Coffeesmith’s Challenges and Adaptations

Entrepreneurship promises bigger gain, but bigger risk also follows. Here’s how Coffeesmith overcomes their obstacles.

The first risk the owners of Coffeesmith faced, as faced by every new entrepreneur, is the instability of income. “We’re used to work as employee with fixed income, but now we have to get used to the fluctuation of income. Fortunately, we don’t need too many staffs because as the owners, we can cover everything, from design, becoming baristas, and doing the back office works,” said Cindy Herlin Marta, one of the owners of Coffeesmith.

In the beginning, Coffeesmith is strictly a coffee shop, they don’t offer main course menus. “We don’t expect that our customers want main course so badly. We love to eat out, but we never learn how to make main course menus formally. This is quite surprising for us, but we caught up by asking for help from friends and reading books. Our food concept is quite simple, casual, comfort food that can be paired with coffee such as sandwich, brunch menus, light bites. However, we know we’re not located in Kemang or Senopati, where you can have meal here and a cup of coffee anywhere else. We understand that it took customers bigger effort just to get here, that’s why we also have rice bowl menus now,” she explained.

Instead of just regular walk-in coffee shop, Coffeesmith also acts as roaster which supplies bean to other shops. “We used to think our roaster is more profitable, but nowadays, it’s our outlet. It’s funny, but these 2 businesses cover each other. The biggest challenge in the roastery, is that since we do micro lot, it’s a bit difficult to meet the demand of bigger coffee shops,” she said.

Cindy admitted that the biggest selling coffee menu in Coffeesmith is the filter coffee. Most customers who come here is the adventurous people who are mad about coffee and ready to explore the flavor possibility of the taste profiles. “Consistency is a big issue for our local farmers. You know, sometimes it’s a bit difficult to deal with the farmers, not all of them are open-minded, meanwhile, our customers regularly want different kind of bean with different processing. To solve this problem, we also have some imported bean. Not to say that we don’t love Indonesia, but we need consistent supplies. Let say the harvest from Bali is delayed for some reasons; we can cover it with imported bean. We also need imported bean as comparison so people know that our local bean is at the same quality level. But still, since most of our customers are regulars, they want new beans that are different from any other coffee shops.”

The three also realized that the business is highly fluctuative. “It’s interesting, you can have full house at the end of the year, and then after that, it’s very slow. We’re not the only one to experience that, because other coffee shop owners are going through the same thing. When we just started, the responds were very positive, probably because Aga just won a competition, we got the exposure. But, the end of 2016 is pretty bad. I don’t know, perhaps it’s the economy. But a friend said that his coffee shop didn’t even have a single guest in a day, as a result, some are closed down. It was pretty horrific,” she remembered. When the outlet slows down, Coffeesmith go out to do coffee catering and pop up store. They also cater weddings and meetings. It has become more common for people to enjoy (third wave coffee), some offices even have some professional, serious espresso machine.

Personally, the owners of Coffeesmith also act as consultants for their friends or customers. Based on her experience, Cindy mentioned one common mistake made by coffee shop owners. “They felt the coffee business is going up, so they open an outlet. They’re willing to hire good baristas, but some owners don’t want to bother to learn about the coffee itself, from how to brew, adjusting the grinder, the quality checking, and stuffs. Sometimes, they even don’t have any ideas of how a good cup of coffee should taste. People with deep pocket are willing to spend thousand dollars on branded equipments without knowing how to operate them. As a result it is common to see coffee shop with expensive coffee machines, but their coffee sucks.”

In other words, coffee shop owners can’t be half-hearted. “You’d better sell instant noodle, there’s no profit in this business if you intend to delegate someone else to run this business. Coffee shop is like having baby, you have to be involved. Now (after running for 2 years) I can leave Coffeesmith for, let say, 2-3 days, or a week maybe? Not any longer than that, because customers will start asking for your whereabouts. So, whenever someone comes to me to consult, I will show the harsh reality of the business, I’ll tell them the details, from the cost, the source, everything, transparently. However, the best thing about this business is we help each other. We even recommend other coffee shops to our customers, this attitude saves the industry,” explained Cindy.

In the near future Coffeesmith will be focusing on the upstream, to be exact, on the micro processing. Currently Coffeesmith is working together with the farmers in Arjuna, Malang to come up with their own brand Srikandi with honey processing, one of the three most common coffee processing along with natural and fully washed. In honey process, the skin and pulp are removed, leaving some of the so called mucilage, the sticky, gluey substance surrounding each of the two seeds. Since it is so sticky and sugary, people called it honey. The color used as the name refers to the amount of remaining the mucilage. The order from the most mucilage to the least is: black honey, red honey, yellow honey and white honey. “More mucilage means sweeter taste, but we have to control the processing to avoid unwanted flavor,” said Cindy.

Although it seems so much fun, running a coffee shop is not a walk in the park. We have seen too many coffee shops closed down because the owners only think as investors, they don’t really get involved in the business. However, the coffee community is one of the most friendly and helpful communities in F&B business. Finally, if you’re tired of being a king, perhaps becoming a family member in Coffeesmith would be more appealing to you.