Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with James Dickson, CEO of Workshop Coffee.
James explained everything about Workshop Coffee’s processes and the ways in which having a hands-on approach to sourcing and relationship building can benefit coffee shops and delight customers.
Having a USP is vital to stand out in the hospitality industry, making businesses stand out from competitors. Creating a clear vision or objective is vital in achieving this. James began by explaining how Workshop Coffee began with a vision: “Workshop Coffee came into being in 2011 with the aim of giving people access to the best quality coffee, wherever and whenever they need it most. To do this properly, we knew we had to be involved in every facet of coffee production, so we were vertically integrated from the beginning.”
The supply chain is coming under increasing scrutiny with customers wanting more in-depth information about what they are eating and drinking, as well as where it has come from. Experiences are increasingly influenced by storytelling, ethics and sustainability, meaning coffee shops that are able to take this into consideration can wow their customers. Workshop Coffee have been doing this for a long time, James explained, “We source green coffee from fourteen of the world’s best coffee producing countries, spending several months of each year at origins, visiting farms and producers and tasting and selecting the best lots.
“We then roast it ourselves carefully and consistently in our London-based roastery. Each batch of coffee we roast undergoes fastidious quality control measures from the moment it arrives into the building until the moment we approve it’s good enough to leave. It’s then brewed in our coffee bars, where our team of highly-skilled baristas focus on crafting extraordinary coffee in an approachable, hospitable and warm environment.”
James then went on to explain the most important factors for the Workshop Coffee team when sourcing suppliers: “Where we source suppliers often depends on what is required, but nothing beats a word-of-mouth recommendation. We’ve also met a lot of the people we’ve wound up working with, in one of our coffee bars. A serendipitous conversation over a morning coffee has led to partnerships, collaborations and more.
“We are the company we keep, so the biggest consideration for any supplier we’re looking to work with is a shared set of values. We want them to be applying the same dedication to the quality of what they do, as we apply to sourcing, roasting, brewing and serving coffee. That means they’ll inevitably be focusing on transparency and practising a sustainable and ethical approach – things that are fundamental to how we choose to operate.”
For Workshop Coffee, the wholesale market is of great importance: “We also deliver our coffee to a broad range of wholesale partners across 30 countries. From independent cafes as close to home as the end of the street we roast on, and as far flung as Budapest, Lebanon, Dubai and Singapore, we also work with some of the best-known hotels, restaurants and retailers across the globe. We’re proud to count Claridge’s, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, The Conran Shop and Lane Crawford amongst our growing list of partners.”
Workshop Coffee is a fantastic example that in order to succeed, you need much more than incredible coffee, with the team and locations playing a large role in success: “Right now, the team is made up of 50 people,” James explained, “and we have a total of five coffee bars located across central London – six if you include our dedicated roastery in Bethnal Green. Each location has been designed with context in mind; they reflect the people, the history and the businesses in the area and so the range of guests will differ from site to site. Regular office workers and local residents, passing-through tourists and business travellers – it’s a broad church. However, what links them all is their focus on refinement. We aim to remove distractions in order to place the emphasis on customer-barista interactions.”
Workshop Coffee’s varying locations each offer unique experiences for customers: “From our dedicated roastery in Bethnal Green, if you head West, the first coffee bar you’ll come across is Workshop Coffee at White Collar Factory, located on Old Street roundabout. There are two locations here; the lobby bar is open to everyone, while our location on the 17th-floor terrace serves the 2,500 office workers inside the White Collar Factory building. Continue up Clerkenwell Road towards Oxford Circus and you’ll be moments from our Fitzrovia and Marylebone Coffeebars, both of which offer a space to escape the crowds on two of London’s busiest high streets – Oxford Street and Regent Street. And last, but by no means least, is Workshop Coffee at The Pilgrm. This is our latest location, set inside Paddington-based boutique hotel, The Pilgrm.”
James spoke about Workshop Coffee’s approach to educating customers and having a customer-centric approach which creates brand loyalty, adding, “Our aim has always been to give people access to the best coffee possible wherever and whenever they need it most, so we’ve had an online shop and subscription membership available from day one. Online has always been a big focus for us. Over time, we’ve refined each of those elements of the business, aiming to make them more customer-centric and more useful. That’s meant making our subscription membership increasingly flexible by allowing members to select the frequency, quantity and roast style of their coffee from the moment they sign up, and change it whenever they wish.
“It’s also meant building out our online support materials. We’re incredibly lucky that a lot of our customers first come into contact with who we are, what we do and the quality of our product in one of our locations, but we’re all too aware that they’re not always able to visit us. Knowing this was a big driver in the decision to create our Online Brew Guides. They bring together the knowledge and experience you’d receive in one of our coffee bars. This makes it readily available for home-brewers, offering step-by-step guidance on how to brew consistently delicious cups of coffee using some of our favourite pieces of brewing hardware. In a bid to make these even more useful, we recently launched our voice-activated brew guides with the Amazon Alexa Skill. Our thinking was that in freeing up people’s hands, they’d be even more capable of grinding, pouring and plunging at their kitchen counters.”
When it comes to pain points, Workshop Coffee, James shared some of the teething issues they have had, as does any business: “When we started roasting coffee in 2011, we were showcasing seven coffee-producing countries; Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Brazil and Colombia. Today, we buy from double that number and are incredibly keen to explore more. However, at present, we need to use our time as effectively as we can, which means we can’t always justify spending a few weeks at a brand new origin that might not lead to any coffee selections for our seasonal range. This is why we work with third party green coffee importers like Caravela and Nordic Approach. Partnering with them allows us to get the best of both worlds; we can continue developing our existing relationships with producers we’ve been working with over the past eight years, whilst also broadening our horizons by understanding what the addition of new countries can offer.”
James spoke in depth about the impact of training on business, playing a large role in Workshop Coffee’s mission to create a memorable experience which keeps customers returning: “Whether we’re talking about our own retail presence or our work with our wholesale partners, the biggest focus throughout Workshop Coffee is on coffee knowledge and skills training. We want to help our own team and our wider network to be confident in the product we’re serving and do everything we can to ensure that, from site visits and training programmes, to one-on-one sessions in our roastery.
“That’s not the be-all and end-all, though. When it comes to serving exceptional coffee, overall customer experience is paramount. How our team works together behind the bar; how they interact with our guests; the way in which they present our coffee bars, from the music and the lighting to the layout and tidiness of its shelves – these things are greater than the sum of their parts, so they’re communicated from someone’s first day with us and reinforced continually.”
Visit WorkshopCoffee.com to learn more about the company’s outstanding coffee, subscriptions and hardware.
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing and is very passionate about the hospitality industry.