“When the COVID-19 lockdown came into effect in Singapore obviously business changed dramatically,” Timothy Chew, a professional barista, says.
The cafe Timothy was working at was doing really well. It was located in the posh Duxton neighborhood, in the heart of Singapore's central business district. On top of providing tired office workers their daily caffeine needs, Timothy also conducted coffee seminars for caffeine lovers.
“But business dried up when people started working from home,” Timothy says.
Fortunately, with the help of the RouteBasic free route planner, he was able to pivot quickly to coffee deliveries.
“Now, I roast beans and make small-batch cold brew, which I deliver once a week.”
How Timothy got started in coffee
Timothy discovered that he had a good nose for coffee some years ago.
“I started working in a café after school part time to earn extra money and learn the ropes. I had no bar experience so I started by working the register and gradually worked my way up from there.
I soon realized I had the palate to distinguish between a bad cup of coffee from a good one, and was willing to learn how to make a good cup better.”
Around the same time, the explosion of coffee’s popularity as an artisan drink made it easy to find information about coffee brewing on the internet. Timothy was easily able to find online tutorials from world barista champions and successful shop owners.
“I bought a used espresso machine and started practicing at home. Being a barista is no longer the thing you just do to get your way through school; it’s a respected, full-time profession with passionate, smart, dedicated people.”
The challenge of coffee beyond the cafe
Most cafes were happy to stay traditional pre-COVID-19. Why stray off the beaten path, spend hours planning routes, and neglect core sit-in customers?
“We had experimented with some takeaway and delivery, but not in a big way,” says Timothy.
Most cafes and casual restaurants operate with very tight profit margins, and the COVID-19 only made the situation worse. As more and more companies started working from home, walk in traffic dried up and eventually went to zero. Timothy and his team had to find a pivot.
Thankfully, product excellence was not an issue for Timothy. “The cafe I worked at had already experimented with selling bottled cold brew to our customers who were too busy to drink coffee in our shop, so making and selling cold brew from home was a natural next step for me,” he explains.
Timothy's coffee and cold brew sales were strong as well. “Luckily, I had built up a significant following on Instagram (@timmehchew) and through my coffee brewing workshops. I had a ready supply of customers that were working from home and needed their coffee fix,” he says.
However, his biggest challenge was distribution.
“We deliver once a week to about 50 customers at one go, so that’s a lot of people to deliver to,” explains Timothy. “Our pain point is planning the routes and making sure that our customers were on hand to collect their coffee.”
And of course, making sure that cold brew stays cold.
Driving in circles - why Timothy turned to free route planning software
Timothy used to spend hours using Google Maps to plan routes, and even after all that effort, the deliveries were still not optimized.
“I’d load the coffee into my friend’s car and he’d drive around. We’d often go in circles. Sometimes our customers didn’t show up, and we’d have to circle back to meet them.”
Mistakes like this cost Timothy customer loyalty, time, and fuel. Fuel is expensive, customer loyalty means continued business, and time is priceless.
“Frankly, it was a mess and it was deeply disappointing to have spent so much time on energy on brewing the perfect cup of coffee only to have customers complain that they didn’t get their delivery on time,” Timothy says.
“One of the engineers at RouteBasic was a loyal customer of ours,” he shares. “The timing was perfect, we were just starting to plan routes for the next day.”
Instant route optimization with this free route planner
It took Timothy no time at all to integrate RouteBasic into his delivery operations.
“I loaded the addresses into RouteBasic, hit ‘optimize’, and the app automatically sorted my stops into routes.
“I had seen other apps do this, do but they all involved using a desktop app and transferring the routes to your phone. I didn’t have time for that. Plus, RouteBasic was free!”
The optimized routes also cut out human error and reduced time spent searching and planning on Google Maps.
Smooth customer experience
Previously, customers would text or call Timothy to ask about their orders. He would have to respond to inquiries one at a time, pulling out customer details manually while on the go via his mobile phone.
It was simply unsafe and sapped his energy.
“Frankly the customer notifications feature has been a lifesaver,” Timothy says. “RouteBasic texts customers automatically and even gives them an estimated arrival time, so they know exactly when to expect me.
“There’s a lot more certainty around delivery now, so I can focus on generating more business and making great coffee.”
A change to a barista’s business model
The global pandemic has fast forwarded entire economies online. A transition that was definitely going to happen over the next decade or so took place in a matter of weeks.
For many food and beverage business owners, that could have been a death knell. But thankfully, for Timothy, it’s a challenge to do business differently.
Perking up on digital media
With food deliveries going on smoothly for Timothy, what hasn’t changed for him is brewing small batches of coffee fresh each week.
But what has changed for his work is how people get to know about his work.
“A cafe is a naturally social and communal place. Our regulars bring their friends, who start becoming regulars and the cycle repeats itself. Having a good location with good foot traffic, with tasteful and pleasant ambience is key to running a successful cafe,” he explains.
With deliveries, “now, someone orders from us, loves the coffee, takes a picture and tags us on Facebook or Instagram. That’s how we get new customers finding out about us,” says Timothy.
That opens up a different channel of discovery for his business for people who need coffee at home.
Growing deliveries with free route planning software to sustain his business
With Singapore’s lockdown scheduled to end on June 1, his cafe will be reopened at half-capacity to walk-in customers.
But rent in Singapore is notoriously expensive and half a month’s rent won’t cover their overheads.
“We are thinking hard about how to grow the delivery portion of our business into something sustainable that represents a meaningful portion of our total revenue,” Timothy says.