Coffee that hits you for six by Sarah Ramsay

Recently, Coffee Hit was featured in the fourth edition of Queensland's Club Insight flipbook. Here's what Sarah Ramsay has to say about Coffee Hit:

Many of you would know John Dickson (or Dicko as he is commonly referred to) as the quirky and knowledgeable bow tie wearing founder and managing director of DWS Hospitality Specialists and Club Training Australia. What many of you would not realise is his love of coffee, passion for all things hospitality and personal drive at the young age of 72 given his recent conquest to open a successful cafe at Westfield Indooroopilly.

John has immersed himself in various large scale business ventures before, but he admits it has been a long time since he has been at the coal face, taking personal diversification to a new level with the development of a Coffee Hit cafe. Asked why his foray into coffee, John explains that his son Craig is the managing director of Veneziano coffee in Melbourne and is Australia’s highest weighted international coffee judge, having recently returned from judging the world coffee championships in Italy. Craig’s pedigree and nous for coffee, combined with John’s knowledge of business and hospitality certainly made a powerful and dynamic partnership when deciding to invest in Coffee Hit.

A year in, Coffee Hit is a thriving business, turning over 140 kilograms of coffee a week, selling five blends plus a caffeine free range both on their menu and in pre-packaged 500 gram bags.

Along with coffee machines, a new pod range and various equipment, Coffee Hit has it all as they roast all their coffee in store with their popular, silky smooth, medium bodied cafe exotica blend having that winning combination of chocolate, caramel and hazelnut undertones.

Having a roaster in store is Coffee Hit’s point of difference as two years were spent working on their occupational health and safety compliance measures which is yielding dividends as they continue to have the monopoly for on site coffee roasters in Westfield shopping centres. Having a roaster in store helps differentiate the shop from all their competitors, and that delicious fresh coffee aroma wafts through the bottom level of the shopping centre almost all day long, tantalising tastebuds with a rich chocolate and fruity bouquet.

Street appeal is at the top of John’s list in terms of boxes to tick when opening a new venue. He cites a few of his competitors in the shopping centre as having a cold, uninviting entrance which he attributes as the reason for limited patronage.

In stark contrast is the entrance of Coffee Hit, which has the coffee machines at the shop front, creating an inviting destination and a buzzing atmosphere. The added benefit of their layout is that people then queue outside his premises and into the shopping centre walkway, giving his venue that popular, must visit vibe to passers by.

Along with a rustic design and fit out which nails the brief for what’s trending and engaging younger clientele, the back wall has a broad canvas of a Melbourne lane way, brightening the space and adding some depth and warmth to the shop.

Acknowledging that the target market for cafes is women, John even feels that the fit out is perhaps a bit too masculine and is seeking to add some 1930s David Jones magazine covers of elegant female fashion to further engage and attract female clientele.

John’s people skills clearly shine through, as he loves nothing more than coming into his Coffee Hit store on a Saturday morning and talking with clientele.

“By meeting and talking with people at a grassroots level, you can get a sense for what people actually want and it makes you realise why you entered the hospitality industry in the first place,” John says.

Asked whether clubs could potentially implement something like Coffee Hit in their venue, he says with a smile, ‘they ought to’ and cites Easts Leagues Club, Mount Isa Buffalo Club, Kedron-Wavell Services Club, Nambour RSL and the City Golf Club as top of mind venues that have successfully entered the cafe market.

“A trendy club cafe can be done and has been done, but clubs tend to lock themselves into thecommon denominator and do what they have always done, which just doesn’t make them competitive in todays market,” John says.

“Clubs tend to subscribe to the bistro market which is a low expectation market. There is a shift towards casual dining where the margins are a lot bigger but you have to build a decent cafe and community clubs seem to be the last group to get on board with this trend.”

John believes that Coffee Hit is so appealing because it is where the trends are at, and an example of this is that all staff receive one week barista training in Melbourne before commencing employment so they understand the importance of the bean.

“You can’t just plonk an espresso machine at the end of the bar and expect the people that pour the beer can make the coffee.”

Using an alcohol analogy, he argues that if the gas isn’t right, the cold room not working or the beer lines dirty, clubs fix it straight away. But with coffee, most people don’t even know whether the grinder is right, the beans are old or the equipment is clean. It’s all about the quality of the beans used, how they are extracted and how the milk is treated at Coffee Hit.

“We all know you can’t make a good wine from bad grapes,” John laughs.

John treats every element of the coffee process with respect and doesn’t re-heat the milk, having a unique jug cleaner to rinse the jugs after each use to ensure milk residue doesn’t affect the coffee taste – another point of difference at his venue.

“Often the problem with clubs is that they brand themselves with what yesterdays members want and forget there is a whole new bunch of members coming through in that late thirties, early forties market,” he says.

With so many clubs losing money on their food offer, John identifies that bistros are a price market and no matter what you do, you’ll never make a lot of money out of it. Bistros demand a lot of capital to create a lot of space for a lot of people, so you need to sell a lot of it to just break even.

“Often clubs find it hard to distance themselves from that bar mentality and engage in price wars which just cheapens their brand. It’s about redefining what a club is and asking the tough questions. Do you want to be a community soup kitchen, or do you want to be a viable club that can make profits across the board so you can do things in and for the community, instead of just propping up other non-profit centres of the business?”

Clubs must get on board with the trends of cafe style dining as consumers move to an all day grazing market where the traditional 7.30am breakfast, 12.30pm lunch and 6.30pm dinner is diminishing and clubs need to be a bit bolder in their food offers. Coffee Hit offers the same menu all day, every day to cater for that growing all day dining experience. The largest shopping centre development of its kind, this $500 million renovation over three years has Westfield Indooroopilly well placed as an ideal location to start a business. With over 60 shops still to open and car parking still under construction, the complex is still in its infancy after the renovation, with the business forecast to grow, along with the clientele.

John says Coffee Hit’s success revolves around three important elements, ‘location, location, location’ and all clubs should look at building their cafe at the front door, and making it have a sense of arrival. At the end of the day, hospitality venues need to get everything right, from staff, atmosphere, décor, great food and the right price point. Clubs must begin cultivating their market and making the cafe a destination in its own right so that it is not just part of a venue, but more so a stand alone and stand out precinct that people want to go to.

Asked whether he has any regrets or concerns about embarking on this new and exciting challenge, he jokingly refers to the new business as something akin to the knife scene from Crocodile Dundee when he says, “I’ve been spruiking cafes for about the last ten years, so now I have the opportunity to show clubs and other clients what I mean when I say ‘now that’s a cafe’.”

All images sourced from: Flipsnack.

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