February 19, 2021

How do you know when you need to upgrade your coffee roasting space?

Realising that you need to move to a larger roasting space is a good problem to have. It shows that your business is doing well, and that you’re selling enough coffee to be profitable.

Once you reach that point, however, you need to consider what a more suitable setting might look like. Many roasters start out in simple or humble surroundings. It is not at all uncommon to find a small or medium sized roaster in the back =of a coffee shop. And this might work for quite some time.

However, if you keep selling more coffee and increasing your revenue, you will eventually need to relocate.

To learn more about the challenges that roasters face when looking to upgrade their roasting space, I spoke with two industry experts. Read on to find out what they said.

You might also like our checklist for planning your new roastery site.

What are the signs that you need a new space?

While some roasters will start with dedicated roasting premises, many use an existing space (at home or in a coffee shop, for instance) out of necessity. This means that they may struggle to realise that they need to expand, or won’t know what they should look for in a new space.

Kyle Ramage is the founder of Black & White Coffee Roasters in Raleigh, North Carolina. He tells me about the situation that caused his business to relocate.

“We were operating out of the back of one of our cafés at that time; it was the only café we had in operation, for almost two years, maybe more.

“We just got to a place where we needed to store more green coffee, but didn’t have any space for our paper goods. We had to rent a storage locker for all sorts of things, like coffee bags and so on.”

As creative as you can be with a small space, at some point it will become untenable if your business keeps growing. Bags of green coffee (60kg) are big. They take up a lot of space, especially if you’re constantly diversifying to offer a wider range of varieties and origins.

The consequences of this aren’t just a cluttered or untidy workplace, either; over time, it can cause bottlenecks and other inefficiencies across your team. 

For example, Kyle says that simply receiving green coffee deliveries required so much more effort and planning than it needed to.

“The truck would come to the end of our street, and the driver would need the coffee out of the truck as quickly as possible.  

“So, we would throw it all into our van, drive up to the front door of the café, and then wheel the coffee through the coffee shop, past the customers and into the roasting space. It was a lot of work just to move green coffee.”

What do you want from a new space?

For roasters, choosing a new space in a high footfall area might be appealing; this is especially likely if you’re selling roasted coffee direct to the consumer, or have an attached coffee shop.

However, it isn’t always that simple. An ideal location for a high-turnover coffee shop will be totally unsuitable for a commercial roastery.

For starters, the building should have easy freight access for regular deliveries of green coffee. Beyond that, you want to make sure there’s enough space for possible expansion. Finding both of these in areas with high foot traffic at a reasonable price is difficult, if not impossible.

Kyle says: “We really wanted a 4,000 to 5,000 square foot space. But they just weren’t available in our area. Everything was either 1,500 square feet, or 100,000 square feet. And a lot of the time, the smaller ones would be in what they would call a ‘flexible use’ space. 

“Now we’re next to some offices, a church, and other businesses… a lot of them are newer, flexible use space. This means their rent is much closer to retail rent per square foot [rather than the costs of a] warehouse, which was what we needed.”

The additional freedom that comes with the extra space can mean you’re able to add new equipment to your setup, too. As roasteries scale up, they require more and more space. This isn’t just for larger roasters, but also auxiliary equipment, a bigger gas supply, venting runs, and so on.

“We were basically operating on a Loring S15 Falcon (capacity 15kg) and that’s about it in terms of equipment,” Kyle tells me. “Now, in the new space we added an optical sorter, a Loring S35 Kestrel, a vacuum loader with a huge compressor, and the weigh fill machine.”

Nicholas Flatoff is the Director of Special Projects for Usonian Systems. He says that when looking for new premises, there are a few things to keep in mind before you choose.

“Nine times out of ten, the vast majority of coffee roasters need more space,” Nicholas says. “The first obvious detail to consider is the financial side, if you go out and sign a lease that might be five or ten times the cost of your current lease. 

“You have to realise that those commercial leases are generally going to be a minimum of three to five years, sometimes longer.”

Additionally, Nicholas notes that setting up a roastery is challenging enough in the best of spaces. He says that there are certain types of premises that roasters – especially those who are increasing their square footage – should steer clear of.

“The kind of spaces that you don’t want to go into are basements or multistorey buildings. Thirty-plus floors are not ideal, especially when you’re cutting out a wall and basically putting a roaster through a window.”

As for other features to look out for, Nicholas says: “[If you’re moving to larger premises], you’re getting to the point where you need a loading dock. You need to either have a level entry, so that you’re able to bring green coffee in and out with a forklift very easily, or have a loading dock or a trucking bay, so you can pull the pallets out easily.

“You [effectively] want to have an open space to run an assembly line, where you’re going right [through] from green coffee to filling bags.”

Things to be aware of when relocating

Finding the right space is only the beginning. Once you’ve chosen your new premises, you need to prepare to relocate. Nicholas explains that Usonian have a wealth of experience that they leverage to support clients at this stage. 

For example, he notes that during facility moves, removing equipment from an existing space can prove to be just as challenging as installation – sometimes even more so.

Nicholas tells me that Usonian supported Kyle and the Black & White team with their facility move. He explains that they were able to work around a number of obstacles during the process. However, many of these only became apparent when they started moving equipment out of the old premises.

“[Black & White had a] space we couldn’t get a forklift into… there were only two person-sized doors as access. [And then] there were challenging angles that we had to work around,” Nicholas explains.

“There was also very uneven loading on the hill (outside the original premises), which was the only way to actually get the roaster into the truck.”

He says that the creativity and adaptability the situation demanded was where Usonian’s expertise came in handy.

“Completing the job required a lot of creative thinking, and a little bit of forethought on the site visit,” Nicholas adds. “We were able to bring a pallet jack under both the front and rear of the roaster, which allowed us to effectively twist it 360° in place. 

“We were able to manoeuvre through those doors because we had a centre point of turning under the roaster, with two operators on each side.”

Ultimately, Nicholas says that the best way to prepare for facility moves is to be ready to accept whatever obstacles might arise. Some challenges you will simply have to deal with on the day.

“When it comes to trying to get a coffee roaster into a tight space, you have to be ready for very complicated situations, where we have to deal with moving around obstacles.

“[We also do a number of] international jobs, where we have to [adapt to] logistical situations or new and unknown supply chains.”

Making the decision to upgrade your space and relocate to a larger facility is often something that arises out of necessity, rather than choice.

However, for growing businesses, once this necessity arises, moving to a bigger location can prove to be a highly beneficial long-term decision. 

But when you do decide to move, keep in mind your aims, and consider any possible challenges. Look for a space that suits your needs, and one that won’t cause logistical issues in the long run. Futureproofing is key.

Enjoyed this? Read our guide to choosing the right ventilation system for your roaster.

Photo credits: Usonian Systems, Black & White Coffee Roasters

Please note: Usonian Systems is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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