The Business Case for Being Nice

Simple Roast: A coffee success story.

In 2013, Matt Peirson was gifted with a very small home coffee roaster by his parents and started roasting coffee as a hobby at home. Eventually, he decided to sell it by the bag at a local farmers market and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, he is the owner, roaster, barista and web designer at his small business, Simple Roast, in Auburn, New York, near Syracuse, which includes a drive-thru cafe.

Matt’s first customer was his former roommate, Tom. After that, Matt stood at his table at the farmers market and hoped to sell around 10 bags of coffee per weekend.

He got new leads and customers by networking, which has been the primary way he attracts wholesale customers.

“Being pleasant to any and all customers at our cafe has also been a huge help,” Matt says, “because it seems like someone always knows someone who is starting a cafe or looking to switch to new coffee.”

Rule No. 1

Matt and his team do all of their customer management and invoicing through apps synced to Square accounting software.

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Rule No. 1 in our cafe is taking the time to be friendly and genuine with our customers.

As he says, “It is wonderful for the register in our cafe, managing staff, handling payroll and doing mobile sales, as well as invoicing. I can control and monitor all of my staff and sales right from a smartphone, as well as getting all of the analytics I could ever need.”

After five years in business, Matt has learned how to keep customers happy and coming back: “Rule No. 1 in our cafe is taking the time to be friendly and genuine with our customers,” he says. “We are never in too much of a hurry to greet a customer, ask how their day is going and wish them well when the transaction is over. We have found that many of our customers have become friends and come back every day, if only for a friendly face.”

The best tool for selling

The most important way Matt attracts new customers is through good customer service. He says that this is their best tool for selling.

“Customers come and have a great experience with a quality product and friendly baristas,” Matt says. “After that, they’re happy to tell their friends about the great new place they found where the staff doesn’t just throw their change back to them, and the coffee is better than anything else they have ever had.”

Simple Roast always asks people to review them on Yelp, Google and Facebook.

“We built our business on word of mouth and social media and believe strongly in the influence of online reviews,” says Matt.

He says his biggest customer success story was getting his first and second wholesale accounts for the roasting side of the business. The first was a small bakery that was opening up around the same time he was starting to dabble in wholesaling coffee.

Since then, both companies have grown, and they continue to work together. The second wholesale account was a local grocery store that gave Matt a shot and has continued to carry his beans ever since.

“Both of these accounts valued what I had and valued that I was a local business along with them,” Matt remembers. “It felt very validating to have someone say ‘yeah, we want what you have – it’s good stuff.'”

Chasing perfection

Word of mouth continues to be critical to the growth of the business. In his view, “It only takes one bad interaction to change someone’s mind about a business. We always do our very best to make every transaction perfect, or fix it, if it was anything less.”

Simple Roast differentiates its products by focusing on fair trade and organic coffees, and Matt also designed the business to be unlike anything else in the area it serves. Its cafe is a double drive-thru coffee hut that has no sit-down space and is very small.

“We had to train people on how it worked,” says Matt, “but once they understood, they appreciated the convenience of not having to get out of their car, [having] two lines to pick from and not freezing in the harsh winters up here when they wanted a quick cup of coffee to go.”

Figuring it out

Matt says it’s still surreal that he runs a successful business of his own.

But every day he goes to work … and customers still show up – and do so happily.

“I didn’t have any formal training on how to run a cafe or even a restaurant management class,” Matt admits. “But somehow I figured it out as I went along, and we have a thriving and growing business.”

This article was developed in partnership with The Hartford. Check out their blog, Small Biz Ahead, a destination where you can discover insights and advice to help you manage and grow your small business.

All Photos: Simple Roast Coffee

Gene Marks is a columnist, author and small business owner. As a small business expert, Gene writes daily for The Washington Post, focusing on issues affecting the business community. He also writes weekly columns for Forbes Magazine, Fox Business, The Huffington Post and Entrepreneur.com.

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