The process of choosing a guest roaster starts the same way every time: with samples. If we are serving a particular roaster at Revolver, it’s because they either sent samples to the shop without us asking and we loved them or we asked for samples and we loved them. You must always try a potential roaster’s coffee. Don’t just go by online descriptions or a tweet about how sweet and fruity a coffee is. At Revolver, we are looking for specific flavor and roast profiles and a roaster’s reputation or past experience speaks little about their current offerings.
You must serve great coffee if you want to work with a rotating lineup of businesses.
Our goal is to create a harmonious lineup while still highlighting the individuality of each coffee within the Revolver spectrum. Make a list of roasters you’d love to feature, and then kindly ask them for samples. If you’re looking to feature one guest roaster at a time, then choose the order you’d like to carry each roaster and work your way down the list. When trying samples and giving feedback, it’s important to be honest and transparent, whether good or bad. Don’t forget that just because you don’t like the current offerings of a particular roaster it doesn’t mean you should write that roaster off.
Once you’ve found a coffee you love, it’s time to figure out logistics. Just like every roaster has a unique menu and style, it’s guaranteed they will have their own ordering procedures. This is the time for finding out things like minimums, volume discounts, order deadlines and protocols, and shipping dates and costs.
Once you’ve obtained this information, you can now responsibly decide if things are a go. A guest roaster should be just that: a guest. What has worked very well for us is to set up start and finish dates before the first order has even been placed. This has nice benefits for both sides: for the roaster, it helps with stock and inventory matters, and it allows you to organize and schedule your next guest roaster in a timely matter. Above all though, it takes away any opportunity to blindside one another with an awkward or perceivably hurtful breakup. And if at the time of the finish date you decide you want to continue ordering from the roaster, then guess what? Just extend it. But make sure to pick another finish date so as to continue in full transparency.
Now that your first order is imminent, it’s time to get everyone ready. For the roaster, you’ll want to make sure you’ve filled out all the necessary account information and credit forms. For the shop, you’ll want to brief the team on the company and coffees they are going to serve and represent. You’ll also want to input prices into the POS and print price tags. There is a lot to do, and the last thing you want is for a customer to not buy a bag of your guest’s coffee because it lacks a price tag or a staff member doesn’t know anything about it. And finally, about a week or so before the first shipment arrives, tell customers about it with a press release or even a simple tweet or Instagram post.
Everyone wants to serve great coffee—and it’s such a good intention, isn’t it? But you must serve great coffee if you want to work with a rotating lineup of businesses. There is a tremendous amount of trust and reputation on the line when a roaster bags up their coffee and ships it to your shop, and it’s your job to honor that trust by insuring you are doing your very best to showcase every coffee every time. The ability to do this will make it easy and attractive for roasters to work with you, and finding new great partners will become easier and easier.
Follow the above steps as a guide to start, and as you mold and shape them to fit your pace and style in your own shop—if you’re doing it right—you’ll soon find your biggest problem has become finding time to taste all the samples being sent your way.
—George Glannakos is an owner of Revolver Coffee in Vancouver.