idea what to order. I ordered Cappuccino, and there was just something very different about it. That was the start of our journey.
Felix: Specialty coffee … I guess, how is this different than the coffee you’d get if you go into a typical, you know, coffee chain?
Jeremy: Well, specialty coffee, like any product, you know, you can almost compare it to wine, or something like that. There’s a process. You know, coffee cherries grow on a coffee plant. I mean, that’s how it starts, so depending on how you grow the coffee cherry, depending on how you pick the coffee cherry, like peak of ripeness, like any fruit, it’ll have a difference in sweetness and how it’s composed. What you can get back out of it, and then from there you need to remove the fruits and how, and process the bean. All of those things play a huge role, that’s why you might notice, you know how a lot of specialty coffee people refer back to this farmer a lot. That’s because they’re putting an intense amount of work into creating the coffee and farming it a very specific way.
It takes almost, you know, it takes 2,000 cherries to get a pound of coffee. A lot of coffee is picked by hand, and ideally, at the peak of ripeness. Those types of details are incredibly labor intensive, it’s not by mistake, and by the time we get it, depending on all those factors even elevation, the varietal, obviously, the country, comes into play. Then, picking, processing, each of those things, you know, they need to dry it to a certain moisture level, ship it properly. That really gives us a product, by the time you get it to a roaster, that’s what we have to work with.
The role of farmer, I mean, if you don’t have them at farm level doing that incredibly labor-some work, you don’t have much to work with on the other side. That’s why the focus is given, you might notice on some specialty coffee packages, there’s a lot of detail there, and you might not care about it, you might care about it, but those are the things roasters are looking at and we look at. We know when we get that product we’re really hoping to put it into the roaster and get something pretty special back out of it.
Felix: How did you learn all about this, like was this something that you, because it sounded you discovered specialty coffee at this event. Did you just dive right into it, how did you, what was the next step, I guess, what was your progression towards actually turning your new passion into an actual business?
Jeremy: Yeah, so it started with that cup of coffee, and I asked the question, you know, this is different, because I just didn’t like coffee before. I mean it turned my stomach, there was just something about it, I didn’t like. This was different. I was very interested to know why this was different, so from there, I just started asking this question, why is this different, who else does this? There was an industry at the time, that was roasting the coffee, what’s different about them, how did they start, how did … Are they sourcing beans, are they roasting, and I knew nothing back then. Which quickly got me into, first of all, visiting places. I might go to a different state or a different city, and I started to learn specialty coffee. There was a lot of people doing the focus I just talked about.
I started learning where are the other roasters, how are they doing it, and then, I figured out you could buy like a, you could find like these, I don’t know exactly when they were from, 1970s, 1980s popcorn roasters. I mean, it was a really specific model, and there’s a site call Sweet Maria’s. They still operate to this day, they do a great job. Sweet Maria’s did something really specific, they cater to home roasters. I found one of these popcorn roasters, and I figured how you could do it in the house, you know, in your basement. I started going to Sweet Maria’s. Sweet Maria’s would list all the details I just talked about, and they would talk about how the coffee tastes. You could buy in small amounts, it’s a really unique thing that they did, but all the coffee was specialty. It was really good stuff, and that was their focus, kind of, bringing that to the people who wanted it.
I started roasting those lots and going to Sweet Maria’s. I’d started the lots, I’d made my selections, they shipped me the coffee, and then, I’d roast it, in really tiny little batches on this little popcorn roaster. That was as I just continued to do that, it’s actually how my business partner and I started talking about it. He started home roasting too. I kind of told him at some point this is really cool, he got into it, and we were both roasting together for a while. Just because it was really fun, kind of a hobby at that point. It was really interesting, so that was … Then, we were talking about it together, and eventually it was … You know there’s specialty roasters in other cities, there didn’t seem to be that focused just strictly on specialty or the way that we thought it’d be fun to present coffee in our city at the time, so we said, we’d love to bring this to our city.
That was kind of the initial idea. That was also kind of our early education into specialty coffee. Then, as we got more serious, you kind of just … These are the types of things you got to teach yourself. Specialty coffee was … Even in the last five years, I would say, it’s changed a lot. The resources at the time were, there just wasn’t much. Even on the Internet, you couldn’t find a lot about commercial roasting, you could find some about home roasting.
We would scour the Internet, we’d read any article we could. Actually, since we open, there’s been a number of books that have come out, they’re very helpful, but at that point the education was put beans in the roaster, roast them to a specific curve, because we kind of track heat along a curve all the way, and taste it. It’s kind of up to you to taste the coffee and say, “These are the things wrong with it, how do we fix it.” That was kind of the beginning of our education, and we did a lot of that before we opened, we still do it all the time now, but I think, early on, that’s kind of how we learned.
Felix: So what’s your background, your partner’s background, have you guys launched a businesses or done entrepreneurial things in the past?
Jeremy: Not much to be honest, as far as doing business, I’m a financial consultant by day and I still am. I love that job. Eric’s done a lot of construction in the past, he’s also done rental houses and things like that, and he still loves his job. This, for us, was … It was more about the passion of the product than how much money can we make, but obviously at some point in every business, you got to ask, “How do we also make money with this thing that we love doing?” Those are questions we need to work through, we figured that out, but we had never done a ton of side businesses like that. It was just, you know, specialty coffee was kind of in a really unique place. Depending what city you’re in, you’ve probably seen specialty coffee shops pop up over the last five to ten years, but some of that is newer and it’s been happening for a while. There’s certain part of the country that didn’t exist. This for us was something unique and it was kind of unique time of specialty coffee. That was the reason we got it going and then, like I said, there wasn’t a ton going on in our city at the time. Even since then it’s grown.
Felix: Let’s talk about this idea, or this process that you went through to the term in, how to actually turn this hobby into a profitable business. This is a stage that a lot of entrepreneurs get to where they have something they’re super passionate about, have hobby they’re interested in, and it’s obviously a profitable industry, because they see others doing it or others that are creating products in the space. How did you sit down and decide, “Okay, how do I actually turn this thing I’ve been doing at home for myself, maybe some friends or family, how do I turn this into an actual business?” What did you … Was there a process, like some numbers that you definitely made sure to look at to determine if it was worth expanding this beyond just a personal hobby?
Jeremy: Yeah, I mean, the answer is we did it very carefully, because like I said, we both loved our jobs, we still do. The question at the time was, is there a way to start this business, maintain our day jobs, and then, just see where it goes? From the beginning, and we’re about three years in now, but it was, at the time, it was … We had a three year goal, and to be honest, we didn’t know exactly where it would go, we didn’t know where our opportunities were, and we also knew that, like I said, specialty coffee was growing, so it was really a unique time.
At the time, we thought, if there’s a way to do this reasonably without a ton of upfront capital, we could still do something we’re really passionate about, we might be a little bit ahead of the curve now. I think something we understood about coffee, that might be different than opening up a coffee shop, or a retail outlet, or something like that was, it is a production process. The ideal thing there was we could choose when we wanted that production process to happen. That was a key factor.
Everybody only has so much time, and we understood that the biggest thing we’re going to have to give up was our time. We might put a bunch of time into this, and it might not go anywhere. Luckily, that didn’t happen, because it has gone somewhere, we’ve had a lot of fun with that, but we figured a way in the beginning to sell online, first of all, and then, like I said, it’s a production process, and we kind of ran all the numbers. What is this actually going to cost to get everything up and going. We needed a machine, we needed to think about inventory, we needed a space that would be approved at some level by the department of agriculture, so we started asking those questions. Then, we built … What is this going to cost down to the dollar, so we know that. From machine to space, to everything else. How much inventory we’re going to need, and can we get this business up and ready for X amount. We figured we could.
That’s what we did. Shopify, for us was an integral part of that, because how much does it cost to build a website with everything, a store front, that built into it that included shipping and all the details we needed to think through. That was … We built the way it looked, but it was all fairly simple for us to do. That was a huge part. We said what if we … We know there’s demand for this, and people care about it, what if we could just start selling online and see what happened. That was the retail side of it, and then, maybe someday we could get wholesale accounts and talk to coffee shops and things like that. That’s kind of how we moved through the process, over the course of probably six months to a year. That was kind of how it all started.
Felix: How close were you to the numbers, once you was all deduct out a little bit? I ask because, again, this is another stage that entrepreneurs are at where they are, maybe our business is already live, or maybe they’re thinking about starting a business and we spend so much time estimating, okay if I get this percentage of the market, and if I spend this much on the inventory, I could make it profitable, I could spend so much on advertising. I mean, all these numbers that we write down, and some people never carry that any further than just looking at the numbers, but because you’ve ran the numbers, and you’ve … You guys have been in business for three years, were there anything, were you close to the numbers or was there anything you underestimated?
Jeremy: The one thing we … There was some unknowns, so everything that we could know we did know and at some point, we actually bought a roaster, because we found a great deal on it. It was like, are we going to do this, are we not? There were things we didn’t know still, such as finding space. That was a big question, where we going to do this at? It’s something that for anybody thinking about doing a business, these are the type of questions … The passion side of it, fun side of it, you’re going to figure out because you should be passionate about it, you’re doing it. These types of questions, early on, what kind of space am I going to have, how much am I going to pay in rent, how do I actually sell the products? We knew we were going to be selling it online, so, we determined pretty quickly, let’s find a production space, but let’s spend as little as humanly possible on the production space.
Our goal at the time was to roast really good coffee. We wanted every dollar going to, A, our coffee machine which would produce high end coffee, and B, we wanted to buy coffees that we liked. We didn’t want to be strapped by immediate expenses from day one. That was something we didn’t know and as we got into it, we figured out, there’s lot of spaces that’s just not going to work. We eventually found a very small production space that we still have actually, but next we’ll probably look at expanding, because we can now, and we really understand what we’re going to sell and do and how much profit and revenue we’re going to make probably in a given year. We can project that pretty easily, but early on, those numbers are hard, especially sale numbers. Trying to predict from a brand new business, unless you know a lot, what you’re going to sell, is almost impossible. We were pretty, I think, pessimistic, and realistic I would say which I think is a good thing. When you’re playing through this, be as … Don’t let it stop you from opening the business while sometimes, it probably should stop you.
Be really pessimistic on your sales numbers. One of things we had asked ourselves from then and now, was every decision we make, especially with thinking about sales numbers is, who exactly is going to buy this? Would I buy this and why would I buy it, and how much would I spend? Try and put yourself in the shoes of your potential customer, and ask that question. If you wouldn’t buy it, then somebody else isn’t going to either. It’s figuring that out and does this make sense, is there a person that would actually buy this product and would they spend that much money?
Felix: Yeah, these unknowns that you’re talking about where the … Obviously, you can’t know every single number before launching the business. I agree with you where, sometimes you got to move forward anyway, but sometimes this also holds people back ever launching, because of the fear of the unknown. They don’t know everything. They can’t take the necessary steps, so what made you personally, confident to continue to move forward, even though you didn’t know every single answer or know every single, all the numbers that … For anything that you couldn’t, I guess, estimate.
Jeremy: Yeah that’s a good point. I think some people are too safe and they just can’t actually follow through and some people are probably reckless on the other side, they don’t consider, realistically what’s going to happen. That’s probably something to consider is what … How do I think through these things? Maybe find someone who’s opposite of you to help you think through it. When I said we found a roaster, it was, here’s a roaster, we know it’s a really good price, we’ve looked at the numbers, we don’t know everything, but I think we have a pretty good idea. That was actually something that pushed us forward. It was a roaster we bought from somebody else, and we had to drive to a different state to get it. We had to make that decision pretty quick.
There’s only so much you can figure out. There’s … When you open a business, you plan as best as you possibly can, but, like I said, there are tiny things and things that you just can’t know. Sometimes, you just … At least you know that, that you don’t know the thing, but you’ve done your best job at taking a stab at it. You just kind of have to move forward even if you don’t know every detail in that situation. For us, it was, should we get this roaster or not? You just have to step in a direction and trust that, in general, you know what’s happening, and you have done as much research as you can, and then we figured it out after that.
Felix: This roaster that you’re talking about, this is like equipment?
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s a piece of equipment. It’s a coffee roaster, and really it’s … Usually it’s a barrel drum with [swinging heat 00:18:08] in the bottom. Probably for us, it was the easiest thing. It really makes a big difference. For us we knew that, but it’s … Like anything else, making wine or brewing beer, it comes down to your equipment, and for coffee roasters that’s your piece of equipment. It really makes a big difference.
Felix: Now, how much does a roaster typically cost?
Jeremy: It totally depends, because you can get little roasters. There’s all different sizes, there’s all different quality build. You can get a roaster for $10,000 or you can get a roaster for $200,000, that’s a way bigger scale. Yeah, a commercial roaster, you’re looking at a really nice roaster, you’re probably looking more like … It just depends, I guess, what size, but it might be anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000. Or you can sometimes find used, but there’s a lot of different quality and build and all that you have to take into consideration too.
We actually bought a roaster, and then, because we kept our expenses low at the beginning, we upgraded a year later, and we have that roaster now. We knew quality was really important. That was going to be the thing that drive our business. That was always our focus, was pinch pennies as much as possible where we can, buy really quality coffee, and then, we had this goal of … At some point, we’re probably going to want a new roaster, and so we did that. We’ll probably, next year, or the year after we’ll be thinking about that again from a production standpoint. Size and quality and things like that though.
Felix: It’s certainly not a cheap, I guess, investments for, especially, a new business or a business that you just started, so definitely sounded like a big investment for you guys. When you … You saying earlier about how you need to be realistic about your business, about your business plan. Are there certain things that you see other entrepreneurs or that you hear about from other entrepreneurs that they might not be realistic about that maybe you want to tell the audience to consider or taking a closer look at?
Jeremy: Well, every business is different. Like I said, for us, it’s been trying to put yourself in that place. Like, if I walked into a store or if I go onto a website would I realistically buy this item? You have to be pessimistic. In our case, specialty coffee, if you’re selling a bag of coffee for $17, you understand that somebody can go to the store and buy a bag for $8, so why is somebody going to spend that much more for your product, and you have to … You really have to be diligent about answering those questions. It can’t just be because … You just have to answer that question for yourself, why would I buy this product? I think we did believe in the product. We knew that there was just a major difference in how the coffee tastes and how it was perceived and how you can make it at home, and freshness. All those things were different than, maybe, the standard products you might buy somewhere else.
We had to line those things up against each other, and say, what’s the difference here. One thing I’ll say as well is that early on in the business, I think it’s easy to get reeled into something that looks cool or feels cool or will be fun. For us it would have been a really cool space, that would have been cool to have a space on street level, we could do tours and things like that. Bring people in, but this wasn’t a reality and we knew that. We figured that out pretty quickly. That for us was a pretty big decision, because it meant, a pretty big difference in monthly rent, which would have meant we probably couldn’t have bought the roaster we bought a year ago. Those are the things I think that are hard, are … You have to be really realistic, and then, trying to … Every dollar matters, especially the first year, to try and … We didn’t need a great looking space, we just needed a production space.
We planned accordingly, but there are a lot of things like that, that are enticing especially as a new business, that seem like a necessity, but what’s really going to drive the bottom line, what’s really going to create interest in your business, what’s really going to impact the quality of the products? I think those questions are really important, and ultimately, can we … Is this business going to last three, five, ten, twenty, fifty years. The first year’s so crucial, I think, if you can get going for as little money as possible, you can answer those questions a lot better after you’ve been a year in business. Maybe after a year you say, “You know, we really do need a space, we’re doing better than expected, but maybe not.” If there’s a way to still do the business, work really hard at, but give yourself an opportunity to learn somethings along the way, I think the first year teaches you so many different things about your skill sets, about what you’re good at, about who’s going to buy your products, how much they’re going to buy, how much you can charge. You’ll know those things after the first year, at least to some degree. Then, at that point, maybe, you can really dive in, or make a change too.
I was reading the article, today, “Should you quit your day job?” That, I think was … That’s a really important thing to think through. I think a lot of people do is, I have this passion, I want to start a business, I’m going to quit my job. Well, a lot of times you don’t need to do that. For us, it was, we knew we had time, even though it might be at night, we’d have to roast late on certain nights, and handle building a website and reaching out to people, and visiting spots and relationships at night or on weekends, but it made sense for us. That’s still our business model is we … At some point, we’ll get a bigger roaster, and we’ll be able to do more production in the same amount of time. Should you quit your day job is a great question. I think a lot of times, that’s another thing, first year, if you don’t have to quit your day job, keep it, because one of the biggest things your going to need is money.
Sometimes, it’s a small difference that can decide whether your business is going to make it or not, and I know for us, we’ve been as diligent as we can with pinching pennies. The other thing is, we haven’t had to, we’ve been able to fund our own growth, because as we grow, you need more coffee, and it needs to last you a couple of months each time, so that number keeps growing. Even … I’ve heard people talk about growing a business broke, thinking in terms of, “What is it going to cost us to keep up with inventory costs? Can we afford that if we are spending X amount more on rent, or if we quit our day jobs six months too early …?” Those are all things to consider. They’re not exactly the most fun parts to think about, but they will allow you to do the fun part longer and maybe be successful really long term, if you kind of figure those things out upfront.
Felix: Yeah, I think one thing you’re saying earlier about learning as you go, it’s really, I think it’s a really vital point, because a lot of people do get held back because they think that, okay I haven’t learned everything yet, I haven’t mastered everything yet, so I’m not ready to get started. I think what you’re saying is that there are some lessons, there are some things you cannot learn, just by reading or thinking about it. You actually have to do it, actually have to be in business for you to learn those things, because … Not even, because it might not even be industry, it might not even be a general entrepreneurship things or general business things, it could be things specific about the way that you work or the way your partner works, or the way that your industry works. These things you can’t, there’s just not enough, there’s no education out there that you can just get and download into your brain to understand these things. You actually have to be in the game itself, before you understand what you’re missing, and then, learn how to cover those areas.
One other thing that you were saying, talking about, a job, I think, it’s important topic too, because you’re in a situation where you don’t need this business necessarily, right? You both have an income, you both have a job, and like you’re saying, one of the key benefits of having a job is that you have the capital, you can fund your own growth. This is kind of, I think, a gift and a curse. It seems like you guys are navigating it well, so I want to ask you this question, is how do you make sure that you’re not pouring so much money into the business from your own paychecks because again you sound like you say you’re penny pinching.
I think a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of businesses are able to penny pinch or able to, I guess, stay really disciplined with that, because they have no choice, they have to keep their business running, but again you guys don’t … It’s not like you guys have a ton of money or a ton of investments or anything, but you do have a steady paycheck coming in, so how do you make sure that you’re not over spending? How do you make sure you stay disciplined with your spending for your business?
Jeremy: Well, we put money initially, but one thing we tried to do from day one was put the money in, and then, we’ve tried to support our growth from actual sales from the business, without … At some point, you need to take a loan, or you need to have a cash infusion to buy a new equipment or things like that, but we said from day one, we want to buy the equipment start the business, and then see if we can, from that initial investment, try and grow our business on its own. We really funded inventory … We started pretty small, but we doubled the second year, and we’re on pace to double this year again. Those inventory costs have been pretty big. Every time we buy beans, we’re shocked at how much it costs, just because we’re buying a lot more every time we buy.
We wanted to do that, we wanted to grow the business from revenue, from past sales, and you start to figure out that every dollar counts. Especially when you’re working really hard to connect to people, and to get your business going and to make those sales. It really forces you to consider every time you purchase, because every dollar matters. Especially in the first couple of years as your getting going. That has motivated us in a big way. We don’t want to … We think the business should be able to grow on its own, and it’s grown pretty quick from day one, because we’ve pinched pennies so much, it’s allowed us to keep making those inventory purchases, even though it’s gotten bigger and bigger.
Felix: The other investment that you mention other than the pay check that your getting from your day jobs, is your investment with your own time. How do you balance both the day job and a business that’s obviously growing very quickly? How do you make sure that you’re not burning yourself out from doing both of the day job and the business?
Jeremy: Well, it’s difficult to be honest, I mean, there’s no way around that. Time is incredibly valuable, I think, everyone wishes they had more time. We had to figure that out, and one thing I did, I mentioned, I’m a financial consultant and I work with a team there, and I sat down with them and just said, what’s realistic here, what’s going to work? We really figured out from a time perspective, we mapped that all out as well. I knew that was a job I was going to be at everyday, but was there any flexibility there on certain days, leaving at a certain time, more things like that. We figured out what would it take, how much could we roast an hour, how big of a machine do we need? That’s part of the question we asking again, is do we need a bigger machine now, because it’s a production process, we’d like to roast … If we can roast four times as much an hour, then we can afford to get another machine that probably makes sense.
Those are some of the questions we asked, and Eric had asked those same questions with his business and could he fit it in and when we would fit it in, and what was realistic? We tried to be really realistic with that as well, because things like that, questions like that in any person’s life can create a lot of stress. I think that stress, if you don’t plan it out right, that stress can build to the point where you’re just not enjoying the business, or it’s just not sustainable long term. For us, it was a production process, but every business, there’s just things that you don’t enjoy doing, that you need to crunch numbers, or do taxes, or things like that. You got to to build time for that as well, a lot of times, it is, you’re doing something like that late at night.
It’s random things, we roast on Mondays a lot of the time, so Wednesdays we get to the coffee and we need a rest, and we’re tasting it. Everyday on the way to work we’ll taste the coffee and we’ll rip our coffee apart, and find everything about it that we don’t like. That’s been part of our process from day one, is being our own worst critic, because we want our coffee to be really good, not just okay. Things like that. A call on the way to … Once you get to work, or before you leave, or on the way, or something like that is … Texting before you take off, or it’s just little things and you have to get really creative at times to fit it all in. It can be pretty difficult. Figuring that out, it is tough, but I think you can do it, and that’s another thing that you just have to … You don’t always know, but plan as best you can.
Felix: Yeah I think the planning part is definitely key where, not only are you planning out your next day, but actually try to figure out what is the routine that you can get into with your day job and your business that you can continually keep up. Not just about how can I squeeze in time for my business tomorrow, but it’s how can I do this consistently? I think, doing things like tasting your coffee on the way to work is a great example of a way where you work your business into your daily routine, find a way to fit it in. Otherwise you’re just kind of like jumping from task to task too much and that will definitely speed up the burnout just from switching between all those tasks.
Now, what about separating those two worlds though, because I think a lot of times, when there are entrepreneurs that are thinking, or are starting businesses on the side, they are constantly thinking about their business, about their actual passion when they’re at their day job, which is I think perfectly fine, and probably a good thing that you are so passionate about it and you’re thinking about it. Then there’s this dissonance that happens right, because you’re thinking about your business you’re thinking about where you want to be in the future, but you’re still at your current day job. How do you make sure, or how do you handle, I guess, the two different worlds and making sure they don’t bleed into each other too much?
Jeremy: For me, I think, the two jobs energize each other in some ways, working in finance, you’re working on a product that you can’t see, or touch, or feel, you know it’s there, and you know all the details about it. You’re working with people, and that’s amazing, but that’s very different than coffee. Coffee is a physical thing, you can see what’s happening, you can actually touch the product right there in front of you. Finance is just very detailed, I mean, you need to know the number, you need to dig into that, and coffee is as well, but in very different ways. The two are different from each other but kind of … When I do coffee, that is a very, it’s a production process, and you’re there to roast the coffee. It can feel like a long day at times. Then, going back to the other side, there’s certain things I love about both and you don’t take as much for granted from either.
You kind of know, you’re in both worlds at the same time. That recharges me in some ways, I think I love a lot of things about both. They’re both actually so different from each other, I like switching back and forth. It gives me motivation in both places to move forward.
Felix: Yeah, I think what you’re getting at is that you aren’t constantly thinking about your business, which is a good thing. You want that time off too, so that you’re not constantly obsessed and worried especially about your business especially when you are in a situation where you cannot actively work on it since you are at your day job. I think, the key there is to have that kind of balance. You were mentioning earlier about how the price of your products and I’ll list them here, $15 up to $17 for your products, and you’re saying, sometimes, there are people out there that are out there thinking, like why would I buy such an expensive product, when I can just go to my local store and get it for half the price. How do you convince a visitor especially someone that might not have the … Especially, someone that has not tried your product at all, that it’s worth paying practically double the price for your products?
Jeremy: That’s a tough question, I think with specialty coffee, a lot of people have been asking that question, what is specialty coffee and there’s a lot of education there that … For me, it’s just, I was very interested in it for some reason, so it just made sense. I knew I didn’t really like coffee until I tasted this other coffee. There was a difference there. For me, it was pretty obvious. I’m the type of person that’s just interested in that, I had no idea that coffee cherries grew on a plant, and there was the coffee bean was inside.
It was just something that fascinated me, and then, just tasting it and having that ritual in the morning. It’s a product that … I think specialty coffee, it’s a little different, in that it’s not as much as just a standard commodity type product where it tastes the same every time. It actually, it can taste … Coffees will taste totally different from each other depending on all the things I mentioned from where it was grown, when it was picked, and how fresh it is, and the roaster of course, plays a major role in that as well.
There’s some education there. To be honest, one thing that we haven’t done as much, that we’d like to, because we don’t have a lot of time, is just interacting with people. That’s one way is just … We love having conversations around coffee. We think coffee’s a very social product. Unfortunately, specialty coffees some people can feel kind of turned off. Like, it’s bit inclusive, or you’re being judged because you’re not drinking the right coffee. Things like that happen, and that’s … We’ve always thought that we wanted people to feel more included and we wanted there to be more community around it. We do connect with coffee shops, and we try and work with people that do that as well. If you can get your coffee served at a place that you really respect, and they do a great job with your products, you just hope that somebody on the other side has that experience that you had at some point.
It doesn’t have to be this, borderline, I’m never going back experience, it can just be wow this is very different. I didn’t know that. This tastes very unexpected, like craft beer or wine, or a lot of different things like that food. You can have that kind of experience where you just taste something or understand something a little differently and it just interests you. We try to it as much as we can even online talking about where we’re getting the beans from, and how they taste. Hopefully, there’s other places that are interacting with our coffee as well. Being served at a place that somebody does interact with it and you can’t always control those interactions. I think, hopefully, one thing we’ve, that’s part of the reason we focus so much on roasting and roasting on a high level and buying beans that we are in love with is, for us, the product really has to speak for itself.
If somebody buys our product for the first time, and they just think this is no different then, they’re probably not going to come back. We don’t always have a lot of control over that, so we’ve spent just a ton of time nitpicking or roasting to the point that we’ve thought about it everyday, since we opened. We know that’s really important and if someone is going to pay that price, the quality and the experience needs to represent what they just paid, and hopefully that person does have that experience and they come back.
Felix: Yeah, I think for anyone out there that is selling a more premium product, I think, what you touched on, the key thing which is around education, right around teaching people, either through your own website, through your blog, or through social media. Like you’re saying, it’s interacting with people, and being inclusive so that they can learn more about why is it worth paying more for it. The second thing which is about getting your product out into the real world, where your customers already are, so they can at least try for the first time.
That’s, like you’re saying, the best way to win a customer over is to get them to try using it. Then, they’ll see the value in it, way better than words can describe. One thing I did notice on your site is that you have very, at least compared to other products, very detailed … I guess, other industries, very detailed product descriptions. Like for your coffee, the beans, you mention things like the elevation, the region it’s from, the process that you use. How did you know that these were things that people, these were details that your customers cared about?
Jeremy: That’s part of the thing I learned over time was just those were things I started to understand as I was home roasting and started to look at, there’s a lot of information, it’s agriculture. I don’t know everything, but I do know, now I know what to look for. I know what I look for, and what I did look for, and what I started to look for back when I was buying specialty coffee. Those details, if you go to a website like ours, or you pick up our bag off of a shelf, a lot of people don’t care about that, but there are some people that know exactly what they’re looking for. They want an Ethiopian that’s washed, processed, that was grown at 2,000 meters, and when they pick it up, they know what that means.
With specialty, you get people that are intensely passionate about the product your selling. You know that certain people won’t care and a lot of people, they instantly recognize that and understand that. Putting those details on there helps other people understand, we are looking at those things, we do understand what they mean, and that’s how we pick our beans and make to par selection.
Felix: I guess for you, it was just you were looking at things that … You included things that you had questions about that you wanted to learn more about. I think for anyone else out there, there’s, trying to figure out how to craft the product descriptions, it’s the same process. Look at what people are already asking about, what people are already talking about. Include product descriptions, because they’re actively asking for more information about a specific feature in the product, and to make sure you include that in your product descriptions is a great way to figure out what to include, and what you should include.
Jeremy: Yeah, listen too I think, a lot of times when you’re making a product, you assume that everybody understands what you’re doing, but I think, social media has helped us in a lot of ways and really smart companies in social media will bring people into the process, especially if it’s a really good process, helps them understand, whatever it is, this jacket wasn’t made the way you think it was made, it was actually the [same, so? 00:41:51] or whatever experience, and sometimes, that can be something that changes somebody’s mind. If you’re doing something really well, if you’re creating a product that you … Is at a high level, it’s a premium product, bringing people in on that, helping them understand why it’s premium. Then, even what is the process look like. Then, help people get there. A lot of the times, you just have to remember that people don’t know everything that you do. They don’t know much about what you do, so trying to shine light on that as much as you can, can be really important for your brand.
Felix: I want to talk about this strategy that you mention in the pre-interview which is about, I think it ties really nicely into the way that you try to get your products out in front of your customers, and to the places in the real world where they are already at. You said that you sent coffee to business that might be interested in the coffee and reaching out to them. Tell us about this process, like what … Are you sending coffee to businesses that you want to buy from you or are you looking into sending coffee to businesses so they can give it out to customers? What’s the thought process behind this?
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s a lot of different places. We try and be really selective. We try to be really respectful. One thing you don’t want to do is just bug someone incessantly about your product, so we do a lot of research on who are, first of all, who are businesses we really respect, we’d love to partner up with them. Second of all, who are just people that, for us, might be tasting coffee they do a really good job on, let’s say, Instagram talking about what they like. Taking really nice photos. There are people that can speak for your products, because it’s hard for you to say those things about your own product. It’s always good to get people that other people trust to say, “Yeah, these guys are doing a good job.”
Those are the two things we look for, and we have specific things for each. Over the years, we’ve just recognized real quality companies, real quality brands. Real quality people, maybe on social media that would love to taste two bags of our coffee who we’d love to reach out to and say, “Hey, can we send some of this along, and no strings attached?” Sometimes, they’ll write something about it, sometimes they won’t, but we try to keep it really relaxed. Just look for people we really respect, we know we believe in our product and when we send it their way, they’ll be able to taste it and decide for themselves.
Felix: Do you ever follow up with them, after you’ve sent it out? What would you say?
Jeremy: Yeah, I think for us, we don’t always follow up. Sometimes we do, sometimes, if we think it’s not too invasive, it’s always … Like I said, we have a high level of focus on our roasting, so feedback for us is huge. If you can get somebody that, whatever, maybe they even have some critique for you. Critique can be extremely valuable, in understanding every little, first of all, good thing about your product and every thing about your product that you need to work on. Roasting, it’s a never ending pursuit, for us, I don’t think we’ll ever get there, I think that’s the point of it, is you always are striving for this unobtainable perfect thing.
Sometimes, we’ll follow up with folks and say, “Hey.” Sometimes, we’ll say in the beginning, “Hey, you know, hope you enjoy the coffee, we’d love to know what you think.” Sometimes, people will give us their opinion, and then, good things are nice to hear, but also we take critique and you try and take that and learn as much as you can from it, because that information is incredibly valuable. I think some of the best businesses out there are the ones that not so offended that they just ignore the critique and get angry, they’re the ones that take that advice and treat it like gold. Over the course of years and years, they turn their product into something really special.
Felix: Your product, I think, one of the great thing about the industry you’re in is that you’re selling a consumable product meaning that people need to constantly buy coffee beans. I see here on your site that you have a six month coffee subscription, how did you … Did you launch with this subscription plan off the bat or did you add it in later?
Jeremy: We added it in a bit later, I think, it was something that people said, it’s a convenience thing, it’s actually something we talked about adding to, I think we’d like to build that out. I know, there’s an app you talked about, we’ve looked at different apps on Shopify to help with that. I know we talked about the Bold app before, as a way to include that, especially if you have a Shopify site. For us, some people say, “I really love your coffee, but I’m not going to remember to get on and order it every two weeks, or every month, or whatever it is. I’d love to be able to just make the purchase and then, have it delivered without thinking about it.” If you can have a process like that and cut out something that somebody has to remember or it gives somebody that option, it’s a really great way, kind of deliver your product, and they actually appreciate it as well.
Felix: Do you try to up-sale this to customers, and how do you introduce customers to the subscription plan?
Jeremy: Well, I think it’s just kind of there. A lot of times when you interact with people, special little things like that or little events we do, people as that question. There’s a lot of people … Once they understand our brand, they have continued purchasing, and it’s just a really easy way for them. When you click on it, there’s a little description there, but we don’t promote too much, other than, if someone’s looking for that option, usually they can find it. It’s pretty straight forward. I think it makes a lot of sense. We just have a number of people find it out that way, and like I said, I think it’s something that we’re going to continue doing in the future, I think there’s a lot of creative things we could do with that too, that we’ll keep thinking through.
Felix: I want to talk a little bit about your supply chain, because you’ve mentioned before how labor intensive it is. Obviously, it’s a lot of focus on quality. How do you ensure quality control, when you are involved in an industry like this where quality is so important, and does it have direct impact on the product?
Jeremy: Yeah, you can’t control everything, but for us, the process we decided on, early on, and this is something that most specialty roasters do. It was we’re going to roast on a certain day, which currently is Monday, and if you put an order in, we’re going to roast it fresh for you and ship it out. Meaning that we don’t have any inventory already sitting there. As orders come in throughout the week, we roast and then, send it out, and you can be guaranteed, when you get the product, it’s going to be incredibly fresh.
For us, in coffee and specialty coffee, there’s a window there. Of course, you can drink it after six months if you want to, but ideally if you’re spending that much on the product, I think you care about the way it taste. You might be a little picky about freshness and things like that. We wanted to ensure that if someone wanted it fresh, they were going to get it fresh. Often times, we say, it really taste best in the first two to three weeks. It still tastes good after that, but if you’re really concerned about freshness, like we are, some people aren’t, but if you are, like we are, then we’re going to ensure that you’re going to get the coffee, depending where you live, two to three days afterwards, roasted and incredibly fresh every time.
Then, these are things you have to think through as retail establishments. We’ve got a place locally, called, Foods For a Living. It’s a great health food store, and they’ve been extremely diligent about trying to order coffee and keep it fresh on the shelf, which is incredibly difficult. You can build those relationships, they’re willing to do it, and they’ve been really great about it, and I think people know now when they go in there that usually the coffee is pretty fresh. I mean they’re known for that. You can try to build relationships that way. It’s not always easy, shipping coffee fresh is certainly not as easy as coffee that’s a couple of months old, like it probably normally would be at a normal grocery store, but to us, it’s a big deal. We had to build that into our process, it makes a lot of sense, and keeps the product, we know kind of exactly when people are going to taste it for the first time.
Felix: You are running the store, essentially, part-time, I assume you rely a lot on automation to help keep this running smoothly. Can you talk a little about, maybe, the apps or tools that you use to help run the business?
Jeremy: Yeah, obviously, our business is pretty straight forward, so I think, depending what business you have, there are, one thing we’ve discovered about Shopify, there is a massive amount of Apps out there you can do anything you want basically. We don’t use a ton, I mentioned before, we’ve looked at, even like, subscription apps, you can do like Bold app. Something like that allow you to automate the process even further, possibly offer an additional option on a sales page.
One thing we’ve used is ShipStation, which integrates with Shopify. It was important to us, and we were thrilled to learn that, with ShipStation and entering apps, you can really integrate the process from the moment somebody buys your product to the moment they receive it. That kind of flows through to ShipStation, we obviously make sure all the orders come through, and it also coordinates with United States Postal service, we do priority shipping, and then we’re … From the moment somebody purchases it, they also get a confirmation, which I believe is a ShipStation feature. Those are just a few, there are so many options to paying what your trying to do. Automation is huge, and for us it was, when someone makes a purchase we want to guarantee, every time that they have really good customer experience. That was here’s when your coffee is being shipped, they would get a shipping code. Then, the coffee would arrive as they expected, every time.
That’s really important, because no matter what product your selling, one bad customer experience, because we forgot to ship it, or didn’t come on time, or any of the number of things that can happen, we want to make sure that customers just never had a bad experience with our product. As many things as you can do, using these Apps, and billing them into ShipStation, I think helps with those processes, and make sure that your customer has really, experience that they trust every time. They know that they will get the product, and I think there’s a lot of options we haven’t even explored that we’ll continue to build on in the future.
Felix: Awesome, thanks so much, Jeremy. CraftandMason.com is the website. C-R-A-F-T-A-N-D-M-A-S-O-N.com. Where else should the customers check out if they want to follow along with what you guys are up to?
Jeremy: Craft and Mason, we have obviously, social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and then our website. Every things Craft and Mason on all those accounts. It’s a really great way to keep up with us, and there’s also a newsletter on our front page that we will send if you are interested in new products and things like that, new coffees, a lot of information that goes along with that. We try and send out information when it’s relevant and when we think people will be interested, so that’s a great way to do it.
Felix: Awesome, thanks so much, Jeremy.
Jeremy: All right, thank you Felix.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. You start your store today, visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended thirty day free trial.