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We moved away from distribution to survive in the coffee market

Gavin Dow, founder of Coffee Central, moved away from distribution
Gavin Dow looked at advanced markets overseas to spot future trends

Name: Coffee Central
Location: Nottingham
Employees: 10
Founded in: 2003
Tip: You need people on board who can delegate.

The problem

When Coffee Central first started in 2003, coffee was well in demand. It was a successful ‘middle man’ business, renting out coffee equipment and selling wholesale coffee. However, by 2009, small businesses and micro-roasters had popped up across the country. They gave consumers more choice and higher expectations of quality. To survive, Coffee Central needed to reassess its distribution-only business model.

The solution

Founder Gavin Dow recognised that identifying current trends wouldn’t be enough to ensure the survival of the business. The coffee market moved so fast that hype could build or die quickly. If the business was going to expand or change the services it offered, it would need to be something sustainable.

Gavin started by drawing parallels with the advanced coffee market in Italy. In Italy, all the suppliers were roasters and there were no middle men. For consumers in a coffee-led culture, it was common to want to know more about the source and quality of the coffee – information that distribution-only companies couldn’t provide.

He decided to move away from pure distribution and start roasting his own coffee. To expand his team, Gavin focused on hiring staff who were passionate about coffee and who had worked in coffee shops before. “Customers like you to know what you’re talking about,” he explained.

To give Coffee Central an advantage over other micro-roasters, Gavin took further inspiration from Italian businesses and built an equipment offer. If customers bought enough coffee, Coffee Central would give equipment away for free.

The results

The decision to start roasting was crucial to the survival of Coffee Central. “Nowadays, there are no distributors,” Gavin said. “If we hadn’t made that decision, we wouldn’t have had a business.”

Six years later, Coffee Central has grown into a thriving company, selling specialty roasted coffee and equipment into coffee shops, hotels and restaurants across the UK. 

“You should always be looking to innovate, incrementally and radically. Don’t stop making the small improvements. When you stop, you can bet your bottom dollar that’s when the business will suffer,” Gavin said.

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