The Entrepreneur: Jeremy Torz, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

The coffee afficionado on leaving a set career path to run a business, ignoring "naysayers", and why product quality always wins over "looking nice"

Founder: Jeremy Torz and Steven Macatonia
Company: Union Hand-Roasted Coffee
Description in one line: An award-winning and integrity-driven coffee roaster
Previous companies: Torz & Macatonia Ltd
Turnover: £9.8m
12 month target: Having recently launched an online subscription service called CoffeeClub, our aim is double turnover in the next three years.

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique

  • Our business model centres on Union Direct Trade which sees us sourcing the very highest quality coffee by building equitable and sustainable relationships with our producers.
  • Vital to this is our role as industry thought-leaders which gives depth to our brand, keeping us at the forefront of the market as it evolves.
  • This is our tried and tested way of winning and retaining long-term customers.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

One of our most notable achievements is launching the world’s first single origin Rwanda coffee here in the UK, sparking a coffee growing boom in a country that is still recovering from the conflict of the 1990s.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Sales figures are of course key, but as we have just launched CoffeeClub we are keeping a particularly keen eye on web traffic, online sales and subscription retention rates.

Describe your growth funding path

We have been largely self-funded since we sold our original coffee company back in 2000. Taking the proceeds from this we invested it in Union Coffee and have also worked with our bankers Barclays to secure working and growth capital.

Our business model and long-term view of building a sustainable business is as interesting to them as it is to our customers, and they see us as a business to watch.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

We work with people in some pretty remote international locales, so mobile phones and the internet have been phenomenally important. Previously we relied upon letters or faxes, so having a reliable method of instant communication has meant we can build stronger and truer relationships with our producers and team members when they’re overseas.

Better connectivity also enables farmers to learn and share information much faster than used to be possible and gives them a much closer connection to their markets.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

With CoffeeClub the plan is to shake up our business and increase online sales ten-fold. While food service is currently around 70% of our business, as we grow CoffeeClub we’re aiming for a 50:50 split, with overall turnover doubling in that time.

To do this, we’re on a mission to show people that drinking high-quality coffee at home is both easier and more affordable than many believe.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

I originally trained as an optician, so the decision to leave a set career path to run a start-up in the nascent craft coffee industry was risky to say the least. Fortunately it all worked out, and while it wasn’t always easy, I’m extremely proud of how far Union Coffee has come in the last 15 years.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Once upon a time we spent a silly amount of money on magazine adverts before we were ready, meaning the return on investment was lower than we had hoped.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most?

To be quite honest, I’ve never found the bureaucratic side of business challenging. It’s occasionally tiresome, but it’s never come between Union Coffee and its growth potential.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

I think some companies spend too much time making their product look nice, without it actually fulfilling its promise in terms of quality. People may initially be lured in, but in our experience, true quality always wins in the end.

We believe that if your product is good and you can communicate this clearly to consumers, you’ll be in a great position.

How will your market look in three years?

The coffee sector is already in a period of flux and growth and this will continue indefinitely. Independent roasters have already put the wind up the big players, and I’d expect to see more integration with roasteries opening coffee shops, and coffee shops setting up micro-roasteries.

My hope is that other roasters follow our example and take the direct trade route. The challenge for us then will be to stay at the cutting edge of this, something we’re in a strong position to do.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Don’t listen to the naysayers and don’t let anyone tell you your business idea isn’t good or won’t work. Or rather, listen politely, check your numbers again, and then do it anyway,

Personal growth

Biggest luxury?

Asides from coffee, I’m partial to a single malt and a Cuban cigar.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

I very much learnt everything I know from doing it first-hand (the exception for this being when I was an optician, you’ll be pleased to note).

What would make you a better leader?

Not trying to launch quite as many projects at the same time. Sadly that’s not always possible in times of growth but it’s something I’d like to improve upon.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

To be honest I’m not sure there is an app – business or otherwise – that I couldn’t do without. My preference is almost always to do business face-to-face.

Business book:

I recently read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh which is all about culture and value in business, and about having more of a focus on your people and their passions, so as to deliver amazing customer service. Thanks to my friend Steve G. for recommending it!


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