The caffeine highs and lows of independent retailing

By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY, NSW: A shared love of coffee between married couple Charlie and Debbie Monteleone has led to the creation and budding success of an independent coffee machine retailer, service provider and training school. Jetblack Espresso, at Cremorne in Sydney, is currently swimming against the stream of largescale, buying group oriented retailers, and is enjoying success with their consumer-focused business model.

Originally a cafe started by Debbie four years ago, the Monteleones converted their premises into a retail store, with a product range of high-end manual machines, grinders, cleaning products and coffee beans. Charlie, who holds a double degree in Commerce and Engineering, then left his own job in consultancy to join the team as a service professional, barista and run the business’ accounts. It’s a rare occasion when a person is working with a product they love and making the most of two different qualifications.

Charlie said this has been particularly gratifying.

“You’re not just selling a piece of equipment; you’re building a relationship with these people. They come in every week to buy coffee, and they tell you how their latte art is progressing. It’s a real relationship that we build up. It’s been rewarding financially and it’s been rewarding professionally.”

Charlie said the business had an equal thirds split between retail sales, barista training and machine servicing and repairs. The main objective of the store is to promote the coffee lifestyle, which requires more than just having a machine on the bench. Jetblack Espresso encourages customers who have bought a manual machine to undertake training on the machines, ideally through one of its courses held in the store.

Despite the focus on manual coffee machines, Charlie is not ignorant to the value of automatic machines. He said they perform a good job, and can make a good cup of coffee, but that the consumer market for manual was very different to that of automatics. He didn’t rule out ever stocking automatics in store, and also runs courses on how to use automatics, as he said many consumers are still unaware of their unique features.

The Monteleones unique sales proposition is to offer a complete coffee machine solution for consumers, from the research stage through to when the machine needs servicing years after purchase. Charlie accepts that due to its economies of scale deficiencies, Jetblack can’t compete with the big retail chains and their more powerful buying group dollar.

“We concentrate on value added services, so we’re not trying to sell the cheapest coffee machines in Australia for any particular machine – that’s not our end goal. Our end goal is to have the customer down the road make fantastic coffee at home, and for that they need a machine, they need to do a barista course and they need service and support for our machine. We’re trying to be a one-stop shop.”

For more information in Jetblack Espresso, visit their website here.

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