A fresh brew: Abbotsford coffee operation gets a reset

With help from a free, online Business Victoria-supported course, Abbotsford’s Bureaux Coffee is getting through the pandemic by revamping its business plan.

Whether it’s a bracing espresso, a cocoa-dusted cappuccino or a creamy latte, many of us – particularly in Melbourne – love our daily caffeine fix.

And Tim Williams fully understands that culture.

After working with industry heavyweights Workshop Coffee and Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London and Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea in Los Angeles, in 2016 Tim decided to go it alone.

Tim working in his officeHe founded Bureaux Coffee in Abbotsford as a shared roastery to help cafes start roasting their own coffee “without having to go ‘all in’ by building their own roastery”.

Business was good.

Gradually, Bureaux Coffee began sourcing and roasting its own coffee (usually two espresso roasts and four filter roasts). They’re sold online direct to the public, and offered wholesale to cafes, offices and co-working spaces.

But like many businesses, Bureaux Coffee found itself at a crossroads during the pandemic.

Tim was looking for direction, wanting to connect further with his customers and figure out, “what’s next for me and the team?”.

So, he, along with about 30 others who run small businesses, began a free 12-week online Business Victoria-supported course. Run through La Trobe University, the COVID-19 program was designed to help small businesses regain ground to find more customers, better manage cash flow and prepare for new market conditions.

Tim won’t lie. It was hard work, he says, but worth it: “The course was the most intensive and valuable 12 weeks that I’ve spent over the last five years building this business.”

Putting the coursework to use, he gave his business a revamp, opening a new direct-to-consumer subscription service called The Drop that supplies coffee beans from places such as Guatemala, Ethiopia and Kenya straight to a customer’s front door each month.

Coffee roasting machineryHe also launched a website dedicated to the philanthropic side of Bureaux Coffee, which has become a ‘1% for the Planet’ business member, donating one per cent of gross sales to environmental causes.

“We've been heavily involved in grassroots philanthropy since 2015 through our charity, the Gitesi Project, and this latest commitment helps us formalise and expand on that giving, despite financial constraints,” Tim explains. “We’d rather have a smaller business we’re undeniably proud of, rather than a bigger one that left us feeling uneasy.”

What Tim really loved about the course was that it gave him a chance to stop, draw a breath and reflect.

“Like a lot of people starting businesses, we barrelled into the ‘doing’ of things enthusiastically but could’ve spent more time analysing, testing, validating and refining our ideas,” he says.

“Throwing in the towel when the pandemic came along was never seriously on our radar but it was certainly good to connect with a range of other businesses — some in better situations, others in worse — to maintain some perspective on the size and scope of the challenges we face.”

Tim warns that other small businesses considering similar training need to be aware of the commitment required. “Make no mistake, it’s not a little side project you can give an hour a week to: it’ll be a very big part of your life. But if you lean into it enthusiastically and embrace the opportunity, the benefits are staggering.”

Find out more about the free online courses, events and resources available to Victorian Businesses at upskill.business.vic.gov.au.

What I’m Sipping:

Tim Williams on his coffee range…

“Right now, I’m loving an Ethiopian coffee called Werka, and I’m looking forward to getting the new crop of coffee from Gitesi in Rwanda.

"I’ve been buying coffee from my friend Aime in Rwanda for many years and together we run a small charity that buys dairy cows for coffee farming households. His coffee’s incredible; I look forward to it every year.”