Craig Dickson describes walking into his Richmond cafe like “walking into Gotham City”.
Customers peer through a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking a full-scale coffee roasting and production facility filled with jet-black machinery. Further on, they stroll past another smaller ‘micro-roastery’ where workers roast speciality blends.
After that, they pass another room for quality control, with employees on display “slurping bowls of coffee crazily”. And once you get through all that (plus the state-of-the-art barista and employee training facility), you’ll finally get to the cafe itself.
This comprehensive and unique experience is part of Melbourne-based specialty coffee roaster Veneziano’s goal to cement itself as the “Apple of the coffee world”, providing customers with an Apple store-esque experience to treat coffee connoisseurs and everyday brunch fanatics alike.
“Veneziano has always had an open-door policy where we’ve taken customers through our roasting procedure, and when we started to scale up, we wanted to offer this on a larger scale,” Dickson, Veneziano’s co-founder and managing director, tells SmartCompany.
The coffee roaster started 17 years ago out of a tiny shed in Abbotsford, founded by “hospitality tragic” Rocky Veneziano, with Dickson coming on board a year later. At its inception, the business roasted about 300 kilograms of coffee a week.
Today, that number is closer to 50 tonnes, and while Dickson would love to say the business always had a goal of being a high-end specialty coffee roaster, he admits it “wasn’t quite that well planned”.
“It wasn’t even called specialty coffee in those days, but the market was dominated by a few big players and we saw the opportunity to do something premium,” he says.
“Then, about five years into running the business, specialty coffee just exploded. We had just won the national barista championship, so everyone knew about us and we were well-placed to grow.”
The brand swiftly expanded into Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide, where it makes about 50% of its income doing contract roasting for large clients, and the remaining 50% from selling to high-end cafes.
This financial year, Veneziano’s is forecasted to turn over $50 million, an impressive figure that Dickson laughs about.
“I remember when we did $1 million in annual turnover for the first time. Now our target is to do $1 million a week,” he laughs.
Destination retail key for coffee players
Veneziano’s Richmond cafe is built in an old Mitre 10 site, which the company chose to move into as a way to consolidate the numerous warehouses, offices, and roasting facilities it had dotted around Abbotsford.
“It was a real logistical nightmare,” Dickson says.
“When we moved into our new space four years ago we thought we’d never fill it all up. We’re already bursting at the seams, but that’s alright.”
The cafe experience was the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and opened its doors for the first time in August last year. Dickson says the idea was to give customers the “full coffee experience”, with the cafe even providing $15 specialty roast espresso for true coffee fanatics.
“It’s the whole experience. You can hear the forklifts beeping as they drive through the warehouse. We want to to be a holistic experience for the coffee geek, home user, or even a cafe owner,” he says.
So far the reception has been nothing but positive, with the store pulling in huge crowds of “destination customers” on the weekends. Dickson says with the coffee industry being as competitive as it is, offering a full-brand experience gives Veneziano’s an edge in the market.
“It even helps our sales guys because they can bring potential customers in and show them how serious we are,” he says.
“Even the smaller coffee roasters are putting up stronger retail experiences these days. It needs to be more than just having boxes and bags of coffee lying around.”
Veneziano has just made an investment in a New Zealand-based coffee roaster to expand its operations across the Tasman, and is also eyeing off Sydney, a market is only just beginning to venture into.
Echoing the thoughts of coffee drinkers everywhere, Dickson says Sydney hasn’t “quite caught on yet” when it comes to specialty coffee, and says the market will be a real focus for the company.
“There’s still a lot of older players holding on to that market, and for us, that says big opportunity,” he says.