Meet the merchant: Red Bank Coffee
Tom is the founder of Red Bank and an all-round lovely chap with an infectious passion for coffee of the highest quality and traceability.
We designed and built a new Shopify store a little while back and caught up to hear the story behind Red Bank and what's being going on since!
Let's start with who you are and what the story is behind Red Bank Coffee?
Hey, I'm Tom, founder of Red Bank. I used to work as a lawyer in London, and would stop at Starbucks every morning for an Americano on the way to work. One day a colleague took me to Monmouth in Covent Garden. The coffee I had was intensely fruity and incredibly sweet without the need for sugar or milk. It revolutionised my perception of coffee, and sparked an obsession that would eventually see me quit my career in law, and move to the Lake District to setup Red Bank.
Can you tell us what an average work day looks like for you?
In short, no! I don't really have a regular work day. These days my colleague Mike does all the roasting and order fulfilment, and I spend most my time do a variety of things - sourcing green coffee, working on innovations to improve the way we work, writing content for the website, visiting customers, travelling to origin, and all the other little things that are required to run a business.
What was your biggest 'lightbulb' moment as an ecommerce store owner?
It's become a bit of a cliché, but content is king! When we redeveloped the site with you guys I spent a lot of time writing content, and telling the stories of Red Bank and the farms from which we source our coffee. This has really helped people to understand what Red Bank is all about, and has driven a large proportion of our sales. So many of our customers buy our coffee because of our ethos, and the place where the majority of them learn about our ethos is the website.
What would you say is the most important thing an ecommerce brand should do to make a positive impact on people and the planet?
In terms of the coffee itself, we look to buy this from farms that respect the land on which the coffee is grown, and from importers that pay a fair price for the coffee. We also spend a lot of time trying to minimise waste, and researching the best available packaging solutions.
For example, we recently commissioned a sustainability consultant to audit our current solutions, and to advise us as to what really was the most sustainable product currently on the market for packing our coffee. When we last changed packaging we felt like we were going down the right path by using a compostable material, but the research showed that very few people actually dispose of the bags correctly, and instead a large proportion would end up in landfill, and release methane as they break down. Instead we are switching to a single material LDPE plastic derived predominantly from renewable sugar cane, with very clear recycling instructions on the packaging, with a view to switching to fully recycled plastic down the line (current safety legislation prohibits us from doing this right now).
If you could go back in time to the start of your journey and save yourself from making a specific mistake, what would you tell yourself?
I actually think we've been quite lucky not to have made any significant mistakes so far, but my main piece of advice if you want to stay motivated for the long term is to stay true to your values. There have been numerous occasions where I have been approached by potentially large volume customers, but I have said no because I could sense that they would not represent our coffee and our brand well. Although I sacrificed some short term revenue, I feel we have retained brand integrity, and I suspect that is one of the main reasons that we have the incredible customer base we have now.
Is there anything on the horizon for Red Bank that you're really excited about?
We have been buying coffee from an incredible farm in Brazil called Daterra for a few years now. Last year they contacted us to see if we wanted to run and experiment of our own devising on the farm, and the answer was of a resounding yes! We have been allocated a plot on the farm where a coffee variety called arara grows. The arara plants on this plot are suffering under attack from nematode worms in the soil. At the time I was reading a book called Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, which included a passage describing the propensity for certain fungi to predate on nematode worms - serendipitous some might say.
In short, we are inoculating the soil on this plot with different strains of mycelium and observing over the coming years the effects this may or may not have on the productivity and flavour of the arara, and the population of nematodes in the soil.
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