Growing from farmers’ market to retail shops is the goal for some market vendors from the get-go. Others with successful market booths get swept up in the enthusiasm of customers, employees, friends and family who encourage them to grow. Sometimes that turns out well. In other instances the cost of building a brick and mortar operation is too high, or the every-day schedule is too much. In Episode 43 of Tent Talk, Eric Dobbs of Seven Seas Roasting Company shares how short term and long term visions for his coffee business with a conscious are coming to fruition.

Growing a business one bag at a time

After leaving the Navy, Eric took a break from law school to start the business with with fellow veteran Rob Hempstead. They launched in farmers’ markets with the help of a  Vendor-101 workshop. The team was prepared for a slow start, but still slightly surprised by their lack of sales at the beginning. Roasting beans at Eric’s home, they persisted and built a loyal following as a cottage food operation. Toward the end of their first year, they signed the lease on their first retail location. Expecting to be open 5 months later, they continued to grow their market business. They now sell at four weekly markets in various areas of San Diego.

Serving more than just coffee

The first American coffee company to import specialty coffee beans from Laos,Seven Seas is as dedicated to its Southeast Asian farmer suppliers as it is to great coffee. Visiting the farms to sort and choose beans, the partners develop personal relationships with the farmers and the villagers. They pay a fair price and donate back to the farming communities. Service is always a part of their mission. Income from special charity roasts benefit organizations like Spikes K9 Fund, protecting canine service members, and K’Hollective, rebuilding a Vietnamese woman-owned coffee farm after a fire.

Peddling from farmers’ market to retail

More than a year after their expected opening date, the farmers’ market business continued to grow, subsidizing the retail buildout. It also provided an opportunity to collaborate with other vendors. Seven Seas coffee is used in signature products from cookies to soap and their online store features some of those items along with their beans, clothing and coffee accessories. The first retail location is open at last and another is in the works. Eric and his team intend to keep farmers’ markets as a street team that promotes the business as a whole and adds to the overall income stream. A well trained team is their secret weapon.

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