Member Spotlight: Casbah Coffee Man

Casbah Coffee Man

Having worked in independent hospitality for years, Mike, the Casbah Coffee Man knows a thing or two about running a mobile coffee unit.

A keen coffee connoisseur way before he turned to trading, Mike found his way into the sector relatively late after spending the majority of his working career in journalism. Having now retired, Mike is keen to share his expertise with aspiring independent coffee businesses and shares some of his top tips with us:

Firstly, you’ve got to love coffee. The notion of putting your money where your mouth is is quite apparent here. You are naturally going to do better when representing / selling a product you actually have an interest in. And people who will come to you to buy coffee, will most likely be into their beans, so will value your knowledge and appreciation of the coffee you’re selling.

You have to ask yourself, ‘what will keep a customer coming back?’ Really good coffee will. You can’t expect to be selling supermarket coffee and winning over hordes of loyal customers. Mike opted to source a local independent coffee supplier for Casbah Coffee that he thought was the best coffee, as he puts it “the coffee itself has to be a product to get people talking.”

Just as important as sourcing quality coffee to sell, is to focus on the process and ensure you’re making the best cup every time. This means cleaning filters after every use, paying due attention to the milk preparation, adjusting the grinder in accordance with the weather. Barista training goes a long way to equipping you with the necessary knowledge and practical skills and to run a mobile coffee business, this is one of the best self-investments you can make.

Having a quality product and knowing how to serve it as intended will give customers a reason to come back to you. Working with an independent supplier also enacts a positive effect on the business dynamic, as instead of a customer simply purchasing a warm beverage from you, they’re now investing in a story, supporting a chain of local and independent businesses: “People want the back story. They love asking, how did you set your van up and why? Why did you get into this? They love all of that. People want authentic.”

Alongside having a quality product you can prepare well, being personable is an important factor in this equation. There is nowhere to hide in this vocation, you are very much the face of the business, and it is a people-centric sector. Be prepared for lots of chit-chat and to listen to your customers.

You want to be warm and inviting – a mimic of the coffee itself in this sense – for people to come and speak to. As Mike states: “There’s two reasons people want to buy off you and not go to a nice cosy little chain or indoor coffee shop. It’s cause the coffee is great, and two, because they want to buy off you.”

A common misconception in the independent hospitality sector is that people can look at a mobile coffee unit and think about how easy a life running one must be. Just turn up, pour some coffees, share some smiles and make a fortune – sadly this is not the case.

Running your own mobile business can be very demanding, it will ask a lot of hours of you, think of the unfavourable conditions during the winter – this business is a real commitment and to make it work, you’ve got to be prepared for the long hard hours it requires. “It’s not enough to just turn up when the sun is shining and it’s ice lattes all round, you’ve got to be stoic, to be prepared to do it all year round – which is imperative to generating necessary income.”

Location is key – A fixed pitch provides with it a bit of stability, which in independent hospitality can be invaluable. Having a pitch to regularly trade from allows you a greater chance to build up a customer base. This can be a ‘try before you buy’ business, where what works for one might not for another and vice versa.

Therefore it’s advisable to explore opportunities and try pitching at different locations / events to accrue some real life findings on what does work for you, and what hasn’t. Mike felt he was running close to exhausting his options when he came across the pitch he operated from successfully for several years, just outside a local train station in Penrith. This allowed Casbah Coffee to generate a regular customer base and offered some valuable consistency to operate from.

 

Having built up a wealth of experience operating as a mobile coffee trader on top of Mike’s undoubtable passion for coffee, he now wants to use his expertise to help budding traders. Get in touch with Casbah Coffee here to enquire about free tips, support, advice and barista training.

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