True coffee aficionado and small business owner Matt Ramsay has passionate coffee drinkers on his mind every day.
The Head Roaster and founder of the Denim Coffee Company is a busy entrepreneur working to create delicious coffee and bring people together. We connected with Ramsay to learn more about his family-owned company, his vision for the future and how he worked with SmartBiz Loans™ to fuel growth.
Ramsay was a student at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania studying criminal justice, history and education. Instead of “Plan A”, he went into ministry. “I enjoyed teaching but I wanted to connect on deeper issues. I saw students from bad homes who needed a hug, a mentor, a big brother.” Ramsay began working as a campus minister and continues that job to this day. “I meet with students who are away from home for the first time. Students can choose to drop out or they turn corners.”
While holding student bible studies during the day, Ramsay began working late nights at a coffee shop on campus. “Only a few people would come in during my shift. The schedule gave me enough freedom to come around the bar and talk about life for 20 minutes or so. Many students are lonely.” He realized that just sharing a cup of coffee could help a homesick student. Coffee could be a catalyst to bring people together. An idea for a small business began to form.
Coffee is one of the most complex beverages on earth although it has just two ingredients - water and coffee beans. Getting a good cup depends on a number of variables – water, filtration, how the beans are grown, grind setting, shipping and more. “If one thing goes wrong, it messes up the entire process,” says Ramsay. “It hit me – I need to do a lot of work if I want to be in coffee.” Ramsay bought a popcorn popper and started roasting coffee beans. He went to trade shows and learned from other roasters to hone his craft.
To start his company, Ramsay visited the local small business development center, sought out online advice and consulted with lawyer and banker friends. He hired an accountant and all of the pieces of his business began coming together. He launched a website, ran Facebook ads, sent out postcards and hosted tastings at a variety of local events. “It’s important to get the product out there. The more you can get it tasted, the better.”
Ramsay worked hard to find initial funding. Armed with projections, a business plan and spreadsheets, his presentations were impressive. However, as a 25 year old without credit and no collateral, he had a very difficult time securing funds. “Finally, a credit union gave us a shot with a $25,000 loan. We also received a community loan for another $20,000. With the funds, he bought an industrial roaster and continued working to create an amazing cup of coffee. “Coffee is the most affordable luxury on planet earth. Even if you’re working a minimum wage job, you can enjoy a great cup of coffee.”
A B2B market for coffee shops, Denim Coffee now also sells directly to customers online. They also offer consultation, equipment and in-depth training to other coffee companies. The E-commerce side sells coffee brewing products and accessories both through the website and Amazon.
As the company grew, Ramsay needed extra funds for working capital and inventory. Denim offers equipment, like espresso machines, that he has personally tested and used. “The level of inventory we need keeps going up and up. The demand is there, we just needed more cash flow.”
Ramsay again explored the baking landscape for funding and the winner was SmartBiz. “There was less risk with a SmartBiz loan,” he says. “We felt like we didn’t have to sign our lives away, and it was a very easy to set up. SmartBiz uses a nifty online checklist where you upload documents and an agent leaves comments so you know exactly what you need. The process of uploading docs was really, really cool – it’s the wave of the future. There are so many documents when you apply for funding. To do all of those things with a bank and stay organized would have been impossible.”
Denim Coffee secured a $50,000 low-interest SBA loan with a 10-year term. From beginning to end, the process took just six weeks. Ramsay is looking forward to expanding.
Ramsay doesn’t want to be just another coffee company. “What I want is to compete with the coffee companies that don’t take care of the farmers. Coffee isn’t just a product we consume – it’s grown on the other end of the world by people we never meet. Those people are working harder than I am and making just pennies.”
Ramsay wants to move towards direct trade coffee where you actually go meet with the farmers and support them. “10 years down the road, I want to know the farmers and offer equipment so they have the tools they need. The result will be better coffee. I believe customers will be willing to pay more if they feel connected to the farmer.”
Ramsay says his goals and dreams are only possible because he does own his own company. “The best thing about being a small business owner is the creative freedom you have to so something good in the world,” says Ramsay. I’ve been in the coffee business for 11 years and I’m holding onto a greater vision. You don’t get to do that if you work for a corporation.”
The most challenging part of owning a business for Ramsay is the personal sacrifice. “My wife and I are invested, we care about this business. There’s always a challenge to find more time and put out fires.”
Ramsay’s passion for human connection drives him to work hard.
“I see coffee shops as an important ‘third space’”, he says. In community building, the third space is the social surroundings separate from the two usual environments of home and work. “Third spaces are disappearing. Where can people meet to interact with different ideas, ideologies and ideas? Participation in churches, clubs and other community groups is going down. I want to bring that back through really good coffee.”
Speaking of really good coffee, what is the next innovation in coffee? “Cold brew coffee is the big thing,” says Ramsay. “We can really compete – I’ve tried other cold brews but we really have nailed it – it’s phenomenal. I think we can win awards and market share.”
To learn more about the Denim Coffee Company and order product, visit their website.