Axil Coffee discusses growth, expansion, and sharing the Axil experience

Axil Coffee

Axil Coffee Managing Director Dave Makin explains why the roaster is more than just a coffee brand with a WBC-win under its belt. He talks growth, expansion, and sharing the Axil experience.

The name Axil Coffee has been synonymous with the Australian specialty coffee industry for the past 12 years. In 2022, it was the name tied to winning World Barista Champion Anthony Douglas, but in 2023, the company, led by Founders Dave Makin and Zoe Delany, plans to share the magic of Axil to new and untouched regions of the Australian coffee community.

“Axil is an expression of myself and Zoe, and what we wanted to do. I came out of school and did a degree in catering and hotel management, so for me the aim was to always run a professional group of cafés that supports our team,” Dave says.

“We opened our first Burwood Road store in Hawthorn on 18 May 2011. I remember opening the doors and having that moment of, ‘oh my God, is anybody going to come?’ Then it shifted to, ‘oh, my gosh, we’re full’. And that happened very quickly – within the first week.”

Now, with 19 Axil-branded cafés – and counting – and a team of 300 staff, the company has had to develop its own payroll, marketing, and operations department with the necessary processes and systems in place to help manage and sustain its growth.

“From the very beginning, we made sure we did things the right way, therefore we attracted good staff and kept a lot of good staff,” Dave says. “Eight staff members are eligible for long-service leave. To have eight of the original crew still here 12 years later, is a testament to us doing things the right way and looking after the team.”

The same principle applies to Axil’s wholesale arm, where it aims to do business with like-minded professional business operators and offer support to help each venue succeed.

This includes sharing the Axil Training Manual with all wholesale customers, which details how to service a table and take customer orders with recommended abbreviations. Support also includes advice on how to manage labour structure and streamline bar design and operation workflow.

“In the beginning we had just five wholesale accounts – five people I knew in the industry who were hospitality professionals keen to jump on board and use Axil from the beginning. Now, we have three sales representatives on the road and around 160 wholesale customers,” Dave says.

Ninety per cent of the coffee Axil roasts stays in Metropolitan Melbourne. However, that barrier may soon be lifted with Axil looking to partner with interstate customers and branch into new territories.

Dave Makin is celebrating 30 years in the hospitality industry, and looks forward to expanding Axil Coffee to new markets.

“Since the World Barista Championship (WBC) win, some new accounts from all over the country have shown interest in what we do, so that will be our next big move – a push interstate and to try and find like-minded people in each capital city that would like to do business with us,” Dave says.

It’s for this exact reason Dave is grateful to have the right support structures in place as Axil enters the next phase of its evolution.

“There are plenty of coffee companies out there offering coffee in a bag. But being a coffee company is more than that,” Dave says.

“We have all our training and support systems in place, in addition to a huge amount of experience in delivering a retail concept. We understand exactly what a café owner goes through on a day-to-day basis, and that puts us in a really good position to help them because we walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.”

While a “pretty switched on professional” can tell the difference between specialty coffee brands, realistically, Dave says most people partner with Axil because they like its people and operations.

“We want to ensure everybody gets the right Axil experience, which is one that goes beyond a transactional relationship, into a partnership geared towards helping our wholesale partners thrive,” he says.

“It’s hard work being a small business owner. I was one myself. When you’ve got one café, you can’t have a marketing team, you can’t have a payroll person. Simple things like keeping up with changes to Fair Work or Superannuation, are hard. If we can provide a bit of support and assistance around those things, then hopefully it makes the café owner’s job easier and lets them focus on serving customers.”

Axil in numbers

Quite often a rise in volume can result in a lack of consistency and quality output, but Dave says Axil’s commitment to these two values has never strayed and underpin every decision it makes.

“I remember when we discussed the idea of opening in Chadstone Shopping Centre and whether it was going to hurt our brand. We decided that if we served bad coffee and bad food, it would, but if went in offering the best coffee and food, then it could only build our brand,” Dave says.

“I think that’s the trap people can fall into. If you lose that focus on ‘being the best’ as you get bigger, that’s when you see quality drop. We share the same mindset across all our cafés: to make consistently good coffee every day, and fast. If we do it right, people will come back.”

This outlook was tested during two uncertain years of COVID-restrictions in Melbourne. Axil Coffee went into 2020 will 11 stories, however it ended 2022 with 19 stores, nearly doubling its growth over the past three years.

“Everybody thinks I’m crazy, but most of those leases were signed before COVID. We had to go ahead with the rollout and build the stores,” Dave says.

With each new venue opening and for every wholesale partner, is also a commitment to using the same equipment. As such, Axil coffee has been a long-time supplier of La Marzocco coffee machines.

“We’ve had such a great relationship with La Marzocco over the years. I first went to the original factory in Italy on the way to compete in the 2006 WBC because I couldn’t get access to a La Marzocco in Melbourne to train on. Look how quickly that’s changed in 17 years,” Dave says. “It’s been great to grow our brand with another amazing brand that’s quality driven.”

Another devoted partner is Riverina Fresh milk, who is passionate about its product and the coffee industry, but equally the support it provides.

“They’re so passionate about seeing Axil Coffee do well, therefore you feel that support and feel that love, so it’s been a really good relationship,” Dave says.

A realistic outlook

Aside from opening Axil’s first venue 12 years ago, Dave says seeing Axil Research and Development Manager Anthony Douglas win the WBC on home soil was a career highlight.

Winning the competition was always a personal goal of Dave’s, to which he narrowly missed by a mere five points in the 2008 WBC in Copenhagen. Seeing a fellow Axil team member finally take the crown 14 years later, however, was the next best thing.

“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Anthony’s an amazing staff member who’s been with us for a decade. He’s such a nice person and a great representative for specialty coffee,” Dave says.

2022 World Barista Champion Anthony Douglas (centre) with Axil Coffee Founders Dave Makin and Zoe Delany, and Head Roaster Matthew Crowley.

“His win is an amazing achievement for the whole Axil team. It puts us on a global stage and recognises that we truly are good at what we do, and we represent what this specialty coffee industry is all about.”

As to how it translates into monetary gains, however, comes with a reality check.

“We certainly didn’t sell any more cups of coffee this week than before the WBC. From a retail and wholesale point of view, it’s a nice feather in our cap, and a pat on the back for our entire team, especially for all the hard work that’s gone in over the years,” Dave says.

“If anyone was looking at working with Axil from a wholesale point of view, then I think it shows our level of commitment and passion, but realistically, a café owner isn’t going to swap to Axil just because the World Barista Champion works with us.”

Instead, Dave is ready to embrace a new year and new goals using the same guiding principles and passion for hospitality he has shared over the past 30 years.

“Hospitality is what I’ve always done and wanted to do. I can’t imagine doing anything else – although if I could afford to be a professional race car driver, maybe, but at this stage I’m sticking to cafés,” Dave says.

“There’s still plenty of suburbs in Melbourne where there’s not an amazing coffee offer. Not to mention if we go into interstate where there’s even more scope for growth. It’s going to be an exciting year ahead.”

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This article appears in the February 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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