If you read my pre-CoffeeCon concerns, you’ll be happy to know most of my fears were unfounded. We had a good to great turnout, between 700-1000 happy coffee enthusiasts, with a healthy mix of those waiting to be baptized with great cups. You see it in their eyes when they taste it. That looks says never-again to bad or mediocre coffee. I purposefully have not aimed CoffeeCon just at Chemex owners. A lot of energy at dances is from newbies, not just veteran hoofers, accomplished as they might be.
Here’s a list of ponder items. Perhaps you have thoughts of your own to post or pm to me.
1. CoffeeCon was successful with both exhibitors and attendees. How do we make the money it costs to put it on? – The attendees kept thanking me for doing it. The exhibitors kept saying, “when’s the next one, because we’re in”. Pat kept looking at me saying, “Can we keep doing it?” We got a lavish place. I think it’s important. Terra Gallery was perhaps our best locale yet. It has beauty, location, good auditorium acoustics and incredibly helpful owners who collaborated fully with my every whim. But, it’s expensive. One exhibitor complained about overall costs. I asked her if she’d be okay with a school or other less costly, if less beautiful, less centrally located option. She said sure. Still I wonder. I don’t want to be pompous but I’m on a mission. I think the location is important, but it affects costs.
2. How do we increase attendance? While we got a good crowd, one that stayed the longest of any so far, the attendance was just short of our best previously. Exhibitors, who normally are the first to complain about low attendance, were actually encouraging me, saying that while San Francisco has a huge potential crowd, it has a lot of events going on to share the crowd with. Call me selfish, but I need to pay my own team, starting with Pat, who works harder than anyone, myself included. Also, the more it’s owned by consumers, the better for some obvious reasons.
3. Do we increase exhibitor prices? There is not just consumer education to do in the coffee business, but trade education as well. Frankly, many in the coffee business are not used to marketing. They think of consumer education as learning about their products ala in-cafe training. Certainly, there are notable exceptions. Consumers need to learn to brew, but also need to learn about sustainability and how to vote with their wallets to encourage their ongoing supply of the best beans. I’m proud to say CoffeeCon is virtually unique in presenting the scale of this on our program and has since day one. How do I keep exhibitors paying to help us for a greater and shared good, not just for short term sales jumps? I had one exhibitor email us afterwards and say they need to increase sales at CoffeeCon. While I allow, even encourage sales at CoffeeCon, it is not primarily a sales event. I hope I can find the right way to express this without chasing away exhibitors.
4. How do we advertise? Those of you who attended, how did you find out? We bought newspaper ads. Do they work? How about social media? Blogs? Billboards? How do you learn? I don’t mind advertising, but my bank account defines me a small player and I need to focus on letting you know in a targeted way.
5. Are there partnerships we can forge to reduce costs and increase reach without diluting our event’s power? I have sought sponsors for presentations. I actually had a roaster (for an upcoming event) complain that we were trying to sell him the opportunity to present. While I don’t sell presentations. I do look for companies to sponsor their own presenters if possible. Heck I’d really like them to sponsor another company’s presenter, but so far I’ve not found that easy to secure. Someone has to pay for presentations. For instance, just the tasting glasses for our tasting seminar cost $750, plus shipping. Video displays, sound and lighting all cost money. We basically rent an empty building. I’m not about to partner with big tobacco (but if you see me holding a cigarette you’ll know I’ve sold out) but there are larger coffee companies, and even consumer brands that might be interested. I don’t want to dilute our message, but I’m trying to do something on a big scale, it’s new and different and it takes money. Again, are there compromises you would accept? What do you think?
6. Barista market – As possibly the first coffee scribe to put brewing on equal footing with beans themselves, I’m naturally predisposed to consider baristas an earthly god in the ceremony of transforming beans into liquid heaven. Both baristas and farmers are always welcome at CoffeeCon. I admit I might have ignored them unintentionally, as I presumed they wouldn’t be interested in learning more about brewing. While that may be true, I recently had a knock on the head that they would be interested in an educational role and attending. We did a last minute push to baristas and it was well received. Sessions such as The Future of Coffee were packed, with baristas numbering highly. Note to self: Increase outreach to this group.
7. Have we lost sales by being too consumer? When I think of audiophile and consumer electronics events, I can’t help but recall events where hard-to-get tickets were obtained through connections in the trade. In reality, the line between consumer and trade is getting thinner all the time. The term prosumer comes to mind. Frankly, none of our program is at risk. I’m simply talking about inviting trade members. In my zeal to establish a consumer coffee festival, I fear I’ve excluded them. That’s it. I’m eager to hear from you. CoffeeCon is, after all, our event, not just mine.