Coffee used to cultivate Kiwi relationships – Duncan Northover, Strictly Coffee Company

Coffee is a tool we use to facilitate relationships.

It’s the hub of our culture, right up there with the All Blacks, Steinies, and a strong dislike of anything Australian. Engaging in conversation over a stout brew or a thick foamy blend is an indicator that all parties involved are committed to strengthening that connection. Other coffee companies that have originated in New Zealand, like Allpress, Avalanche, and Coffee Supreme, have directed their sights at Australia in search of bigger markets and more relationships to facilitate. Not Strictly Coffee. They have been loyal to New Zealand for 16 years, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

The Strictly Coffee Company went on the market in 2007 after its previous owner decided it was time to move on. Duncan Northover, having a background in sales, marketing, and distribution, appreciated the brand that had been cultivated. He describes it as being “not obscure but bold. It’s quirky, but strong. The brand defines what we were do.” Duncan could envision Strictly as something that would translate well into other markets.

Creating a sizable online presence can consume a vast amount of resources and man-hours.

“You can easily go and drop $10K on a website,” said Duncan, “anyone can do that, but it’s the maintenance that’s hard, and so many websites just seem to be static and sit there and do nothing.”

How businesses use their digital assets is what determines whether or not it will create a significant ROI.

“I think we are getting better at targeting that market and we are putting quite a bit of resource into it this year. We’ve got new websites being built and our Facebook presence is being improved. I’ve got a team now that the majority of their job is looking after the online side of it (Strictly Coffee). So moving forward we expect a big jump, and with what we do there we’ve already seen it.”

With 51 million websites created last year, it takes more than just an online presence to get new customers. It’s important in today’s business environment to have a positive social media presence and a website that is representative of your brand, but to get those new clients that create organic growth for a company, using sales reps has been Duncan’s primary tool.

“Coffee is very much a relationship sell,” Duncan says, “We find generally that people change most suppliers from alcohol to food to anything else on a whim, whereas coffee becomes quite an intrinsic part of your branding.”

Having a rep who knows the brand inside and out, who can “talk the talk” and show café owners how to produce the coffee that gets repeat customers; that’s what gets new clients.

 

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We hear a lot from industry leaders about how businesses need to go above and beyond with their value proposition. Many offer free tools or services in order to compete with their rivals for market share. Strictly Coffee provides a free service in the way of their reps. They’re professionals who can teach baristas and make sure they understand what makes a good coffee by explaining to them and showing the different variables and how the systems work. That is what has kept Strictly thriving in a world where, just about every week there seems to be a new coffee destination opening.

Duncan does not see Strictly Coffee becoming too big for their customer base in New Zealand any time soon. While they continue to expand, they still have a viable market and new opportunities all throughout New Zealand. With their high standards and industry-leading customer service and sales reps, Strictly is poised to conquer New Zealand one coffee at a time.

“We can put 10 years of growth into the New Zealand market and still not be near as big as the top 10. Primarily for us, in the short term, the growth markets are going to come from developing a good market share in the South Island and making a really good job of it. In the long term, we have another Island just up the road with ¾ of New Zealand’s population so there is plenty of scope for expansion. As you get bigger a lot of business is won by good reputation but you have to back it up with your core values.”

In recent years, customer service has shifted away from the phone lines to a public forum on social media where the majority of consumers have access to the communication that goes on. Just last week, a disgruntled customer who had flown with British Airways bought a promoted tweet for $25, and his dissatisfaction was propagated throughout the Internet. To make matters worse for the brand, top news websites like Mashable and the Huffington Post wrote stories about the incident, and those stories permeated to the far corners of social media. Having a fast and personal response can stop a simple complaint from escalating into a situation that requires intensive damage control.

“I’ve always said that it’s not the thing that’s gone wrong. It’s the way you deal with it that’s important and that applies right through from staff to suppliers and also the customers. Generally if people see you doing as good a job as you can in being relatively generous to someone who has a complaint, even when they’re just nitpicking, often you are judged quite well just by the way you deal with it. Ultimately we are trying to provide perfect service so anything less than perfect deserves attention.”

Do you think 2013 is a good year to be an entrepreneur in New Zealand?

I can’t comment on what’s going on up there in the North but the market down here is tough. We are still growing and we’re growing quite well. We have grown 25-30% every year for the last 5 years straight but I suspect this year so far has probably been the toughest trading year for us. We’ve had several customers either shrink or fall over and the previous two or three years have taught us some pretty good lessons. Some customers don’t pay as quickly as they should so we’ve tightened up on our procedures, which has helped us through this period. But our biggest problem is cash-flow problems due to growth and we’re lucky that were not retrenching otherwise it would be double as hard. I’m looking ahead to the summer to see what the bounce back is like. We have a great team here and are all systems go and looking forward to the challenges ahead.

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