The smell of success: How Gavin Gam is taking Aroma Coffee to the masses

The smell of success: How Gavin Gam is taking Aroma Coffee to the masses

Gavin Gam believes all businesses have a responsibility to give back to the community. It’s a philosophy that is holding the 48-year-old Sydneysider in good stead as he ramps up the expansion of Aroma Coffee, a coffee roasting company that was founded in 1965 and which Gam has owned since 2001. The company employs 10 people and turns over approximately $3 million each year.

Aroma Coffee has been around since 1965. I got involved in 1998 at the partners end and, in 2001, I became managing director and the major shareholder.

I started my career working in fresh pasta shops and then I had a café in Rose Bay. When I set up my café, I was the only one around. Now there are six or seven in the area.

Running my own café has definitely helped me with Aroma Coffee. I went into wholesale myself because I wasn’t happy with my coffee suppliers. I have insights into how cafes work and what they need. If a coffee machine breaks down, I understand how quickly it needs to be fixed.

We’re predominantly a food service business so we sell whatever cafes need to run their food business. In addition to coffee we sell syrups, a smoothie range, hot chocolate and tea, anything that is associated with beverages, apart from soft drinks. We also sell t-shirts and aprons and lids for coffee cups.

We also offer barista training in the factory. Training for baristas has become paramount in the industry.

We were named Champion Australian Roaster at the International Coffee Awards in May. We’re now working on getting marketing collateral together so my reps can go out to suppliers. We recently took out print ads in Good Living magazine to thank our suppliers and customers for their support.

We’ve always known we had good coffee and now we are telling the world. We’re relaunching our website and we’re relaunching our Facebook page and getting our activity up.

We’ve employed much more professional people than ever before and I’m paying my staff the most I’ve ever paid. But that level of experience is paying off.

I’m a jack-of-all-trades in my business. There’s not one job I can’t do, but the best things is for me to delegate and run my business from the outside, knowing if my roaster is away, I can step in.

Three years ago we employed a business coach. We had monthly meetings and reviews and had a three-to-five year plan. Before then most of it would be in my head.

We had to go through structural changes and staff changes, and a business plan helped with that.

It’s more of a call to action than a business plan. It needs to evolve each day. The most important thing is to be flexible and not be thrown off if your plan doesn’t work. In a fast-moving market, you must be willing to adapt and look introspectively, or you’ll go nowhere. There’s no resting on your laurels.

As a person I try not to worry about things. There’s that serenity prayer—having the strength and wisdom to change the things I can and not worry about what I can’t—that’s how I run my life. If you stress, you’re going to have a shorter life.

Cash flow can be an issue. It is now, but it won’t be in six months. I’ve taken a long position on the coffee I bought.

Australia’s coffee drinkers are very fortunate, especially in Sydney. They are drinking the best coffee in the world. We have a mature coffee market. People are buying better quality and prepared to pay more.

We have one of the most advanced coffee economies in the world. It’s a fiercely competitive market with very savvy customers. If you are doing good coffee, you are doing a lot of it.

People are moving away from sugar and milk in their coffee. There are now more coffee companies and more coffee drunk, but if you talk to the sugar suppliers, we’re using the least amount of sugar in coffee. The coffee tastes so good, people don’t need the same kind of sweeteners.

There’s also a trend for healthier and different types of milk, like unhomogenised milk. The jury is out on the health benefits of soy milk, but nut milks are becoming more popular. In the US, supermarkets are stocking fresh almond milk but it will take a while before it catches on here.

Giving back to the community is so dear to my heart. I have been working in Ethiopia, consulting to improve production and quality in coffee roasting. Coffee is native to Ethiopia and it is so engrained in the community and culture.

Any business that is making money has a corporate social responsibility. There’s a major push happening from the big coffee corporates to have all coffee sustainable and certified by 2015.


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