In less than a week, the biggest coffee oriented trade show in Canada will take place in Vancouver – the Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo.
It is the biggest trade show specifically oriented towards coffee and tea in this country, but "big" is a relative term. There will be approximately 65 booths at this year's show and about 30 seminars. Compared to the SCAA's annual trade show and convention with its 800 exhibitors and hundreds of seminars, educational sessions, labs, intensive training programs and more, the Canadian show is puny.
Does this mean it isn't worth attending?
Not by a long shot.
For the professional, the Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo is a must-attend event. It offers the ability to network with other coffee professionals in a way that simply cannot be done in any other way in this country. There are a series of educational and promotional sessions that any starting cafe owner or roaster / retailer would be a fool to miss out on. Though the booth vendor list is low, this trade show offers Canada's best chance to find suppliers and allied businesses you can work with to help your business grow.
For consumers? Guess what - this year's show will, for the first time ever, have a consumer slant. There's three specific seminars designed exclusively for consumers (though professionals would learn a lot from the seminars as well): a Consumer Espresso Lab run by yours truly (Saturday June 12, 10:00am to 11:30am); The World of Coffee (including an informal cupping) by Bill Hearne and Sherri Johns (Saturday June 12, 8:30am to 10:00am); and for tea lovers, Tea 101 by Louise Roberge (Saturday June 12, 10:00am to 11:30am
And consumers will be welcomed and served by the trade show floor and by the show's organizers in a variety of ways. This is a major change: last year, the trade show was restricted to professionals and entrepreneurs in the coffee and tea businesses. The startup of the SCAA's involvement with consumers, and my own vocalized enthusiasm about consumer elements within a trade show gave the impetus to the organizer to start this new and exiting path. Consumers are hoped to be a major part of the Coffee and Tea Expo from now on - this is just the first year.
And of course, the show is the home for the Canadian Barista Championship, now in its second year. As a paid attendee, you get to see some of the best and brightest Baristi in our country compete on a national level, with the winner going on to the World Barista Championships next year in Seattle.
There are lots of good reasons to attend this show be you a consumer or a professional in the world of coffee. But attendance always seems a bit sparse, and booth counts always seem to be a bit slim... why is that? It's our Canadian market, and the mentality of many small business folks in Canada. It's something I hope will change soon.
The self defeating nature of the Canadian Businessperson
Last week, David Ticoll wrote a great article for the Globe and Mail that bemoaned the sad state of Canadian etailing (setting up a store on the Internet). I started up an email conversation with Tilcott where we continued espousing on how bad things were and what could be done to change things.
The largest problem is that many small businesses in this country do not know or use the power and effectiveness of savvy marketing. Closely matched to this is that good marketing costs money, and Canadian businesses are much less willing to spend money on anything, including an ad budget. There are a lot of factors that influence this.
The cost of starting up a business is difficult in Canada, and obtaining initial financing from banks (or even the government) is much more difficult in this country as compared to the US (in the States, the SBA provides micro loans to many starting businesses; nothing like this exists in Canada, at least not on the same scale or ease of access). Higher business taxes and greater amounts of restrictions, regulations and government interference in how you run your business also play a role in keeping most Canadian startups in a conservative mindset.
So when a Canadian wants to start up a new business, both money and time are very tight - most small businesses are financed through private means, and time is precious because the entrepreneur usually doesn't have any extra cash to hire additional staff. Because the small startup doesn't want to spend the money on an outside source for effective marketing (or even have the money to do it), and because they're putting in 80 hour work weeks to get the business off the ground, marketing becomes something pushed to the side.
This is a shame, and it is something that should be and can be overcome. When a company starts up they need to budget an effective amount for marketing that includes everything from logo design to travel budgets for trade shows and networking opportunities to grow their business. This should be a defacto standard startup cost, not an option.
Starting entrepreneurs need to understand that Canadians are currently underserved by Internet commerce, and focus a sizable portion of their marketing budget to putting a foothold in this particular market to make some quality profits down the road. They need to understand that "marketing" is not just placing an ad in the local Super Pages. It's finding out where your target market is, what they read, where they go, what influences them, and then spending the money to effectively and professionally attract these people.
Of course, the above is all generalization, but I'm confident in saying that the majority of coffee related businesses that target consumers in Canada do not market effectively. There are many companies in this country that sell quality espresso machines, for example; but I cannot think of a single company that has an effective website with full ecommerce options to sell their products in this marketplace. I can't think of a single company that even comes close to the online professionalism and service levels a company like Whole Latte Love or Aabree Coffee has established in the US.
And here's the ironic thing. Both of these US based companies were basically run out of garages five years ago. Today, they are multi-million dollar companies with warehouses, office space and staffing in the double digits. They gained this success partially because of the larger US marketplace, but they also gained it through effective marketing, professional service and website functionality and design, and the two most important things - a wide range of product offerings (all superbly photographed and described) and superior customer service.
All of these things cost money, and as the old axiom goes, you gotta spend money to make money. Having well trained staff to handle sales is one aspect. Having a good range or products is another. Marketing yourself effectively is the most important. These businesses realised that the best marketing is word of mouth, but they also realised that word of mouth doesn't happen if no one knows about your business. And word of mouth isn't a given... people aren't just going to walk in your door the day you hang a shingle up, either with a storefront or an Internet commerce site. You have to slowly establish your clientele through superior service, turn your customers into "fanatical fans"; then you can watch it steamroll as long as you don't rest on your laurels.
The stereotypical problem with Canadian businesses is that they think by placing a yellow pages ad and hanging their shingle up on a crappy website, or on a storefront in some business park out in the boonies, people will just "find" them. And instead of growing exponentially as the years go on, they "just get by" with the same staff, the same small product line, and the same small business mentality. I know at least a dozen businesses in the specialty coffee and espresso arena in Canada that fit this mold to a "T". They are the same size, same staff, same income (or less!) than they were five years ago.
I will say this. Thinking bigger and spending more money on marketing is amuch more risky venture. But there are no spoils without the risk.
Enter the trade show
And we come back to the Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo. How does it all fit in to what I've covered in this column? A lot, actually.
- If you're a retailer, etailer, (or both) of consumer coffee and espresso equipment, you should have a booth at this trade show. With the increased participation level by consumers, you will start the seeds of establishing fanatical fans who will be your marketers. You will become a "known" vendor with these influencer consumers - think about it - a consumer who attends this show is most likely a coffee fanatic, and all of his or her friends know this. They will go to this person and ask them - where can I buy a good espresso machine? What's the best coffee? Etc. Serve this influencer, and you're on the road to good word of mouth advertising.
- If you're a retailer, etailer (or both) of consumer coffee and espresso equipment, you should be walking the floor at this year's show. Why? Because you're looking for new products to add to your offerings and inventory! Sheesh! Canadian consumers have been looking at (and lusting) the wide range of choice that American etailers have been offering for some time now. They do not get the same range of choice in Canada. Work on being one of the first to offer it! If they know about you, and you have a good range of products, you have an already-established marketplace that is currently shopping south of the border and paying exorbitant duties and shipping rates to get the specialty products they desire.
- If you're an importer or manufacturer of coffee or espresso equipment, you should have a booth at this trade show. You should because you'll be visited by the people listed in the previous bullet point!
- If you're a cafe owner with one or more locations, you should have a booth at this trade show. Why? Believe it or not, its one of the best marketing dollar punches you can spend. You don't even have to sell anything direct at the show. You're establishing yourself as a cafe that plans to be around for a while, and one that wants to be known. Bring in a machine, set up the booth like a little cafe, bring in your best Baristi, and serve free drinks all weekend long. With the increased traffic in consumers at the show, you can start a buzz... if you're good enough. Start thinking about indirect marketing as well as direct marketing.
- If you're a cafe owner, you should walk the trade show floor. Here's just one example of why: It doesn't cost much to stock a pallet of six quality espresso machines and grinders - you can find an importer of a good home espresso machine setup at this trade show. You'd purchase the machines at wholesale, and open up a new avenue of profits, both direct (sale of machines) and indirect (sale of more whole bean coffee) for your customers. In the States, lots of independent cafes stock one or two quality espresso machines and grinders for sale; in Canada, I have yet to see this. I'm not talking about Walmart Specials here either - I'm talking about mid-range and high end espresso machines.
- If you're considering getting into the coffee business, you must attend this show. The educational seminars and labs are almost all included in the admission price, and you'll get some solid advice, good networking opportunities, and you can even line up supplier deals for new equipment. At the very least you should leave the show with a better understanding of how tiny little changes in your prep can make major changes in the quality of the product you serve.
And last, but not least... if you're a consumer:
Consumers at the Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of the SCAA, and also thanks to Vida Radovanovic's (the show organizer)'s "faith" in my enthusiasm about Canadian coffee consumers (so don't let me down, folks!), non-business coffee lovers are a focus for the first time ever at this long running trade show. Three specific consumer events are planned, and consumers will be welcomed and catered to on the trade show floor, and in special events.
Krups is playing a huge role this year in promoting consumer involvement at the Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo - I've become a fan of Krups for this very reason. For example, Krups is co-sponsoring my seminar (along with Rancilio and Canterbury Coffee), and is offering up an amazing door prize (Rancilio is also offering a Silvia and Rocky combo for me to give away as a door prize!). As another example, Krups is doing something they also did at the SCAA Trade Show - ever hour the trade show floor is open, they are giving away a great coffee maker (I think it's the Krups Mocha Brew, but I have not confirmed this at this writing).
The tea lab, my espresso lab, and the coffee around the world lab should be all beneficial to any consumer who wants to know more about quality coffee, espresso, and even tea. The cost is minimal - for $35, you get access to your choice of seminar, and you get full access to the trade show itself for two days.
There will also be a show floor "store" (one of the booths on the floor) where you, as a consumer, can buy some of the coolest and hardest to get coffee and espresso stuff. I'm talking premium tampers, super-cool looking espresso and cappuccino cups, and much more. There's even stuff for sale where the proceeds will go to CoffeeKids.
And as a consumer, you should have the opportunity to talk with a lot of folks in the professional coffee business. I'll be blunt here - because of the marketing mentality of some of the booth operators at this show, you may be at best politely brushed off, at worst, ignored, once you identify yourself as a consumer. Don't let this bother you! Instead, just let your enthusiasm and interest in coffee and espresso quality come through in a non-threatening (and non time consuming) way, and you (yes you!!!) may create a convert. You may very well create a monster - a good one at that: someone who may develop a whole new appreciation for the savvy espresso or coffee enthusiast, and someone who may want to cater and market to that type of person.
Just keep a positive spin on things, and understand these businesses are at the show to make money, establish deals, and create larger networks of companies to mutually benefit from each other. You are part of that equation indirectly. It's up to you to make these businesses realise this, in a positive, beneficial way.
And of course I can confidently guarantee that you will visit some booths where the business owners and staff would be happy to talk to an enthused consumer. Relish those moments because after all, you're a CoffeeGeek, and you just got a chance to converse with another coffee geek - whether they know it or not.
The Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo
This trade show takes place in Vancouver on June 11 and 12, 2004, at the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, 999 Canada Place, Downtown Vancouver, BC
Trade Show hours are:
Friday June 11, 12:30pm to 5:30pm
Saturday June 12, 10:00am to 5:00pm
The World of Coffee, Bill Hearne and Sherri Johns
Includes learning seminar on quality coffee, an informal tasting, and discussion about what steps are needed to brew the perfect cup. Ends with a fun-filled pairing of coffee and chocolates.
Saturday, June 12, 8:30am to 10:00am
Tea 101, with Louise Roberge
Covers the basics of tea and provides a question and answer period. A tea tasting with an industry expert is included.
Saturday, June 12, 10:00am to 11:30am
Consumer Espresso Lab with Mark Prince
A brief discussion on espresso history and theory, followed by a demonstration of the types of home espresso machines and grinders. The second half will feature hands on training and discussion around a three groups of Rancilio Silvia and Rancilio Rocky espresso machines. Door prizes announced at the end.
Saturday, June 12, 10:00am to 11:30am
The labs cost $35, and include full admission to the trade show and the Canadian Barista Championship. Price discounts may apply if you want to attend two labs.
Further information can be found at the show's website: www.coffee-expo.com.