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13 December, 2022

Living Up To The Fair Trade Name With Cherry Bailey

Bailey Cherry wasn't a coffee drinker when she started working for Equator Coffee Roasters. But over the years, it won her over. Now, she's the Marketing & Events Coordinator with the company. Her years of experience in cafes have given her a unique insight into their customers, and on this week's podcast episode she shared her experiences with us.



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Equator Coffee & Bailey's Story

Tell us about Equator Coffee.

So we were founded in 1998, by Craig and Amber Hall. They're the owners and are still to this day, very much hands-on and involved and amazing people. They started off in Arnprior, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa, and they started roasting and selling their coffee out of a little house there and then moved to a warehouse.

And the rest is history. As they moved to Almonte and started their first cafe and roastery. So it's been a long process, but they've done an amazing job and their goal was really just to be able to facilitate an understanding and an appreciation for the farmers and for the people that are in the process along the way.

We have this saying “from crop to cup” and we really value that. We really value our farmers and what they do for us. And so if we can give back by buying their coffee and by being partners with them instead of just a consumer there's so much more value in that. And so that's kind of where we started and where the roots came from.

Craig has an international development degree and he has run with that and wanted to create a business like I was saying, that favored the farmers and put them first.


Why did they want to work closely with the farmers?

From my understanding, I believe that it was just what Craig had gathered in his knowledge from schooling and just the fair trade chain in general.

There aren't a lot of businesses that do it right. There are a lot of names of fair trade, but the actual living up to the standard of fair trade is a whole nother story. And so I think that there was just a lot of value found in giving the farmers not just what they're worth, but more than they're worth.

Because they give us so much and they give us what we sell. Right. They give us our product. And that's a big deal. So I, I think that Craig really came to the understanding and I can't a hundred percent speak for him, obviously, but he just had—he saw that value and he saw that it could be so much more when in the past coffee has been something that is very much a take. 

We take from the farmers, we take from their livelihoods and all these things, and we take from the environment, all this stuff. So he wanted to make it more sustainable for every party.


How did you get involved with the company? What was your background before joining Equator?

 It's a very weird story. I'm from Saskatchewan originally. And so I grew up there and I had zero coffee background.

I didn't even like coffee if I'm going to be honest. And when I graduated high school actually, I decided that I was going to try something different and move to a new city where I had some other family. The funny thing is that Amber Hall, one of the owners is from Saskatchewan as well.

She was born there and my mother and her were best friends in elementary school, believe it or not. So we made the connection just through coming to Ottawa and she now—she's lived here most of her life—but, coming to Ottawa and just wanting to see her cafe. And then when I moved here I got connected with them and applied for a job in the smaller shop in Westboro and just happened to get a job and started to love coffee and the rest is, history, I guess.


How did you go from not liking coffee to loving it? What was it that pushed you in that direction?

For me, it's always been about the people. I mean, it didn't start off that way, I'll be honest. It started off with me feeling like I should probably like coffee because I work in a coffee shop. But,  as time went on and I literally—it was right in front of me every day. So I started drinking it more.

I was able to learn through the business and through the people around me about why we do what we do. And as a barista you don't get as much of that, you get more of the people side of things as in the customers. So I started to love our customers and started to love the people that I was seeing every day.

And you have your regulars, you have the people that you know their drink before you know their name. 

I think I just started to grow an appreciation for the industry as a whole and how that side of the industry and how, when I would come to work every day, I got to see these people who appreciate what we're doing.

And lots of people don't see, like, there's lots of restaurant service industry people or cafe people who see it as a part-time kind of job. But in that case, when you get, start to see the effect it has on people around you could see it more as an everyday thing, which is very valuable.

You see the lives of people, you see how people act at seven in the morning and how people act at 3:00 PM So there was a lot of value on that for sure. 

As time went on and I became a manager, I got to appreciate my staff. So it moved kind of from the people we were serving to the people that I was serving and I was working with and was teaching and leading.

And just seeing how they viewed what they were doing and then stepping into this new role, I was able to see the.  beginning stages of the industry, um, the farmers and the value that we hold, uh, sorry, the appreciation that we have for them and where coffee comes from and the production lines and what they do.

Yeah. And the backend things a little bit deeper and a little bit more—and I actually was able just a couple weeks ago to go to Peru with the Equator and get to see the farmers. Meet people who literally give us our beans that I have seen roasted and drank. So that definitely you grow an appreciation like 10 times by seeing that.



Roasting & Coffee Shops Go Hand In Hand

What are the benefits of having both a roastery and coffee shop? What are the challenges?

Yeah, of course. Benefits. So as a wholesale business, you have to have wholesale customers. And when you own cafes, you have your own wholesale customers.

So for us, we are, our biggest wholesale customers are our cafes. We never are out of business because our—as long as our cafes are running, we are producing coffee and we have somewhere to give it to. Wholesale goes up and down with the times that Covid was not good, but we were able to make it through and end up on the other side of it and growing.

And I think that with our wholesale going to our cafes, that is a huge part of that because our cafes were able to—And kind of take on some of that burden in a way. Yeah. Other positives, I guess, are that we have an online store as well, so that works with our wholesale. And the online store really grew in COVID and that supplemented a lot of our wholesale loss as a company. 

So that I think is really helpful is having an online platform that people can buy from, not just locally but also Canada-wide or within the province whatever they want. So those are kind of, I think, the main positives that I see. But definitely, the fact that we are our own wholesale customer being separate businesses, but under the same larger name of Equator.


On the selling wholesale, so you're basically selling beans to the potential competition of the Equator, coffee shops, and cafes. How does that come into the equation on the cafe side? 

We have a lot of wholesale clients that are cafes and they're not us, and that's okay.

We are okay with that. Yes, you have other businesses making the money that you're not making. But yeah, if they're gonna be open, they might as well be using you. It's a way for us to still gain that wholesale income and it doesn't hurt us really in any way.

A lot of the wholesale clients that are using our coffee are a little bit smaller. And it actually points people toward us, which is a really good thing.


Where are most of your wholesale customers? Are they mostly based in Ottawa, in the same city, in the same province, or across Canada?

Mostly in Ottawa. We have a couple outside the outskirts of the city. We have as far as Iqaluit, which is way out there. So there, I think it's called Black Heart Café, in Iqaluit. They have our beans up there. There are a couple in the west as well, but not as many because out west there are a lot of competitors, so there's just a lot more coffee.

And so we are the local. We pride ourselves on being local and people tend—who are local as well—tend to grab onto that more than somebody out west who could get something local there.



Being Active In The Community

Equator is active in its local community in Ottawa, and also in the communities that you bring beans in from. Why is that concept of local so important to you?

I think its again, that whole chain of production. So you go from farmers to producers to importers to us as a roaster to the customer who is drinking it. And you have all that, those steps along the way. And our local community is one of those steps. Our local community is a thing that keeps us going. If we didn't have the local community, we wouldn't have cafes.

Because those are the people that are coming in and those are the people that are investing in us as a business. And so we too wanna invest in them and partner with people that we can. We can't do everything cuz we're not, we're not a huge corporation, but we wanna do what we can to support those around us.

Here in Almonte, we have an amazing community of different local businesses that support each other too, which is awesome. And so we have—I don't know if maybe the fabulous four we could call us, but there are multiple businesses. There are four of us that kind of stick together and do a lot of things together in the community.

And f we have an event, they come and we go to theirs and that kind of stuff. So that's local as in Ottawa. And then we have our farming local and our producers local and like Nicaragua, like you were saying. 

We work with a company, sorry, a nonprofit, called SchoolBox. And they work to bring education where it is lacking to children and school supplies and all of that kind of stuff to those kids. Used to be a Nicaragua, sadly, because of the political upheaval in Nicaragua, they did have to leave the country. And so now they are working inlike Northern Canada with indigenous communities.

And so they've kind of shifted their focus from globally to their own country which has been an amazing experience. And Amber Hall, the owner is also on the board of directors for that organization and just really believes in it and what they do. 

And so we've done trips with SchoolBox in the past to build schools and that kind of thing in Nicaragua, and now they're building libraries and we're helping with that, helping fund things like that.

And a portion of every sale—every bag sale, like bag of coffee goes to SchoolBox.


Tell me about the shift from the cafe side, as a barista and manager, to the marketing and events coordinator. What drove that change for you? Why did you want to try this side of it?

Personally, I didn't ever really see myself going into something like this. I didn't really know where I wanted to head, but I know that I love this company and so I wanted to kind of see maybe where I could expand my roots and, and grow those within before I did anything else or looked elsewhere.

And marketing is something... I'm creative at heart and I love art and visuals and making things look nice and I am definitely able to communicate with people and things like that. So I felt that this position would line up nicely. The technical position that I hold is cafe marketing and events coordinator, but I do dabble in wholesale as well because my manager is the wholesale manager for marketing.

So we, we kind of have a give and take where I help where needed in a lot of different areas. But I find that I love that. I love being hands-on in so many different areas. And I love the people part of my job. So I get to connect with the cafes, every week and go to different cafes every week.

I have an office, but I'm not in my office very much. . Which I love. And it's just being able to connect with the people for me. And give people experiences through marketing and through events that they will remember and that will draw them to us, but also draw them to the bigger picture and draw them to the things that matter within.

Because yes, we're a company, but we also have core values that we stand upon for a reason and I think that marketing is a huge way to bring those forward and a huge way to connect the consumer to the product in a way that is more like a storyboard rather than a product. 


What are the biggest differences that you see for marketing cafes to people that wanna come in order and get their coffee versus marketing on the wholesale and the retail side for people that, either order wholesale or come and grab a bag of coffee and ship to them? What are the biggest differences between those two sides of marketing for you?

I think that the cafe side of things is a lot more personal.

I find that you can...because you have a face-to-face interaction with somebody, you have a lot more wiggle room to make them love and believe in your product, and love and believe in the story. So I've had conversations with customers that have led to way more fruitful purchase face to face than I've ever had marketing something online.

And so with the wholesale side of things, as much as yes, you can put out the exact same information, it's often received differently because talking face to face is always going to be—you're gonna be able to see people's reactions, people's emotions.

And you just can't do that online to the same effect. Now we do have the ability at least to do like videos so that you can see people's engagement. But it definitely is different and I really appreciate the face-to-face, but I also believe that there is room for online ordering and the more business side of things, and there is potential to say the same information and get people engaged.

What kinds of events do you guys host?

There are a lot of different ones. Some of these are in cafes, some of which are outside of cafes, but it's more of a promotional thing. So we sometimes go like—outside of cafes, we sometimes go to like markets or like local events to show our face and to get involved in the community like we were talking about before.

And then in the cafe—Actually this weekend is a good example. So we just had an event on Saturday and it was a coffee release party. So pretty much we integrated into service, uh, a party for the general public to come. And we did a campaign with Post to Pay. I don't know if you've ever heard of it, but it's kind of new-ish.

Um, but pretty much you post a picture tag the company follow the company and then you get a free fill-in-the-blank. So for us, it was, you get a free bag of the new coffee. So that's awesome. It was really good. Really well received. And it was just a good time. People loved it.

There are free samples of the new coffee. We got to talk about it and explain it to people. Explain where it comes from. Why it's a benefit to them. What—why they might like it and they were able to physically see it instead of just hearing about it online, but it was really well received and it was a good time.

But that's an example of an event that we've done in cafes.

Coffee Subscriptions

Tell me about your coffee subscription program. How does it work?

Our coffee subscription program is something that kind of came about, I believe, at the beginning of covid but it pretty much is exactly what it sounds like. It's a subscription program where you can get the coffee that you want as frequently as you want and then you get 10% off every order by signing up for the subscription in a long term capacity.

So you can cancel it whenever you want. You can put it on hold whenever you want to. You don't have to, like if you're finding, oh, I have too much coffee, I don't need to order this time. You can stop it, you can press pause. So it's very customizable to the consumer. And then you just you do pay shipping, but you get it sent to your house, arrives on your doorstep in the requested timeframe.

So you can select every week. You can select three times every month you can select... So there's different options that cater to the individual. 


How does your team promote it?

We do it mostly digitally because it is more on the wholesale side of things. Or sorry, the retail side of things technically. But in the cafes, we promote for people to buy in the cafe and we promote for people to do subscriptions. So two different concepts, but both are promoted online. And then like buying at the cafe is what is promoted in the cafe more. I see that more often than not.


A Piece of Advice

If you had one piece of advice for somebody that is in the coffee shop industry, and either they're following footsteps of what you did, or they are in the manager barista or the marketing coordinator role, what would that be?

I think it would be, be willing to learn. You don't know everything, no matter what position you're in. And there's always somebody you can learn from, and I think being teachable and being able to take what people say and run with it is one of your biggest assets as somebody who is working your way through a company.



Picture of Amin Yazdani
Written By: 

Amin Yazdani is the CEO and Co-Founder of Craver, a fast-growing mobile platform for Restaurants, helping them gain and retains their loyal customer base.

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