Galway-based coffee.ie has been distributing quality coffees in Ireland since 1989.
What is special about your business?
We are a small family-run business with a passion for quality coffee. The company was started by our dad, Bryan, who got fed up with the poor quality coffee available when he used to run a café. He went on a crusade to source products with a superior taste and this sparked what became his lifelong passion for coffee. He subsequently built the business around this passion.
What sets your products apart in your sector?
We now have the exclusive distribution rights for the Italian Bristot Tiziano Coffee brand. It stands out for its quality and taste. Bristot have nearly a century's experience of roasting coffee and Tiziano is their signature blend. The Bristot gourmet range includes Eccellente, a 100 per cent Arabica blend for the coffee lover who enjoys only the finest coffee. The Rainforest Alliance Blend is aimed at the eco-conscious coffee lover and Caffé & Ginseng is Arabica beans enriched with Panax Ginseng for those who enjoy coffee with a little something extra. We also distribute the Irish brand Greenbean Coffee Roasters and Nairobi Coffee from a London- based roaster.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Competing with the big players in the market as they have financial power and an established brand. We have been distributing the Bristot brand for just over a year now and it is still relatively unknown in Ireland. However, raising its profile is a challenge we are relishing.
What has been your biggest success?
Being invited to visit the Bristot HQ in Belluno, northern Italy. This was in recognition of the fact that we have made substantial sales progress in our first year.
My brother, George, also worked very hard rebuilding our website last year. It now ranks highly on Google across a wide range of search terms. This is important for a small player in a big, competitive sector.
What key piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business?
Be prepared to work very hard.
Who do you admire most in business and why?
My father. He raised a young family while starting, managing and growing his business in a time without mobile phones, the Internet or computers – something that would be near impossible today. He is always on hand to give us advice based on years of experience.
What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment?
Reduce the cost of employment as it is very inhibiting at present.
We would like to employ people in areas such as accounts, administration and distribution but it is very costly to do so for a small business. As a result we have to do these tasks ourselves in the evenings and at the weekends.
In your experience are the banks lending to SMEs currently?
We are lucky that our company is debt-free and our goal has been to grow our business organically by reinvesting our profits. Sure, 2009 and 2010 were difficult years, but the drop was not as bad as might have been expected. People were still prepared to spend on quality coffee.
What's the biggest mistake you've made in business?
We were very naive at the start, not really grasping the sheer volume of knowledge required not only to run a business but also to be involved in the coffee industry.
George and I have spend a lot of time learning about business since getting involved and are also putting a lot of time into educating ourselves about and immersing ourselves in everything coffee-related.
What is the most frustrating part of running a small business?
The amount of hours involved and the fact that you never really switch off. Even at weekends or on holidays abroad you find yourself thinking of ways to improve the business.
The frustrating part for me is that anytime I am anywhere that serves coffee I find myself constantly looking to see what type of coffee is being used, what type of machine is being used and how staff is serving it.
What's your business worth and would you sell it?
I have no idea what the business is worth and we wouldn't consider selling it. It has been our family business for 25 years and, as the second generation, we are gathering momentum and have many plans and goals for the future.
In conversation with Olive Keogh