Today’s small business success interview is with Loren Bunjes. Loren is the founder and a co-owner of Prismatic Coffee, the first third wave coffee company in Albuquerque.
Loren and Prismatic Coffee purchased vinyl banners to use as sponsorship advertising at local events.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m a person of broad interest. I am a formerly trained violinist and opera singer as well as an avid mountain biker/trail runner and rock climber. I have been a craft beverage enthusiast for most of my adult life, focusing on craft beer and coffee. To help illustrate this point, while I was pursuing a microbiology degree at Montana State University, I wrote a beer column for the campus paper as well as hosted a weekly beer club.
I am a person that can’t settle with a surface level understanding of things. I love education and exploration. You’re more likely to find me reading a textbook than fiction.
Being someone that finds interest in many things, coffee keeps me engaged. The world that is craft roasting offers constant engagement in things, like keeping up with current crops, adjusting in house blends or learning more about new techniques in coffee.
When did you first take interest in coffee? You mentioned the things that coffee engages you with constantly, but what about coffee engaged you at the very beginning?
I grew up in New Orleans and coffee was a part of my community. My father made coffee every morning before work and let me have a small cup from time to time. I learned about craft coffee as an adult. I had a transcendent latte at a local restaurant that served one of the original third wave companies, Intelligentsia. The difference in quality is what engaged me. It was astounding how different it was. That’s when I went down the rabbit hole.
What does your company do?
Prismatic Coffee is a craft, micro-roaster. Prismatic Coffee is one of the first third wave roasting companies in New Mexico. Third wave coffee is about craft from start to finish. We buy coffee from all over the world, only purchasing from the top crops in a region. The farms we buy from are of the highest quality, and this is essential. Without a high-quality raw product you don’t stand a chance.
In comes roasting. Roasting coffee is extremely technical. Flavor is a matter of degrees, and we constantly quality control our product. If we don’t love it, we tweak it. This is a painstaking process but craft takes time and effort. Next, we prepare all of our coffee by hand on the industry’s best equipment. Every cup you order at Prismatic is curated. Some coffee is best as espresso, and others as pour over. Not a cup leaves the work area that hasn’t been examined.
We are a craft roasting company at heart, specializing in coffee that doesn’t need to be altered with cream and sugar. Coffee is easy to do poorly, and that is where the knee jerk reaction to alter your cup comes in. In our shop, over 90% of customers drink the coffee black, because we maniacally obsess on taste.
You said, “If we don’t love it, we tweak it.” Is this going to be an ongoing process with each batch of coffee or will it thin out or become easier with time?
This will be part of the routine forever. This happens twice a week, every week. Coffee is dynamic. Besides the fact that coffee comes from all over the world, going in and out of season, it changes from day to day even in your shop. Craft food and beverage isn’t static so we will never stop being self critical.
How were you able to determine which farms to buy from?
At the scale Prismatic is currently at, we buy from green coffee distributors. We work with boutique and highly specialized buyers who buy from top level farmers. We take that one step further and make sure we are buying from as many coops and women’s farms as we can… assuming it meets our quality standards and current needs.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Third wave coffee started around 20 years ago in places like Chicago and the Bay Area with companies like Ritual and Intelligentsia. They are widely considered some of the founders of craft coffee. We are doing very much the same thing, but pioneering it in Albuquerque. I chose to put Prismatic in Albuquerque because we have a thriving craft beer scene. Coffee and beer parallel each other in so many ways. People in Albuquerque already have a palate for craft beverages, and coffee is the natural evolution.
What sets you apart from your competition?
We are the only third wave roasting company in the city. The only thing we do is craft coffee, on the best equipment, with detailed training. We have been compared to some of the best roasters in the world, and that means as a customer you will receive a world class cup of coffee every time you come to Prismatic Coffee.
How extensive is your training and how do you choose the people who work for you?
Because this type of coffee is new to Albuquerque we don’t get to choose from seasoned professional baristas. There are some great folks in town, but on the whole I tend to hire personalities and people that are enthusiastic about craft coffee…even in concept. The training is a mix of book style knowledge and practical skills. We spend months working on concepts and techniques and because the world of craft coffee is so large, it’s an ongoing process.
What is one strategy for gaining customers that you have been successful with?
At this point, it almost goes without saying that a top notch social media presence is a requirement. Months before we opened even, we had started on our social media presence. We are able to communicate with our customers directly and nimbly. It also allows us to control the narrative on a large scale while targeting specific audiences. We got lucky that I am a professional photographer (as said earlier, I’ve worn many hats and have many interests) but either hire someone as a full-time photographer and social media director or at least have someone managing it every day.
Second (but really first) is a strong graphic presence. This goes hand in hand with your social media presence. Without a strong graphic design your brand is only conceptual. Giving your customers multiple ways to remember you will give you long-term stability. Spend money on a good graphic designer who understands your brand. You will not regret it.
What kind of content do you post? Out of those posts, which are the most effective?
Our Instagram is the backbone. We try to post a balance of information to reach our customers about new products or events, as well as photos for the sake of art. I am a professional photographer and love being creative with that medium. I think the posts with the most impact are the ones that are good photos that are specific to our brand. People from Albuquerque are loyal to their people, so when it represents the local brand I think people relate to that.
Is there an area that you’ve struggled with in regards to customer acquisition that you believe is critical to future success? If so, how are you overcoming that?
Expanding our base beyond word of mouth has been slightly hard. We are now actively seeking out opportunities to serve our coffee at events like running events or music festivals.
How do you compete with bigger competitors that are similar to yours but have a recognizable brand and large marketing budgets?
The good thing about starting our company in Albuquerque is that we have no direct competition. We can grow, refine and expand within our city before we compete with larger established companies. That being said, as a roaster we want our coffee being served in the top shops throughout the country. This is where large budgets help. Packaging and account managing are where larger, more recognized companies have a leg up. If we send our coffee to a place like Go Get’em Tiger in LA we are up against companies that have great coffee and huge budgets to impress them. Image is everything and can even influence people who are trying to objectively choose product.
What is one of the biggest challenges you have had with your business and how did you overcome it?
Capital. We started with nearly no liquid capital, and banks do not give money to anyone who doesn’t already have it. The “American Dream” is kind of a joke at this point.
How did you overcome it?
Really good credit. We had two private investors after we got started, but purchased most things through credit cards and lines of credit.
If you could rewind time is there anything you’d do differently? If so, what?
Generally no. I feel really good about how things went. If anything, I might have played some cards a little closer to the vest.
Can you give an example of how you “might have played some cards a little closer to the vest”?
I actually probably can’t. But, basically someone is copying our business plan.
If you had advice for other SMB owners, regardless of the industry, what would it be?
Create systems for as many things you can. It gives you something to fall back on when you are stressed and/or overwhelmed.
Challenge yourself by having people around you that disagree. Yes-men will ruin you!
How do you “WOW” your customers?
This depends on the customer. If you are coming into Prismatic knowing what we do, then you will be wowed with the excellence of the product and attention to detail. If you are more of a coffee novice, then you will be wowed with the service. We love handholding and education. Customer service is key.
What do you think the future holds for your business?
We are super optimistic and excited about growth. We plan on opening a second location as soon as we can with a large roasting facility and distributing throughout the country to craft oriented shops.
Without sharing detailed financials can you speak to your growth to this point and why you think it will continue?
We are roasting more coffee nearly every month as we gain new accounts and popularity. I am super proud of what we have accomplished and see rapid growth for next year as we start actively pursuing new accounts throughout the city and country.
Where can you be found on the internet?
We are all over! Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and our website.
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/prismaticcoffee/
Twitter — https://twitter.com/prismaticcoffee
Facebook — www.facebook.com/prismaticcoffee
Editor’s Note: We just wanted to again tell Loren thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with us, in between him running a business and reading textbooks. When you run a small business and are giving it your all to help your business succeed and grow, time is a precious thing. But that’s what Loren gives his business, the coffee they serve, their customers and himself, and that time and attention is what has made Loren a successful entrepreneur and Prismatic Coffee a hit in Albuquerque. Creating a personal atmosphere and offering exceptional customer service should be replicated in all small businesses. Besides offering delectable coffee, Loren also knows small business success is dependent on having a good social media presence – through strong visual elements and graphic design – and continually challenging and bettering yourself. Great job, Loren, and good luck to you and Prismatic Coffee on your future endeavors!