Well-Bean Coffee has a reputation for benevolence. The president and founder, Melissa Brown, was looking for a way to give back to a country she often visited and stumbled into the coffee business five years ago. In 2018, she added her 17th employee at her Wake Forest, NC headquarters to keep up with growth. Well-Bean Coffee roasts its own coffee beans and provides office coffee service (OCS) and micro markets to what Brown calls the “Triangle” which includes Raleigh and Durham, NC.
Well-Bean Coffee started in 2013, after Brown had made several trips to Nicaragua because of her parents’ non-profit and fell in love with the place and the people. She wanted to support them stateside, and decided on the coffee business after touring a Nicaragua coffee farm. “We came back with 50 bags of coffee and sold them to friends,” Brown said. That was the beginning.
Identical doesn’t mean the same.
After a few attempts at opening a retail shop, Brown found her call serving area businesses and educating them on how to get a good cup of coffee at a reasonable price.
“You can put our machine next to our competition and they look identical, but our coffee will be better,” Brown said. It’s because Brown roasts the coffee differently for each brewer. It’s one of the benefits of being the roaster. She will also adjust the grind size and water to coffee ratio to ensure the result is the perfect cup of coffee. More than 90 percent of her office coffee service business is bean to cup.
As a roaster, Well-Being gets better margins per pound. Prepackaged coffee and coffee from national brands has a higher price tag, forcing operators to look for profits in selling additional items. “There’s not much money there, so operators to need to sell a full line of break room products,” Brown explained. Purchasing green coffee and roasting it at her facility ensures Brown is in control of the costs. It allows her to offer a lower price of coffee per pound while protecting her profit margin. It also makes her a local business, which customers love.
Getting coffee to everyone
For smaller locations, Brown is working on a rental process. For coffee around $14 a pound and a rental free, that location can enjoy quality bean-to-cup coffee. She calculates cost over time and show a location what they can expect to pay over time. Next to her figures is a chart showing a “free” machine and coffee that is closer to $18 a pound, which is what some of her competitors charge for private label, with the cost being higher for national brands. She will also work with locations that are growing, crediting them the rental fee if they use enough coffee to cover it.
Brown has a passion for getting good coffee to people wherever she goes. She tells the story of visiting her local fitness facility that was offering a liquid coffee machine with low quality coffee and thinking it could be better.
“They thought it was cheap because it tasted bad,” Brown said. They let her put up a product counter to see just how much they were serving compared to what they were paying.
“They had been paying $2,500 a month -- 48 cents a cup,” Brown said. “With my machine, usage jumped, yet they were still paying 60 percent less, with a rental fee.” This is how Brown has earned her reputation. “I firmly believe you can have a good product at a good price.”
After placing a bean-to-cup brewer in the field, Well-Bean rarely has a service issue. Part of that is the extensive testing her team has done on the equipment. The other part is because Brown has a strict maintenance schedule. For larger locations with larger brewers, her staff details the equipment at each visit. It’s rinsed, water run through the lines, etc. As the machines and location sizes decrease, she does a bimonthly deep clean on all the inside and outside parts in addition to the weekly tab cleaning done by someone at the location. “We work pretty hard to train the location, do a demo, in order to set them up for success,” she said. The daily maintenance takes a minute to minute and a half. “I tell them you are going to love it, but you will have to clean it. We want you to be happy – make an informed decision.”
Adding micro markets
In 2018 Brown made added micro markets as a way to stay competitive. “At first, it was a way to get large accounts and retain them,” said Brown. “It’s shown me how profitable they can be.”
Brown keeps OCS separate in the warehouse from micro markets as it’s almost a completely different business, but she does overlap in software and the delivery vehicles. It’s a growing segment of her business, that goes well with adding good-sized OCS locations.
In the end it has been Brown’s commitment to helping people that has driven her success. From purchasing coffee in Nicaragua, and now many other parts of the world, to educating local businesses about how they can afford better coffee. It’s a calling she is happy to continue into the future.