Business as (un)usual Nº 02: Kōkako

Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns have put tremendous pressure on the global economy, with New Zealand being no exception.

Interviewed by Adam Bryce

Extreme times like these are renowned for changing the way that businesses and industries operate — creating innovative productivity methods and new ways to communicate and manufacture.

Here, we speak to Mike Murphy, managing director of Auckland coffee roastery, Kōkako.

Have you implemented any changes that you will keep post-lockdown?

Definitely. Like many businesses, we had to pivot quickly as we lost over 80 per cent of our turnover as Level 4 began. The majority of our business is generated from cafes and hospitality so it’s forced us to explore new online sales platforms and partnerships, including Almighty Mart with Almighty.

We’ve also started working with The Market and have spent a lot more time making our own online offerings more compelling, including adding several grocery lines such as the ‘Batchwell x Kōkako’ Cascara Kombucha and ‘All Good’ Oat Milk which have been a big hit.

We also wanted to support our cafe network — if we thought we had it bad, with such a big drop in sales, we knew that our cafe network would be feeling it given they couldn’t trade online or open the doors. So, we came up with this ‘Support your Localinitiative where we created ‘own brand’ coffee for participating cafes, and generate a credit for them of 25 per cent for each bag sold. It’s reinforced to us the support that local owner/operators have from their immediate communities — from Northland to Dunedin, we’ve been humbled by the support the cafes have received from the community. Although this is a short-term initiative and many cafes are now opening under Level 3, it shows the power of local brands and collaborations, so we will likely do stuff like this in the future.

What have been your biggest take-away lessons from this time?

The importance of communication — we ramped up our comms from day one of the lockdown. The cafes we supply all across Aotearoa, live our values and represent our brand so brilliantly so we’ve placed a big focus on support and communication for the cafe owners representing Kōkako; they are the lifeblood of our business. This has included everything from our tips and recommendations on commercial considerations such as security, leases, government support packages etc through to fun recipes and mental health check-ins to help keep everyone calm. We have an amazing community that supports us and we see communication as a vital tool in such exceptional circumstances.

We’ve also created a weekly staff email newsletter to make everyone feel connected, and hosted virtual coffee and social catch-ups online.

The biggest lesson would probably be the importance of having a ‘rainy day’ fund — as a progressive and fast-growing brand we have used any spare capital for growth, but now we know the importance of a ‘rainy day’ fund. If it wasn’t for the governments wage subsidy we’d be in a bigger pickle than we are right now, so we really appreciate the speed at which this was set up and paid out.

In what ways has the lockdown forced you to adjust future plans for your business?

The biggest challenge will be getting people to go and support their local cafe again. So many people, including us, have a lot invested in cafes and hospitality and the coffee sector; it’s part of the social fabric of our country. We hope that, even under new operating restrictions and social distancing, our cafe network is supported — even if it’s just a takeaway coffee and a nice toasted sandwich, it will mean a lot to cafe owners across New Zealand and the personal interactions will be so good for our collective mental health.

We were meant to open our flagship coffee bar at Commercial Bay in downtown Auckland in late March 2020, so we’ve been thinking about what that will look like post-lockdown. It was already going to be a takeaway coffee offering, but we will be incorporating a ‘click and collect’ service for coffee beans and merchandise so that city workers can order online then pop by the coffee bar on their way to the train so they have great coffee for their weekend brewing. We’ve also been working with some very talented people over lockdown on a self-serve app and online order app that will be rolled out at Kōkako Commercial Bay when we finally open the doors (hopefully soon!).

Tell us about the low moments and successes you’ve experienced and how they’ve affected your vision.

The low moments have really been around the unknowns — but everyone has been in the same boat. We take solace from the fact that our 19-year-old brand has been through heaps already — we had a pretty rocky ride through the GFC and made it out the other side so, even though this pandemic has knocked us around a bit, we remain optimistic for the future and ready to adapt to make sure our brand remains resilient for the future.


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