Brewtech Founder Craig Milton speaks to BeanScene about engineering a specialty coffee business from the depths of his garage, the importance of workplace culture, and mapping out a path of expansion as a brand specialist.
When Craig Milton started coffee machine service company Brewtech in 2015 as a one-man show from his Melbourne home, he never could have imagined the growth trajectory this humble service company would undertake.
Craig bought the cheapest van he could to start collecting and servicing coffee machines. He recalls David Makin of Axil Coffee Roasters as his very first customer, installing the roaster’s first espresso machine on the bench of its Hawthorn venue.
Before long, Craig took over the garages of his two next door neighbours and employed technicians Scott Curtis and Steven Lay to join the team. It became such a tightknit group that when Craig’s eldest son drew a family picture for school, Scott and Steve were included.
That model of unity and approach to work with a sense of humour, respect, and trust, is the culture Craig has instilled and retained at the heart of the business as it’s grown.
“Culture is everything, as are our relationships, which are at the heart of who we are at Brewtech,” Craig says. “Our customers and suppliers are an extension of our family. I’ve never lost a customer, or a staff member, and I hate it when someone refers to me as ‘the boss’. We’re just one unit working towards a common goal by taking a humble, honest approach.”
A chef by trade, Craig came to Australia from England 16 years ago on a working holiday visa and never left. When funds ran out of the backpacker’s account, Craig worked as a delivery driver for Veneziano Coffee Roasters before trying his hand at cleaning coffee machines.
“I started to learn more about how coffee machines work and how they are put together. Eventually I had the opportunity to build a business out of it. I remember going out to one of my first jobs because there was a fault with a machine, and I swapped out every part until I found the one that was faulty. I’m a problem solver, that’s what I do,” Craig says.
“I work hard to get your first job, then I earn your next one. It’s about winning business based on trust.”
Craig’s ability to problem solve has seen Brewtech evolve into one of the industry’s most exciting service prospects.
In 2018, Craig moved the business into the Kensington premises where it now operates, giving his grateful neighbours their car spaces back. From there, Brewtech conducts services, preventative maintenance checks, customisation, and travels throughout Victoria for espresso machine installation, service, and repairs. “You name it, we do it,” Craig says.
Thanks to a newly launched app, customers can view a live calendar to book a Brewtech technician visit at the touch of a button, be notified as the job progresses, and as it’s completed. It’s a service Craig describes as “Uber for machine repairs”.
Servicing makes up the majority of Brewtech’s regular work, which, pre-COVID, involved working on about 120 machines across the road and workshop. However, Craig says customisation requests continue to spike in popularity.
“Ten years ago, no-one did it. Having the machine alone was enough of a statement. But now it’s a fantastic way for customers to personalise a machine to a café and help make it different to all the others on the street. People like Dan [Schonknecht] of Specht Design and Pantechnicon in the US really helped open up the customisation market and drive it. It’s exciting to carry that movement and get creative,” Craig says. “We will do literally anything you can think of – adding colour, removing panels, exposing parts, even modifying parts of the machine to work differently.”
Brewtech’s growth has been rapid in the past three and a half years. The service company now has 13 staff members and this year, became the official service partner of La Marzocco espresso machines, a formal partnership that Craig is thrilled to solidify.
With the businesses being close friends and working partners for years, this collaboration is an exciting step forward in end-to-end service for espresso machines in Australia.
“It’s a family bond that feels right. We’re working together in our efforts to be there for the specialty coffee community of Australia,” Craig says.
He says La Marzocco machines are so well built that even if a 10- to 15-year-old model was given a complete overhaul, it would leave the Brewtech warehouse operating as good as new.
“La Marzocco technology is built to last, yet so progressive in terms of its development from the classic workhorse that is the Linea Classic to the innovative KB90,” he says.
Brewtech stocks the full range of La Marzocco models, in addition to being an importer of Mahlkönig grinders and a Victorian distributer for Übermilk milk dispensers.
Continuing its year of growth, Brewtech expanded its services to Queensland in August. It has also employed its first technician in Sydney and is looking to further expand its team of professionals.
“We are so fortunate to have opened our Brisbane office, or ‘modest shed’, I should say. I’m thankful customers have jumped on board to support us so early on. It’s been good timing actually. Our Queensland work has helped carry us through COVID when Victorian businesses have faced such heavy restrictions,” Craig says.
Experienced technicians Gary Wood and Anthony Burke, with fully qualified electrical contractor Ben Missen, run the Queensland arm of the business. “It’s our very own boy band,” Craig says. “The guys have done a terrific job, and now my fire is burning bigger than ever for more expansion.
“The goal is to establish a national service network, so that wherever customers are in Australia, they have full-service access for La Marzocco machines. We want to help provide an end-to-end solution.”
When it comes to customer wants and needs from their equipment, Craig relates firsthand. He and his wife Selina are the owners of adjoining concept espresso bar Colab, which, similarly to the La Marzocco Café at KEXP in Seattle, rotates some of the country’s best roasters each month.
“For that one month, the roaster becomes an extension of our business,” Craig says. “We chose to apply this model to give back to the roasters who have supported us along the way from Axil to Campos, Veneziano to Industry Beans, and many more. We love that sense of community. Pre-COVID, we even hosted ‘meet the roaster’ events, sessions to learn about business ownership and held some awesome parties.”
Craig adds that the outpouring of community support during Victorian lockdown restrictions has been nothing short of overwhelming. Colab would usually attract city clientele but since the lockdown, 80 per cent of customers are new faces he’s never met before.
Craig is optimistic customer levels and service jobs will soon return to the high volumes they were pre-COVID and is excited about the opportunity Brewtech has to offer the Australian coffee market.
“I really do feel that we can be excellent, and it’s easy for us to do because we have the knowledge of one brand of machine in particular. We know the machines inside-out and have only the one brand of genuine spare parts, making us specialists not generalists,” Craig says.
“Working as a technician is hard work. It’s not a 9am to 5pm job. It demands attention even if a call comes in after you’ve clocked off for the day with a beer in hand. But it’s definitely rewarding work, and I’m excited to work with my team as we grow into a national business.”
For more information, visit www.brewtech.com.au
This article appears in the October 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.