Recently nominated for Best New Roastery in The Coffee Magazine Awards, we caught up with the couple behind Clay Pigeon Trading as they navigate these new waters.
Tell us about the changes for Clay Pigeon Trading during this period?
Like many of our fellow roasteries and restauranteers, we were forced to close our store during level 5 and 4 lockdown. This severely impacted our business, and as a consequence, resulted in the permanent closure of our brand new store. Naturally, this was devastating, as we had spent the better part of a decade working towards this life-long dream. That said, with every dark cloud there's a silver lining. The lockdown forced us to finally get our online store up and running. With no web or eCommerce experience, we had to up-skill - FAST. But this wasn't our greatest challenge. The most difficult part of migrating to a purely online/digital platform is bringing across the personal café experience that our fans have come to know and trust. How do you effectively instill the "feeling" of drinking coffee at your favourite coffee bar through a static digital lense? After some careful thinking, and a boost of creativity, we re-skinned our digital touchpoints, offering our fans a kind of "coffee escapism" through the use of engaging imagery that's atypical to the traditional coffee scene. Together with our live latte art throwdowns, YouTube series, and weekly podcasts, we've managed to find new and creative ways to engage with our local fans, and welcomed some new global fans to the Clay Pigeon Fam too. This experience has opened our eyes to a world of opportunity as we begin to extend our offering to a more global audience. What hasn't changed is our commitment to procuring only specialty q/grade transparent coffee from the African continent, helping African farmers profit first, and promoting ethical and sustainable supply chains. This is who we are, and it's what drives our passion, and keeps us motivated in even the most unforgiving circumstances.
How do you feel about how all that’s going on with COVID-19 and do you have any advice for other business owners out there
We came across a Quartz article that advocated that the advent of COVID-19 leveled out the playing field for small and large businesses alike. After all, we are all in the same boat. We tend to disagree. While this may be true for first world countries, living and operating a business in a third world country is a whole different ball game. When compared to global markets, eCommerce is still in its infancy in SA (albeit growing fast). Simply migrating to an online platform overnight is not going to cut it. Geographically, we are also at a disadvantage when it comes to logistics, particularly in the coffee industry. This is part of the reason why sourcing transparent coffee is not financially feasible for roasteries operating on scalable business models. Then there's also the challenge of competing in an already flooded digital marketplace. And don't get me started on the "pivot" fiends. Food and beverage retailers were also competing against companies that had no previous offering in the food and beverage sector, who quickly "pivoted" into food and beverage retail, which of course made it even more challenging. That said, operating as a micro business has its advantages too. We are agile, flexible, quick to change, and adapt. It's not easy. It's not comfortable. But if there is a will, there's a way. Our advice is to always trust your gut instinct, and don't let your ego determine your choices. We could have stood proud, and borrowed funds just to "save face" and keep our store open. Instead, we stood in the face of failure and accepted our circumstances. As the French put it, “Reculer pour mieux sauter.” – Sometimes we need to take a step back in order to take greater strides forward.
You’ve been on a journey with sourcing your coffee that is very close to your hearts, can you explain what transparency in coffee means and how you put it into practice in your business?
Transparency is at the core of our business. We are the first (and currently the only) transparent specialty coffee roastery in South Africa (and Africa) to sign the Transparency Pledge. To qualify, you must be able to disclose (to the cent) what farmers are paid in hand for the coffee they produce. It's the reason Clay Pigeon Trading exists. We are delighted to see that more and more coffee roasters are disclosing their FOB price. This is the Free On Board price. This is the price that the trader pays for the green processed coffee that is ready for export. But this is not to be confused with transparency. While disclosing the FOB price is a great start, it does not disclose what farmers receive in hand. This is important for both roasteries and consumers to understand. Becoming a transparent coffee roastery is not easy. There is a lot of red tape and misinformation. And for this reason, many roasters who want to follow this route are often paralyzed by the process. But as we've shown, it is achievable. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and more tears than we had anticipated. But it is doable. And if our small team of two can do this (without any investor or third-party financial backing by the way), there's no excuse for bigger roasteries who have the capital, human resources, and customer reach to follow suit. Our vision is that this becomes a common practice for all roasteries big and small.
How can people get their hands on your coffee?
You can purchase our Cape Classic Single Origin Rwanda on our online store, along with other coffee equipment and accessories.
What exciting things do you have lined up?
For the past year, we have been working very closely with various stakeholders and scientists to develop an incredible fully natural and FDA certified organic preservative, specifically designed to preserve cold brew and roasted coffee beans for up to 6 months. We are in the process of publishing white papers, and the product will soon be available for purchase. We will be launching this product at Host Milan 2021. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.