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Using the Web to compete with giants

Connecting with customers via Internet costs little and is effective, owner says

Posted: April 30, 2009 10:12 p.m.
Updated: May 1, 2009 4:55 a.m.

(Left to right) Brothers Angel and Jose Martinez are in charge of packaging, organizing and boxing freshly roasted Newhall Coffee.

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A local entrepreneur is hoping that using Internet social-media sites can place his company on even ground with the larger companies against whom he competes.

Newhall Coffee Roasting Company owner Mitch McMullen is employing Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, online advertising and a newly-designed, interactive Web site to connect with coffee enthusiasts by providing them with an open platform to be educated about coffee and to communicate their preferences, ideas, tips and recipes.

"Here I am on the streets, competing against these giants," he said. "But online, we got a store and they got a store. We're connecting with (the consumer). That's how we feel we can compete."

McMullen said he can go on to Facebook and Twitter, two major social network sites, and interact with his friends and customers in a way he's never been able to do.

"This morning, I did a Facebook (post) and asked, ‘What's your favorite flavor of coffee," McMullen said. "I got so much feedback. This is research. My customers are engaging."

Members of the tech-savvy generation don't want to be told what to do by big ads. Instead, they want authenticity, McMullen said.
"Big companies are like a big tanker heading off a cliff with their big ads on TV," he said. "They would be a lot smarter to connect with people online."

To promote Newhall Coffee's online presence, McMullen, of Valencia, is placing promotional stickers on his bags of coffee, which are shipped all over Southern California to stores like Costco and Wal-Mart.

McMullen says his small business doesn't have the revenue for a multi-million-dollar television commercial. But by placing a sticker on a bag that a customer will take home, the word of the company's online presence can reach into the homes of coffee lovers anywhere, he said.

"That's all I can do and it's great," he said.

In McMullen's new book, "Coffee Revolution," he details "one small roaster's war with the world's largest coffee brands," often metaphorically comparing his story to the Biblical tale of David vs. Goliath.

In his first couple of chapters, McMullen details the way he fought for his original coffee dreams - referring to when he opened his first café, Mitch's Java ‘n Jazz, in Newhall, with Starbucks coming to town the next day.

McMullen first opened Mitch's Java ‘n Jazz in Newhall in 1993 and his Newhall Coffee Roasting Company in 1995.

"Well, just as we were getting ready to move to the next level and go over the paperwork, I was suddenly informed that the location was no longer available," said McMullen, 43, in his book. "I asked what other business would go there and was informed that it would be the first Starbucks in my town."

Despite challenges along the way, McMullen's book details the way his small company found a way to thrive in a corporate world.

If a Wal-Mart, Costco or Sam's Club is coming to town, McMullen says to a small-business audience, don't fear them.

"More often than not, their buyers are sensitive to the needs and concerns of local and small businesses," said McMullen, who, since the start of his business, has successfully landed spots for his coffee at Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort.

"I want small businesses to come out inspired to find a way to succeed," he said. "Don't give into the traditional excuses, but compete. Not all companies have to compete against Goliaths, but they have their own competitors."

McMullen also hopes his book communicates a "shop local" message to those who read it.

"A Shop Local Revolution would change America for the better. If people shopped locally, there would be more jobs and more local businesses thriving," he says in his book.

Although Java ‘n Jazz locations have since closed, McMullen hopes he can resurrect a store front in the future.

"I want to bring it back from the dead," he said. But in the midst of hard economic times, McMullen said he is waiting for a good deal on a lease. He hopes to have a storefront by the end of the year, he said.

For information on the book, the company's e-mail is info@newhallcoffee.com.

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