Simon Spiller and David Tait decided to create Spiller & Tait in January 2014. Four years on, and Spiller & Tait has become one of the best-selling brands of fresh coffee online in the UK. In this blog, Simon talks to Spiller & Tait Digital Marketing Manager, Ben, about how it all started.
Ben: Why did you start Spiller & Tait?
Simon: David and I started working together on Spiller & Tait in 2014. At the time we both ran businesses on the banks of a river which regularly flooded and we each had to fight hard to cope with flood events which either blocked essential roads or invaded our buildings. Whilst whinging to each other one day about the impact of yet another flood, we decided to combine our love of coffee with our interest in the rapid growth of e-commerce in a business which would be less vulnerable to the increasing incidents of flooding on our river. We knew an online business would fit the bill, because much of the roasting, storage and fulfilment could be shared with partners in other locations who wouldn’t be so susceptible to the flooding risks we experienced. Our specific aim was to offer a select range of fresh coffees which just taste great. Since then, Spiller & Tait has become one of the best-selling brands of coffee on-line in the UK, especially on Amazon.
Ben: Where did the inspiration for Spiller & Tait come from?
Simon: David and I became connected through coffee, so it’s not surprising that our first venture together would be in coffee. David also runs a wholesale coffee business in Devon and my wife and I were his customers when we ran a rural visitor attraction, plus a café in Exeter. We got on well and ended up talking about our respective aspirations to try e-commerce as an alternative to our other, more conventional, bricks and mortar businesses. Coffee was the obvious choice because it was something we both knew and enjoyed. But we also shared a passion for coffee with particular taste characteristics - mainly smooth, rich and lacking in bitterness. We felt that too few coffee companies were roasting and selling coffee that deliberately focused on providing coffee with those traits, but which we knew were valued most by fresh coffee drinkers in the UK. With this opportunity in mind, the impetus to start the business came from the flood impacts on our other businesses!
Ben: What did you do before starting Spiller & Tait?
Simon: My career has been a bit eclectic, with stints working in the corporate world and in the USA, Asia and Europe. But, for the 8 years before starting Spiller & Tait, my wife and I ran an ancient working watermill on the banks of the river Otter in Devon as a visitor attraction. David trained as an accountant and also worked overseas, mainly in Russia where he set up his own business selling Optical Testing Equipment and Accessories. On returning to the UK almost 20 years ago, he bought a coffee roasting business with his father, which he has run for the last twelve years with his wife.
Ben: What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Simon: We’ve obviously been on a steep curve in terms of learning about e-commerce and digital marketing. This has been interesting and fun, because it’s very different to anything we’ve done before. But the biggest challenge has been learning to work with Amazon. We now sell from our own website as well, but, for the first couple of years, all of our sales were via Amazon and, at times, it was worrying to have all our eggs in one basket. We handed over all of the storage, fulfilment and much of the marketing of our products to Amazon so we could focus on coffee roasting and post-sale customer service. Although there is much we appreciate about the way they do business, there are times when things would get a bit scary not being in control while feeling like a flea on the back of a big hairy mammoth. It’s taken us quite a while to learn how to make that relationship really work.
Ben: What have been the highlights of your business journey to date?
Simon: Hitting a six figure turnover in our first year, receiving a Great Taste Award for our best-selling Signature Blend coffee (which felt like a real endorsement of our focus on flavour), and launching our own website to offer ultra-fresh coffee. We’ve also enjoyed learning to share the roasting and distribution of our coffee with other operational partners. This has enabled us to personally focus on the things we enjoy most, which is developing new coffees and helping our customers.
Ben: Where do you hope to take Spiller & Tait in the year ahead?
Simon: More of the same. For a small business, which is mainly me and David and a few self-employed helpers, we have grown very quickly. So, after four years, our current focus is on consolidating our position on Amazon as one of the best-selling coffee brands while increasing traffic and sales on our own site where we are able to offer customers really very fresh coffee. Rather than sitting in a warehouse for a week or two, the coffee bought directly from us arrives within a few days of roasting, and we feel that this really adds to the flavour. So we are trying to tell that story as best we can, while also expanding our range of coffees. And, if our plans come together, we are also hoping to offer a new service to customers in 2018 which we think is very exciting indeed. Stay tuned!
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