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Coffee and a chat – Microsoft

Microsoft 365 has enabled Clifton Coffee Roasters to improve both collaboration with colleagues and communication with customers and suppliers

Maintaining effective communications and a strong corporate culture during periods of rapid expansion can be challenging, as many growing businesses know only too well. In its new report, Driving Growth in Small Businesses – How UK SMBs can transform communications & culture through technology to maximise their competitive advantage , Microsoft highlights how modern communication and collaboration tools like Microsoft 365 and Teams can help organisations overcome some of the shortcomings identified in a recent YouGov survey of more than 1,000 SMB leaders and staff. These include poor communication and lack of enterprisewide communications (cited as a cause of stress by 34% and 29% respectively); poor access to information (45% of employees complained that they have to make decisions without the information they need); and low takeup of internal collaboration tools (just 19% of respondents use such tools on a daily basis, compared to 74% who communicate face-to-face, 69% who rely on email and 55% who pick up
the phone). Clifton Coffee Roasters, a Bristol based coffee wholesaler and service organisation, is featured in the report as an example of how such problems can be overcome. James Goulding spoke to its Director of Coffee, Josh Clarke, to find out more about the challenges it faced as a growing business and the benefits of implementing Microsoft 365.

In 2018, Clifton Coffee Roasters…

*supplied and supported more than 850 sites across the UK
*roasted and sold 109,210,640 coffee beans, enough to make more than 7 million cups of coffee
*bought coffee from 16 countries (El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Panama, China, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, Kenya, Costa Rica, Myanmar, Honduras and Tanzania)
*paid on average 156% above the Fair Trade Price for its coffee
*trained more than 1,000 baristas from around the world

Clifton Coffee Roasters was established in 2001 when its founding director James Fisher spotted a gap in the market to provide coffee shops, restaurants, hotels and other outlets in Bristol and the south-west with equipment servicing/support and barista training.

“We were at the start of the third wave of coffee, a new wave of specialist coffee coming into the UK, and there were a lot of machines and people doing an OK job with coffee. James saw a big gap in being able to support customers with equipment and training, particularly coffee training,” explained Clarke.

A second director Edward Buston joined the company a couple of years later to strengthen the training side of the business. Then, in response to customer demand, the company started to stock product too – coffee machines and drinks.

“We became a one-stop-shop. If you needed product, if you needed training, if you needed technical support, you could come to us and we could facilitate that for you,” explained Clarke.

This broader offering helped Clifton Coffee Roasters secure contracts with two small businesses that have since grown into national chains: Loungers Group, operator of Lounge and Cosy Club cafes/bars/restaurants, which now has 162 sites nationwide; and Coffee#1 (acquired by Caffe Nero Group this time last year), which has more than 100 sites across England and Wales.

“When we started supplying them, Coffee#1 had five sites and Lounge had one. As they opened more shops, we said we would like to offer you the same level of service, the same level of support, the same friendly face for deliveries and machine maintenance, to the point where we had a portfolio of a couple of hundred customers and 12 employees,” said Clarke.

Coffee roastery
In 2013, Clifton Coffee Roasters took another great leap forward with the establishment of its own roastery and associated wholesale business (more recently it has also opened an online store selling coffee, machines and accessories).

“Before that, we had coffee contract roasted for us. We didn’t have the ability or the means to roast or source coffee ourselves, so we relied on other experts in the industry. But when we saw the rate at which the coffee industry was growing, particularly the specialty market, we decided to take control of our whole supply chain, including our brands, purchasing and sales.”

Since the roastery was set up, it has grown by at least 25-30% each year and now roasts 250 metric tonnes of coffee per annum, generating around 50% of the company’s total turnover.

Over the same period, the company’s headcount has grown from 12 people to more than 30, split across the wholesale department, the training department, the engineering department, office administration and a workshop.

In total, Clifton Coffee Roasters now supports 850 customer sites nationwide with training, technical support and/ or wholesale supplies. To ensure all clients receive the same high level of service, the company has supplemented its Bristol-based operations with field operatives in the Manchester/ Liverpool area, the south coast and west Wales, plus storage facilities and delivery drivers in Cambridgeshire and Birmingham.

Familiar challenges
The company’s growth and geographic expansion have created challenges that will be familiar to many growing businesses, from maintaining good internal communications to managing increased levels of administration and paperwork.

“We found that we had gone from a position of meeting every morning at our central HQ, having a coffee together and coming up with a plan for the day to being split across multiple sites all over the UK with no possibility of catching up in person. Our internal communications had become fragmented between 6 or 7 different platforms (WhatsApp, Dropbox, Facetime, Google Hangouts, iCloud, 365), conversations were getting lost and it was becoming difficult to continue to offer the high levels of service that were at the root of our success,” explained Clarke.

“As well as finding it increasingly difficult to communicate, we were starting to feel the crunch organisationally. We process 200 to 300 customer invoices a day and also log engineering notes, all of which we were putting through our computer system, generating paperwork. We had pigeon holes for each of our 27 delivery runs around the UK, from which drivers would collect paper before doing their run. In our roastery, we were constantly printing forms, filling them in, then twice a day scanning them back into our database to ensure compliance with our SALSA food safety accreditation.”

Microsoft 365 to the rescue
To help bring these aged, labour intensive processes into the twenty-first century, Microsoft partner Changing Social introduced Clifton Coffee Roasters to a number of products within Microsoft 365 that it now uses throughout the business. These include Forms to automate and digitise paper processes; Sharepoint Online and OneDrive to improve access to information; and Microsoft Teams to standardise internal communications.

Microsoft 365 is one of the three platforms the company uses to run its business, along with Sage Accounts 50 and Cool Logic, a bespoke design ops software package. All employees have 365 on their laptops and phones and use Teams as their communications hub.

“We used to have 10 different group conversations on WhatsApp, for the roasting production team, office orders, engineering trouble-shooting and so on. Teams allows us to consolidate all that and enables us to collaborate on calls. Just this morning I had a call with one of our staff members who is currently in Colombia to buy some coffee. I had my head roaster next to me and together we were able to hold a video call with him to exchange information and get live feedback,” explained Clarke.

“Teams is also about empowering our staff with easy access to information: ‘You want something? Here it is on my drive; this is where it’s saved; this is how you can access it’. It removes a lot of white noise just from being able to communicate and collaborate effectively.”

Measurable benefits
Clifton Coffee Roasters made the transition to Microsoft 365 from an on-prem, hard wired Exchange server in 12 weeks from October 2018 to January 2019. In the 12 months since, it has achieved some significant benefits.

“One simple example is that by consolidating data storage and giving everyone access to Files we have been able to save £2,500 a year solely on Dropbox licences, before even considering the benefits of improved access to important data,” said Clarke.

Harder to quantify, but arguably even more valuable, is Microsoft 365’s impact on communication with suppliers, customers and prospects.

“We have a field team of 16 people now who are out and about with our customers every single day,” said Clarke. “It was getting to the point where we were struggling to find time to communicate with them because we just weren’t operating effectively. For us to be able to migrate everything to one place in Microsoft 365 has enabled us to optimise our time and give that back to our customers. Our office is the local coffee shop where we deliver to and that is where our focus needs to be.”

One of Clarke’s main ambitions for 2020 is to build on the operational efficiencies Clifton Coffee Roasters has achieved through digitisation and spend more time with customers.

“After five years of rapid growth, our key focus in 2019 was to move forward with digitisation to make sure we were once more communicating and operating efficiently. Microsoft has freed up time spent on mundane processes and allowed us to get back out in the field where we love to engage with our customers. Our focus this year is to cement that – to spend the time we’ve got back with our customers,” he said.