Northern Coffee's Rise: Bruno Lamarche's E-commerce Mastery
Today, I introduce you to northern-coffee.ca, one of our customers that I am privileged to work with, and one that has helped me get familiar with the wonderful world of coffee.
On the agenda with Bruno Lamarche and his spouse Nancy: coffee, Twitter, expertise, and valuable advice.
You will be inspired by the story of these two entrepreneurs as dynamic as caffeine…
Bruno has been working in the field of coffee since 1995, fixing coffee machines for restaurant-owners, and then as a roaster for a Sherbrooke business.
Wanting greater freedom of action in his work, Bruno decides in 2001 to set up his own website to sell coffee while continuing to work for his employer. At the time, the Internet is just in its early days and there is no way of making online purchases. “We would send prepaid envelopes with our orders so that customers would send us back the money by mail,” says Bruno with a laugh.
Finally, in 2003, Bruno quits his job to dedicate all his time to Northern Coffee (or Café Vrac in French).
Nancy, his spouse, who was working elsewhere as an executive secretary at the time, says: “Bruno is a visionary. He knew online sales would be successful and he had the courage to jump right in.”
True, it takes courage to go solo, but Bruno is business-savvy and knows the Internet is the future… And he made no mistake!
A Coffee and A Tweet
The small business enjoys constant growth from its inception until 2008 when it really takes off… thanks to Twitter!
In 2008, Bruno begins learning more about social media and signs up on Twitter under Northern Coffee (@northern_coffee). There, he reads comments from users, answers questions, but most of all, searches for coffee enthusiasts. If he stumbles upon someone unhappy with the coffee they purchased, he gets in contact directly with them and offers them free samples.
“I don’t tweet just to plug my products, I only want to be part of the conversation. I want people to see me around and I’ll only talk about my products when time is right,” he explains.
That way, Bruno is seen as an expert in his field and people spontaneously want to know more about his products.
Now that is a good marketing tip: potential customers must feel like you are the expert. Of course, you actually need to know what you are talking about!
That is what will differentiate an entrepreneur going into business only to make a buck and another who has found his niche and is good at what he does.
In fact, Bruno has been so proficient on Twitter that lesaffaires.com published a whole article about him (in French), a read that may well inspire you: https://www.lesaffaires.com/archives/generale/un-torrefacteur-astucieux-qui-vend-ses-cafes-sur-twitter/540720.
A Product That Stands Out by Its Quality and Price
A business that takes off thanks to Twitter is cool, but a business that lasts stands out by the quality of its products.
For Bruno and Nancy – who finally joined her spouse in his venture in 2012 – the quality of the product is essential, as they explain themselves on their English website:
“What sets Northern-Coffee.ca apart, is that we only buy a first quality selection of the world’s best arabica coffee beans. Many commercial brands offer a blend of arabica and robusta to cut costs. (…) So our commitment to you, is to offer you only the best quality coffee beans and roast them right before shipping to maximize freshness.”
Coffee is bought in large quantities from Quebec importers and comes by container from some twenty countries.
Bruno then roasts the beans based on orders coming in to ensure freshness (he does not keep any stock) and then packs.
The product stands out by its quality, but also by its price, lower than that of his main competitors. Since they only sell online, their operation costs are reduced. Bruno and Nancy also chose simple but lovely packaging, neutral colors airtight bags, to further help keep overhead costs low.
Quality Product, Quality Customer Service
Just as Nancy and Bruno insist on a quality product, so it is for their customer service.
In order to provide adequate customer service, on a level they are happy about, they chose to focus their sales in Canada only, 65% of which is within Quebec. They don’t want to be overwhelmed by their own business, but rather want to stay close to their customers and be able to quickly meet their expectations.
I asked them what they feel makes a great customer service:
- The customer must receive his products within 24 to 48 hours of ordering (in the Province of Quebec).
- He must be able to speak directly to the sales person by email or by phone.
- Service must be perfect and if a customer is not satisfied, compensation should be quick.
- The customer must feel valued.
To implement these points, Nancy calls all new customers who sign up by phone to answer their questions and help them make their first order. She manages the Facebook page where she answers questions and provides news about the business. The tone is friendly and you can feel a certain community building around Northern Coffee. Customers are loyal and even get together to buy in larger quantity to further diminish their costs, an initiative that Nancy and Bruno fully support.
Myself, I can testify of their excellent service having ordered many times on northern-coffee.ca et I was indeed given very good advice. I told them my preferences (there is so much choice, I was a bit overwhelmed!) and they sent me multiple samples, without any pressure at all.
Another aspect that shows how important it is to care for their customers across the country is the fact that they do business with a partner that looks after the English portion of the business and who has set up their English website, northern-coffee.ca.
Every time I meet an experienced business owner, I like to ask him what advice he would give to a young entrepreneur. Here are Bruno’s tips:
- Surround yourself with experts on all levels: business, marketing, web. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Welcome advice.
- Persevere. Things don’t happen overnight.
- Don’t aim too high. Proceed step by step, even for what your business may need materially. Best start small and grow than the other way around.
What are his thoughts on Buster Fetcher?
Bruno encourages all entrepreneurs he meets to sign up with Buster Fetcher. When you’re in business, every dollar counts and can be reinvested in marketing or in services. For Bruno, Buster Fetcher is a great – and very simple – opportunity for additional revenue.
Bruno first heard of Buster Fetcher through LCN’s web commentator Jonathan Laberge’s Facebook account. Northern Coffee signed up in September 2018 and the set up was super quick.
Before signing up with Buster Fetcher, Bruno and Nancy would file claims only if a customer complained about a late delivery, otherwise they never really tracked their shipments: "We can sometimes wait 30 minutes or more when we call Canada Post or Purolator. It's long and tedious. I can now put my energies elsewhere," says Nancy.
And when they signed up with Buster Fetcher, Northern Coffee could even get refunded for the previous 30 days, so they "got a large, one-time amount that they reinvested in the business," says Bruno.
In less than a year, Nancy and Bruno have been able to get more than $1,000 refunded, including Buster Fetcher's commission, which represents a total of around $2,000 in refunds, in only a few months. That income should not be neglected for a small e-commerce! If the claims had not been made, the money would have simply been lost. Instead, it was reinvested into the business!
What Bruno and Nancy really like is how everything is automated: they really have nothing to do… Except get money back!
The busterfetcher.com team is really happy to be partners with a business that had a vision of e-commerce even in the early days, and has succeeded in Quebec’s now very competitive market.
Should you want to know more about this business and its owners, go visit their Facebook page or get in contact with them directly. You’ll see, they are warm and exciting people, like the coffee they sell.
- Be an expert in your field.
- Diminish your costs by selling online only.
- Surround yourself with experts for the best advice.
- Proceed step by step.
- Seize all opportunities for additional revenue, such as Buster Fetcher.