The Bean Cartel founder on starting again after losing everything

Stacy Visser, founder of The Bean Cartel

From hitting rock-bottom to building a rapidly expanding coffee brand, The Bean Cartel Founder Stacy Visser shares his journey and the challenges that made him a better businessman.

Small business owners know success isn’t always linear, but for Stacy Visser it took hitting rock-bottom to shift his mindset, focus his vision, and establish a brand that would go the distance. Today, his company is one of Australia’s most rapidly expanding coffee roasters, with The Bean Cartel’s Melbourne roastery this year doubling its capacity. Despite this, it was through adversity that Stacy and wife Alison learned the essential skills for business success.

“It can be easy to look at how well we’re doing now and assume it’s always been this way and that it’s been easy, but that’s not the case,” says Stacy.

To understand where The Bean Cartel is now, you have to go back to before it was even an idea in Stacy’s mind – back to the late 1990s, to be precise. Young and keen to establish his own business, the entrepreneur launched a Subway franchise in Adelaide. After a few tough formative years, good business brought more franchises his way and his mini empire of hospitality businesses began to grow.

Within nine years, Stacy owned several Subway branches across the city and had bought the first Boost Juice franchise in the country. Seeing the success McDonald’s had with its breakfast bundle, Stacy introduced a three-group coffee machine to one of his Subway stores, which proved a huge hit. With his attention captured by coffee, Stacy decided to open two cafés in quick succession with the aim of creating his own franchisable brand.

Stacy Visser of The Bean Cartel
Image: Blake Storey / BeanScene

“I got cavalier and thought everything I touched turned to gold,” admits Stacy.

“My first Subway store didn’t make any money for the first two or three years, but by doing 90-hour weeks and supporting ourselves with second jobs we managed to turn the tide on that business. I thought because I’d turned the first store around I could do it again and again, but that wasn’t the case.”

The two cafés quickly started pulling money from the other businesses and before long they were losing $8000 to $10,000 a week. Stacy sold some of the more successful franchises to try and keep afloat, but it was a losing battle.

“It was like watching a car crash in slow motion,” says Stacy. “I didn’t have the experience of running cafés and I went too big too early with a 200-seat venue. We eventually lost everything: we lost our house, my car was repossessed, I had to pull my children out of their school.”

Despite hitting rock bottom, Stacy wasn’t ready to admit defeat. Thankfully, there was one final shred of hope for him and his young family that allowed them to restart their lives in Melbourne and give the coffee industry another go.

“I didn’t want to feel like I’d failed. I could have gone back to my previous job in the pharmaceutical industry and earned good money but I wasn’t passionate about it, and I would have felt like I’d wasted 10 years trying. It was a mix of pride and ego,” he says.

“While we had lost everything, the bank had forgotten to remove a $20,000 overdraft from my account and that’s what we used to start the office coffee business that would grow to become The Bean Cartel as it is today. I’ve still got that account with the overdraft to this day. I’ve never closed it as it’s a reminder of what we’ve grown from.”

The Bean Cartel team
Image: The Bean Cartel

In the 13 years that have passed, Stacy’s second chance has evolved from an office coffee machine supplier to a roaster with wholesale and retail customers across Australia. He credits much of its success to his team but also to the skills and learnings gleaned from his previous mistakes.

“One of the greatest changes I’ve made as a businessman is being more patient. Everything is slower and more strategic now. Someone once said to me ‘I’m going slowly because I’m in a hurry’. I didn’t get what they meant until I had to start again and reflect on how I’d approached the business,” he says.

‘Timing is everything; you can’t rush success. You might want to be in a certain place, but you have to plan the journey to get there. The result is I’ve achieved more with this business in a shorter time than I did with the franchises in Adelaide.”

One of the other changes, on the back of a suggestion from wife Alison, was to introduce a female voice to the management team. With a strong background in the industry, Melissa Glentis joined The Bean Cartel as National Sales Manager in 2022.

“One of the best lessons I learnt was that business is not always about branding or even the product, but the most important factor is your team. Even at 50 years old, I’m still learning every day from the people around me,” he says.

For small business owners just starting out, Stacy believes following your ambitions is the key to success.

“Follow your dreams and don’t quit until you realistically can’t give any more. However, you also have to be conservative and if the writing is on the wall, you can’t let your ego get in the way of making the right decision,” he says.

It hasn’t been complete plain sailing for Stacy since he moved to Melbourne – the pandemic almost saw his business go under again. However, he leveraged his skills and pivoted the brand towards the specialty market.

“We didn’t really get into specialty coffee until after Covid,” says Stacy.

“We would have done it before, but the pandemic wasn’t the right time to launch something new. We came into the market a bit later than the big boys and it takes time to gain respect in an industry like this, especially when there are so many well-known brands. I’m very proud of what we have done in such a short amount of time.”

Rebranding was a major focus of the shift to specialty. The switch from what Stacy describes as “vanilla” to “crazy” branding has put the The Bean Cartel firmly on the radar of the specialty industry. He says green-bean suppliers now contact him about funky single origins and customers look to them for the next innovative coffee.

The team have also kept their eye on product innovations in the market and haven’t been afraid of trying new things, such as working with their wholesale customers to introduce integrated batch taps to the café bench.

Batch taps by The Bean Cartel
Image: Blake Storey / BeanScene

“The batch taps we’ve installed in places such as Fed Café in Melbourne’s Albert Park show that we’re not scared to push boundaries in the specialty space. In 2022, we launched our batch taps at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo, and were the only company at the show with this technology,” says Stacy.

The batch taps are a great way for café owners to showcase The Bean Cartel’s constantly shifting single origins, with unique graphics from Colombian artist Alejandro Giraldo displayed on the taps and signifying the characteristics of each.

“Tiki Punch, a natural anaerobic process coffee from Colombia, is by far the most popular on the batch taps. The flavours are incredible, whether prepared as hot batch or cold brew, with notes of almond, cranberry, papaya, and pineapple. We’re the only roaster in Australia working with it.”

And innovation won’t stop there for The Bean Cartel. Future plans for the company include taking the brand international, with projects already underway in Asia. Stacy says no idea is too out-there, and that his office door is always open to any team member who wants to share their suggestion.

“Whether they’re a delivery driver, a packer, or a sales manager, no idea will be shot down,” he says.

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This article appears in the June 2024 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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