Some people claim how you take your coffee says a lot about who you are. We don’t know about that, but we do know how the coffee is grown, harvested, and distributed says a lot about Philz. Since expanding to nearly 50 stores in California (with some opening up on the East Coast), Philz has quickly become a household name by pleasing the pickiest of coffee lovers and showing caffeine-skeptics there is more than one way to enjoy a cup a joe.
From their attention to detail in selecting their coffee and building relationships with the farmers, to hand-crafting the beverage exactly how the customer wants it, Philz prides themselves on their quality, sustainability, and customization. “We think of ourselves as a business who serves people, not coffee,” says Andi Trindle Mersch, Director of Coffee and Sustainability at Philz. Mersch oversees coffee sourcing and quality all the way through to the consumer. She and her small team are the subject matter experts on anything and everything related to coffee, and she’s newly responsible for helping the company scale while investing in environment-friendly and sustainable best practices.
It’s a long journey from coffee bean to cup, and the Philz team is continuously looking at ways to fine-tune their processes. We sat down with Mersch to discuss how Philz has scaled a business nationwide while preserving that shop-around-the-corner brand their consumers know and love.
1. First, and foremost, what’s your go-to Philz drink order?
That’s easy! I love a simple, straight-forward New Manhattan. Black, no sugar.
2. Philz is really well known for their high-quality coffee. How are you able to sustain such a healthy, long-standing relationship with all the growers and importers you work with?
For us, the secret sauce is transparency. We ask for transparency from our suppliers and we provide it in return. For every single coffee lot we purchase, we ask them to fill out a semi-lengthy questionnaire about practices on the farm, quality parameters, gender issues, etc. And we like to return the favor by communicating on everything. If anything is happening in our business, if we're just busy and we can't get back to people right away, we’ll keep them informed. If something changes in our forecast, we want to be open about what happened and why.
3. What is your top priority when working in supply chain management?
I would say consistency in process. A lot of times, we’re engaging in contracts 6 to 24 months prior to when we expect to see the coffee in our inventory. So we have to have on contractual paper what we're expecting in terms of quality, volume, timing, and pricing. All of those details are real important to have in writing and confirmed between all parties.
What can still happen occasionally is a miss on one side when making an adjustment to a contract. Because we’re contracting so far forward often we’re only estimating the month we need it delivered. I'm really just trying to secure the general quality, timing, and price until we get much closer and shift to a near-term forecast. So once we have a better understanding of when we need that inventory, we’ll change it to deliver in February versus somewhere between January through March, for example.
Let’s say we put that on an email exchange between the importer then on our side we go in and log the change in the contract log. But if they didn't send us an amended physical contract, it might not have been adjusted in their system, which means that it's not February from their standpoint. It still says January through March. Obviously, if we are relying on that coffee in February now, we need our importers to be working under the same timeline. That’s why consistency is so important to us, not just in terms of quality in our product, but across our processes as well.
4. How are you able to prioritize consistency, while continuously learning and improving upon your existing processes?
We have monthly long-term purchasing meetings where we like to review our forecast and see how things are going. During those meetings, we use Wrike to take notes on action items that we need to address. We identify consistent issues that help us evolve our processes.
For example, if we see a consistent issue such as, "Why are we always short on this ingredient?” Then we realize we're not getting good forecasting on this, so what are we missing? Or maybe our model isn't looking at the data in the right way. Maybe we need to assume additional days for something and we need to build it into our modeling.
The long story short is by using tools like Wrike very consistently and regularly, we're able to easily find holes in the process and quickly make a change. And I believe processes should always be evolving; you should never stay stagnant. A good 85% of our process is solid, but I feel like there's about 15% of it that is always pushing towards perfection.
"A good 85% of our process is solid, but I feel like there's about 15% of it that is always pushing towards perfection."
5. How has Wrike impacted your efficiency and scalability?
It’s incredible. By being able to monitor and track all of the processes that we have in one place, versus diving into emails and spreadsheets, it really makes our work so much more efficient. Since adopting Wrike, I would say about 50% of my week is optimized. Action items are getting done. Forecasts are more accurate. My whole team is just so much more organized and efficient.
"Since adopting Wrike, I would say about 50% of my week is optimized."
In terms of scalability, a top priority for us was to find out what processes are repeatable, and try to automate them as much as possible without sacrificing quality. I find automation is something a business needs to embrace if they want to grow. If your processes are too time consuming and inefficient or inconsistent, you can't successfully scale.
I think the there’s a common misconception that automation takes away jobs, but that’s simply not true. Growing to almost 50 stores over 6 years, we understand there is no substitute for human interaction. However, people are a limited resource. If we find ways to automate upstream and make those repetitive tasks more manageable, we can focus less on the transactions and more on the interactions.
"If we find ways to automate upstream and make those repetitive tasks more manageable, we can focus less on the transactions and more on the interactions."
6. How does sustainability play a role in the success of your business?
Historically, sustainability plays a very important function for how we source green coffee beans. One of our most important functions is making sure we have the highest quality of beans and the right practices in place to sustainably source those beans. It's foundational for our business to make sure we have the right coffee at the right price, the right quality, and that it is a secure supply chain — that people provide us with coffee because we're prioritizing our relationship with them.
Then this value prop extends to other realms within the business. It's just in our DNA to be good people. One of our core values is to be kind and keep it real. As a business that's growing really fast, sustainability to me also includes risk management and making sure that we're able to keep doing what we do.
"One of our core values is to be kind and keep it real."
In order to get tea, coffee, cups, etc., we have to be a part of the conversation about protecting our natural resources and the people who are providing the products and the things we need. If we don't help engage in that dialogue and make sure we're doing those things, then the success of our business, like our environment, is at risk.
7. How do you keep your values and priorities consistent all the way from the roasting facilities to the home office and then to the cafes themselves?
I think first and foremost, it starts with our CEO, Jacob. He's really good at leading every conversation and every decision with our values and articulating them. Then he hired the most awesome chief people officer who helps push those values out, and I just think they do a great job at it. Then, from my side, I would also say I really appreciate that they are investing in sustainability as a real investment now, not just an ad hoc committee of volunteers. Now it’s, “Let's elevate someone to a role and give them resources to be successful." I'm going to be pushing through on that as well.
So I think that's how we do it. We're going to have sustainability, or ESG Environmental Social Governance, as an orchestrated, organized, companywide scheme that we work under, and that's super exciting because I get to help roll that out. But it all starts with our CEO. We see him lead with his vision, mission, and core values, and he teaches all of us to do that as well.
8. What is the difference between serving coffee and serving people?
So as the first person Philz brought in with a coffee background and knowledge base, Jacob told me something like, “Coffee will never be the most important thing at Philz. Coffee is just a medium to our goal. Our goal is to better the days of our customers.” That's it. So it's just set up in the structure of our mission to make sure that the customer experience is always before the coffee experience.
“Coffee will never be the most important thing at Philz. Coffee is just a medium to our goal. Our goal is to better the days of our customers.”
My job and my team's job is to make the coffee portion of that experience as excellent as it can be from what we know about coffee, but there is never an appropriate time for us as coffee experts or people to say, "You should enjoy coffee this way," or, "You shouldn't do that with your coffee." Coffee takes a backseat to customer experience. Every customer is different, and our goal is to provide them with the experience that best serves them, not the other way around.
Fueling Growth & Happiness
There are no shortcuts to successfully scaling a business. It requires transparency, consistent processes, and a commitment to continuously learn and evolve. Every company can learn from Philz’ story — adopting tools that help streamline collaboration and automate upstream so the customer leaves with a coffee in hand and a personalized experience. By harmonizing efficiency and consistency from the growers all the way to consumers, Philz can focus on the most important mission of all: bettering days one cup at a time.
Banner photo: Andrew Slate for Wrike