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Campos Coffee founder reveals secret to success

CAMPOS Coffee founder Will Young opened his first cafe in 1997, and he was unlucky enough to pick the spot right across the road from where Starbucks would open its first Australian store.

"It was a disaster, and a learning experience," he told news.com.au.

He worked hard for two years to grow the central Sydney store into a profitable business, and just as it was taking off he was forced to close for building works.

By the time he reopened in mid-2000, the behemoth American coffee chain - currently worth US$88.4 billion - had opened to much fanfare, spruiking drinks no-one had ever heard of like frappucinos, tall lattes and drip coffees.

Not only did it take all Will's passing customers, but the construction caused his rent to quintuple overnight. He was forced to close, and learnt an important lesson.

"I overworked myself and I ended up in hospital. I realised the importance of systems, and teaching other people to do things as well as you do them," he said.

Will Young, pictured in 2013, grew his brand by promising good coffee.
Will Young, pictured in 2013, grew his brand by promising good coffee. Sam Mooy

He tried again, taking over Campos Coffee in 2002. The cramped Newtown cafe was selling just 50 coffees a day, but when he began experimenting with different brews, it wasn't long before baristas were churning out 1500 cups every 24 hours.

He told news.com.au he was lucky enough to start building his brand right on the cusp of the social media revolution, and the store quickly gained traction among coffee enthusiasts for their quality brews and bold flavours.

Today, Campos has seven stores in Australia, and they supply hundreds of partner cafes. In December, the company opened its first US store at Park City, Utah, which he said has a "real arts culture" similar to the brand's Newtown roots.

"You know, we never planned to be a very big business," he admitted.

"It's a touch of our hippie values, which I think are just good values. We have a hard time not doing what we say we will. We promise to serve good coffee, so we do."

His passion for coffee is palpable, and it's undoubtedly his secret to success.

Campos Coffee’s first cafe went from 50 coffees a day to 1500 under Will’s leadership.
Campos Coffee’s first cafe went from 50 coffees a day to 1500 under Will’s leadership. Nikki To

Will was born in Bermuda, and he completed high school and university in Canada. His mother is Australian, and he laughed when he said he moved to Sydney in the late nineties simply because he wanted to learn to surf "like they do in Point Break".

He couldn't have known his life would change one day at a cafe in Randwick.

"My friends took me out for coffee, and I thought 'Oh sure, I'll drink coffee like all the Australians do'. The barista poured me a flat white, and it was this beautiful reddish-brown colour. I went to put sugar in it, and they told me just to try it."

Until then, he'd only known coffee as a bitter liquid used to cure tiredness.

"It was delicious, full-bodied, sweet, and you could taste all these other flavours in the coffee. It was a far superior experience to anything I'd tasted before, and I realised this is what I wanted to do. I went straight into coffee full-steam."

He's driven by the desire to give his customers the same experience.

"We told people we want to serve the highest quality coffee. I think it's the consistency of the product that all our customers know," he said.

"It's pretty cool. We love making flat whites, you know. We just love it. We love that people come to us and have their favourite coffee, whatever that is."

He said Australian consumers prefer the quality of independent coffee houses to chains, and suggested that's why a lack of business forced Starbucks to make an embarrassing retreat from Australia in 2008.

Will now travels all around the world to source high quality coffee beans, in places like Costa Rica.
Will now travels all around the world to source high quality coffee beans, in places like Costa Rica. Supplied

"Australians appreciate fine food and innovation so much that they rejected Starbucks. It didn't taste as good as what you can get in independent coffee places. It's a real testament to how particular Australians are about coffee," he said.

He's not worried by the fact that Starbucks is subtly trying to re-enter Australia's $2 billion takeaway coffee market, quietly opening new stores late last year.

Instead, he's spending his energy sniffing out new types of specialty beans.

Company representatives are constantly travelling to far-flung corners of the planet to meet farmers and source products, and they invest heavily in social projects. Will himself recently returned from a trip to Honduras and Mexico.

"We realised that to come along and sell ourselves as being sustainable and ethical, we have to go to origin level and make sure we're getting the quality we need.

"Australians pay a higher price to drink coffee than anyone else in the world.

"We often buy coffee for a slightly higher price because we want to make sure farmers are being supported for their hard work, and incentivised to keep growing specialty coffees," he said.

It can be hard keeping track when you're managing a rapidly growing brand, co-ordinating stores with suppliers, and monitoring social investments.

He revealed Dropbox is his secret to staying on top of it all.

"We all have to be consistently looking at the same spreadsheets and the same results for our coffee tasting sessions, everything. We have to be able to communicate with each other, and Dropbox makes it the easiest thing to do."

kirrily.schwarz@news.com.au

Topics:  business coffee editors picks success

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