The RoasterTools Story: From Spreadsheets to Software

July 4, 2023

If you’ve been a customer or fan of RoasterTools, you’ve likely heard us say, “We’ve been in your shoes!”

It’s true. We have!

Before we launched RoasterTools, we ran a coffee shop and roastery called Big Water Coffee Roasters. We’d love to tell you our story of how we turned a café in a small Wisconsin town into a thriving coffee business. Plus, we’ll share how the lessons we learned along the way ultimately lead to the creation of RoasterTools.

The Beginning

Our story begins when we, Jon and Dani, traveled all over Europe working on organic farms and immersing ourselves in each country’s food and cafe scene. This exposure to new food systems and cultures inspired us to return to the States and start a café with the goal of creating a community gathering space and featuring locally sourced produce and products. 

We purchased a café in a small northern Wisconsin tourist town of 500 residents and hit the ground running. 

We eagerly entered this new business venture with grand ideas to run a cafe focused on selling artisan cheeses and sourcing locally grown products—only to realize that approximately 50% of our sales were from coffee. 

Instead of attempting to pivot the existing business model, we embraced coffee as our focus and dove head-first into running a coffee shop! Sticking to our values, we continued to source locally grown and made products for our baked goods and food menu.  

However, we soon discovered the need to sustain ourselves during the off-seasons in this tiny tourist town. We quickly realized the need to develop a high-quality, profitable product that would expand our customer base beyond our coffee shop and small geographic area. 

The answer was obvious: roast our own coffee!

About a year and a half after purchasing the business, we began roasting coffee on a used Probat we bought off of eBay.

But this story isn’t a fairy tale. While it has a happy ending, it’s not without its fair share of obstacles, challenges, and losses.

Lessons Learned

Throughout our experience, we had great successes, made major mistakes, and learned a ton along the way. With each obstacle, lesson, and crazy idea we tried, we made positive and incremental steps toward running a better roastery and coffee shop.

For example, early on in the roasting process, our customers didn’t realize that it was us roasting the coffee! This meant that something about our marketing wasn’t communicating the right message to our seasonal customers. This single lesson set us off on a path to perfect our branding and communications. 

Additionally, the fluctuations between revenue during the off-season and peak season were astronomical. We would go from making $1,000 in a week during the off-season to $1,000 an hour during the summer. We had to create systems that could scale up and down, easily and fast. Each season gave us an opportunity to reevaluate our processes and products to better serve our customers, both local and tourist.

We would come up with ideas and test them regularly. Those that succeeded stayed, and we learned from those that failed before moving on to new ideas. Some things don’t change and constantly learning is a core value we’ve carried through to RoasterTools.  

A key part of our success comes from the fact that these valuable lessons didn’t happen solely within our four walls. 

On our one day off a week, we would visit other accomplished coffee businesses and retail environments for inspiration. Knowing that Starbucks was great at getting people to buy retail items, we once holed up in a café for hours watching the flow of customers, studying how customers interact with coffee packaging and merchandise, and learning more about customer purchase habits.

Though we were in a very remote town, we were fortunate to meet other roasters from all over while they were seeking out a good cup of coffee on their vacation. We took every opportunity possible to learn from others, such as Jon Cates, owner and roaster at Broadway Coffee Roasting in Kansas City, MO. While admitting we needed help wasn’t an always easy task, we soon learned the value of asking other coffee professionals for advice.

We discovered that the coffee community is super helpful and willing to share their insight. The help we received during our coffee shop and roastery days is the inspiration behind why we’re so eager to share our insight with roasters!

⭐️ Have a question about running a successful roastery? Reach out and we’ll see how we can help!

The Inspiration for RoasterTools

Over the years, our café and roastery grew 25-30% year over year, with revenue increasing by 5x since purchasing the business.

Much of this growth was due to the systems and processes we put in place. Every area of our business, from the café to the roastery, operated on specific processes that were constantly evaluated and improved upon using a scorecard system we developed. Reading the book Traction: Get a Grip on your Business, was pivotal for us. We implemented their framework over the course of a few years and found it had a massive impact throughout our business (and our relationship!)

Meanwhile, in the roastery, Jon was creating spreadsheets, pivot tables, and other databases to run the roasting and production processes efficiently. But these excruciatingly manual and complex spreadsheets weren’t synced with other areas of the business, leading to a series of inefficient processes as a result. And, with such an intricate system requiring specific knowledge, it became difficult for Jon to step away from roasting and production processes to focus on other areas of the business or his family.

Naturally, he searched for a software solution that would combine all of these facets and spreadsheets into a single dashboard or platform to monitor everything from wholesale orders to production volume, blend recipes, and more. 

But he couldn’t find one.

As our business was growing, so was our family. We found we came to the point where we could either open another location and continue growing our business by reinvesting profits—or we could take a step back and focus on our family.

After years of working nonstop and constantly reinvesting in the business, we knew it was time for us to spend more time with our family and pursue a new idea Jon couldn’t stop thinking about. We decided to sell the business and begin creating the solution to his challenges at the roastery. This was the start of RoasterTools.

Building RoasterTools

Inspired by his experiences operating the roastery and an interest in the tech side of the coffee industry, Jon immediately began building RoasterTools after the sale of the business was finalized. He learned to code, hired developers to assist in the creation of the tool, and launched the first version of RoasterTools.

We debuted the software at the 2016 Specialty Coffee Association Expo in Atlanta and went on to win the Best New Product award that year! In fact, many of our first customers came from that event.

RoasterTools continues to evolve and learn from our customers and offer solutions to the challenges of efficiently operating a roastery. Today, coffee roasting teams can use the RoasterTools platform to:

  • Input and monitor green coffee inventory
  • Manage wholesale ordering, fulfillment, and production processes
  • Process ecommerce coffee orders from various platforms and third-party resellers
  • Calculate production demand for complex blends, exclusive single origin lots, and everything in between
  • Efficiently plan, track, and evaluate production processes including packaging, fulfillment, and roasting
  • And more…

Our goal is to equip roasters with the tools and resources they need to run a profitable, effective, and efficient business—so you can do more of the things you love. We get that while your roastery is your pride and joy, you might not want to spend all your time there!  

We ran a profitable, growing coffee business. We know what it’s like to put your all into roasting the best coffee, growing sales, and developing a community of loyal customers. 

We’ve been in your shoes. That’s why we built RoasterTools for roasters like you.

We want to see you succeed. Register for a demo and discover how RoasterTools can help your roastery not only grow, but thrive. 

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Jon French of Black Oak Coffee Roasters ❤️RoasterTools
"The wholesale portal is great. It works really well and it's super simple."️
Using RoasterTools, Jon French estimates saving $1,000 per month at Black Oak Coffee Roasters while supercharging his team for growth☕️+ 💻= 🚀
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Jon French of Black Oak Coffee Roasters ❤️RoasterTools
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