Each month we pick a fine coffee from an independent UK roaster, to kickstart your day, and support fellow small businesses.
We spoke to Todd Whiteford, co-founder of The Good Coffee Cartel on why coffee is synonomous with innovation, how the cartel builds on the back of previous endevours, and how they're taking the time to look after the mental health of their staff.
Leapers: Todd - thanks for speaking with us, tell me - what inspired you to start The Good Coffee Cartel, and how are things going right now?
Todd: Courtney and I founded The Good Coffee Cartel in 2017 having worked together previously for another coffee roaster. We found that the working for somebody else restricted our ability to be creative and really push our ideas forward, so in order to build the coffee business that we thought could actually add something new to the industry we had to take the leap and go out on our own.
We’re now coming into our fifth year and things are going really well. We’ve already seen the impact our approach has had on the habits of other coffee roasters in Scotland - with regards to reusable packaging, our refill system, and reusable cup exchange, and we have a very nice squad of wholesale customers around the country enjoying our product.
Is TGCC your first business, and what's been the most surprising aspect of starting a business?
I would put it like this: it’s our first proper business. In previous lives I dabbled in a short-lived ‘outdoor inspired clothing company’, and Courtney invented a ridiculously expensive coffee brewer called Balance. These were, I suppose, a bit of a trial run for The Good Coffee Cartel. Learning lessons from these experiences probably gave us what we need to make this business ’stick’. The most surprising aspect about starting a business has probably been how quickly you can put ideas into action. We were so used to having to run ideas up and down the chain of command, that it was a pleasant surprise to us that we could think of an idea on a Monday, put everything in place on a Tuesday and launch it on a Wednesday. It really inspired us to keep being creative, because even if one idea failed, it failed quickly and we could work out why and move onto the next one.
How about COVID19? Did that affect things signficantly, where did you have to pivot or change your mindset about things to survive?
We didn’t really have to change our mindset at all - our goal has always been to keep the business sustainable. The biggest affect that COVID19 had on our business was that our own coffee shop, and the vast majority of our wholesale customers had to close. However, because everyone was working from home our website became ten times busier than it had been before. So we had to lean into that and try to work out how we could offer as many things as possible online, just to keep going - we wanted to make sure that the team were all fully paid (topped up to 100%) throughout the lockdowns.
When we were finally allowed to reopen, Courtney and I took the responsibility to work out how our new systems would work before bringing the team back from furlough. We had to alter the shop for social distance, find a way to refill tins without touching them, and condense everything into two or three days to still give us time to roast, ship orders and have a break ourselves each week.
Hopefully that’s us now through the worst of it, and we’re able to welcome people back to enjoy the shop and it’s great to see our wholesale customers back up to full speed as well.
I love your mission to do "good", and on your site, you talk about how coffee is often the starting point for doing good things or meeting over to figure things out - why do you think coffee shops have such an important history and played such an essential part of collaboration and creativity over the centuries?
I suppose if you look at what coffee - or caffeine - is, it’s more-or-less an accelerant for the brain. So when it comes to generating, exchanging, discussing and moving ideas forward it can be really useful. Coffee shops are neutral territory as well, so maybe people can be a bit more free with their thinking out with an office or stuffy meeting room.
Your sustainable non-single use packaging is not only beautiful, but more importantly, reduces waste. Why is this important to you?
It should be important to everyone really. There’s a quote about “we don’t need a few people doing zero-waste perfectly - we need millions of people doing zero-waste imperfectly” which I think really sums up our approach to it. We’re trying ideas, taking risks and tweaking things as we go - all in an effort to slowly change our customer’s habits. Even if that’s just in a small way then we’re happy with that. If everyone made even just 10% more effort to consider their own footprint on the planet then we’d be on the right track. I suppose we see ourselves as part of what could be, should be the bigger effort.
Leapers' mission is to support the mental health of the self-employed and small businesses - what impact, positive or negative, do you say running your own business has upon your emotional wellbeing?
I think as long as you can set boundaries with regard to being in ‘work mode’ and ’not-work mode’ then working for yourself shouldn’t be any more stressful than working for someone else. Of course it’s not always easy, and as the owner when the shit hits the fan it really comes down to you to solve the problem. This can be stressful but also the freedom of decision-making around how and where you spend your time working means that you can really customise your work-life balance to suit yourself.
We’re aware that in this industry we should also make sure we’re taking care of our team’s mental health. We’re lucky in that most of our regular customers are nice people, but the mental toll of dealing with the public day after day, week after week can have a negative impact on service staff. That’s why have professional talking therapy sessions available to the staff each month: just as a way for them to check in and keep an eye on their own mental health.
That's great to hear you're taking amazing care of your employees - what does your own support network look like? Who do you turn to when things are hard, or celebrate with when things are going well?
My wife Sian first and foremost, friends, family and my two dogs. I’m very lucky.
You're clearly passionate about your business - what advice would you give to someone who was considering starting their own small business?
If you really believe in your idea, then stick with it. Relentlessness is key. Even a tiny amount of progress is still progress, so it’s important to keep going for it every day. When it comes to the idea you should make sure you’re actually adding something to the picture, and trying to do something unique.
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Wild blueberry, lemon and black tea.
Origin: Nicaragua & Guatemala
Variety: Red Catuai, Caturra and Bourbon
Process: Washed & Natural
You can own you very own Leapers mug to drink your The Good Coffee Cartel coffee from too. All proceeds go to support our project.
Browse the archives of coffees and roasters we've previously featured