Blue Coffee Box Update: How We Increased Sales By 104% Since Last Year

Published: January 22nd, 2021
Jon Butt
Founder, Blue Coffee Box
Blue Coffee Box
from Canterbury, UK
started August 2017
Discover what tools Jon recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Jon recommends to grow your business!

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

We are Jon and Harvey Butt, the father and son behind Blue Coffee Box and Blue Tea Box in the UK. The idea of the business was to pay Harvey’s fees through university (he is in year 3 of 4).

Blue Coffee Box is a gourmet coffee subscription with customers all over the world enjoying monthly changing Speciality coffees (the top 2% of all world coffees by quality) from 21 different countries. Blue Tea Box is our loose leaf tea subscription that started a year or so after the coffee business.

2020 has seen a huge increase in the business with sales 104% up on the same time last year.

For extra comparison, in December 2019 we did 4x the November 2019 sales total. December 2020 will be over double that figure.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

2020 has been a challenge in many ways. Covid-19 has certainly pushed more sales online for those of us in a position to deliver safely to homes. But, you cannot rely on a pandemic for future sales.

Become a business person. Give it the respect it needs. Improve and give yourself a better chance.

While others sat back, complained about a lack of government support, and worried about the future, we got to work. Literally, Harvey and Jon did the work rather than take on extra staff costs.

That increased profits and we decided to invest in marketing while we saw others cut back. That included our Google and Bing Ads, Facebook campaigns, and our Google Marketing Platform (DoubleClick) ads.

Specialist food and drink PR firms were engaged to have a more concentrated, rather than ad hoc approach to publicity.

Much of this effort is to build customers for holiday sales around Christmas (and, although not such a big deal in the UK, Black Friday).

As a result, our subscriber base has doubled in the last 8 weeks from late October to just before Christmas.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

When Harvey (home-studying when universities shut down for Covid) and I got working, we learned that efficiency could be made. Harvey had to study and I had to save my fire safety business whose customer base (businesses) had been shut down by the government for a lockdown) so time was short.

Efficiencies were small and incremental. On their own they are invisible but they add up and compound. Patience is needed. I’ve done this before and it always pays off.

Our efficiencies meant the increased sales were gained with the same cost base. This dramatically increased profits. The profits we invested in two large machines. One automatically labels our bags, a job that was done daily by hand.

The second machine is an automated weighing and pouch-filling machine.

These were purchased online and took 4 months to be manufactured, tested, and shipped to the UK. Both were in use as the huge surge in subscriber numbers took effect. A lucky coincidence? Only if you believe in running your business on luck.

We also decided to change our packaging and our boxes now cost double the price. But they are a different design and can be packed many times faster. Shockingly fast, in fact.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

As this is being written, our small team of one full-time packer and two part-timers (both having started only in the past couple of months, have been joined by another full-time employee.

Instead of another packer who can do everything, he is more of a machine operative (the machines are “plug and play” simple to use). The two part-timers have worked full time for the three weeks before Christmas.

We now have had a few staff prepare, pack, and post more than double the number of orders we sent last Christmas. That is the result of efficiencies and systems.

2021 will probably be more of a challenge because we expect to continue to grow but are now of a size where growth investments are huge.

We expect Covid to be just as disruptive through the year and the main effect of this is safe working distances. Incredibly, we are based in the UK’s most infected region but have not had any Covid cases so far. But safe spacing means a few staff than needed and the Christmas trading surge has been a struggle.

So, it looks likely that the new premises will be needed. That loses the benefits of Jon’s other company - fork truck, warehouse storage, HR, and management oversight.

Blue Coffee Box will be forced to become fully independent and hire appropriate staff to do more than just pack.

More exciting is our move to environmentally friendly packaging. Our new coffee bags are fast biodegradable - including the “plastic” ziplock and valve. Our boxes have eco-friendly inks, eco-friendly adhesive glue, and forestry approved cardboard.

Although the boxes cost double and the bags cost four times the price, we feel that this eco-friendly approach will open the business to whole new channels that our competitors cannot reach.

Eco-friendly shoppers and publications are huge advocates and evangelists when they find products that care. Naturally, we will be pushing our affiliate program and PR at the same time.

Have you read any good books in the last year?

Having read constantly via Audible for years, I took time off business books and read fiction. Recently, I decided to read a founder’s tale - That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph.

Marc was the founder who had the idea for Netflix and he explains the entire process from share allocations through growth stages and exit.

Unlike most books of fast growth success that usually overdo the hype, this taught me lessons and also reinforced the good decisions that we have made.

I will soon be re-reading Delivering Happiness by the recently passed Tony Hsieh. That’s one of the most influential books on my eCommerce business. Ironically, Tony tragically died in a house fire and the business he influenced is my fire safety one.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

As mentioned, 2020 was tough. Many businesses will fail. But, were they destined to have a future? Did Covid simply accelerate weaknesses in the business model, the market, or the leader?

My advice for 2021 is to learn a skill. If you have one, study it in more depth and get better. If it’s not business-related and is more operational, get a business skill.

The best skill you can acquire is marketing - proper marketing, If you do Facebook ads, study a course and become an expert over time. 2nd best skill is marketing. Coincidentally, so is the 3rd.

Learn how to write a marketing plan. Spend 80% of your time marketing. Read The 1-Page Marketing Plan, then read it again. Then do it.

4th is finance. Do basic bookkeeping or accountancy course. Understand your numbers.

Become a business person. Give it the respect it needs. Improve and give yourself a better chance.

Last year, I advised you to have a mentor or sounding board. Talk to them regularly as they will have your back. We all need help.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Not right now while Covid is rife. Sometime soon, our staff will grow with new hires.

Where can we go to learn more?

As always, Blue Coffee Box and Blue Tea Box will always be the best place to find us.