Last year at about this time, we thought the world was coming to an end.
Markets were crashing and banks weren’t returning calls. We feared people would stop buying our export coffee on line, and tourists would stop traveling. All the hotels would close down. No one would shop in our stores.
We imagined the worst. We prepared our company for a drop in sales that could reach 30 percent. We restructured our operations company wide, from Costa Rica to Chile. We reduced our inventories, protected our cash flow, and looked at all our processes and made them as efficient as possible. We even had to lay off some of our staff.
We adopted a slogan and made a logo out of it: HMCP – Hacemos Mucho Con Poco – We Do More with Less.
We did all this very fast, and although both insiders and outsiders have consistently considered Britt an excellent organization for years, we suddenly felt we had also become a “lean and mean” organization. And then came an interesting discovery.
Our customer list grew – even with less staff and inventory. Our timely and decisive actions made us ready for the worst, but the worst didn’t come. The world didn’t end. Some of our markets, like Peru, hardly felt a recession. By April, the banks had started calling us with offers of financing at lower interest rates.
By June our expansion plans accelerated. In Chile, we landed two new airport locations additional to the successful Santiago and Puerto Montt stores. One is at the country’s extreme north end, Iquique. The other one is in Puntarenas, the southernmost commercial airport in the western hemisphere.
In Peru, we were asked to build a very nice new store in Urubamba, the heart of the Sacred Valley, a mecca for tourism, and the gateway to Machu Picchu.
In Mexico, where high import taxes make it too expensive to sell our Costa Rican coffee, we formed a partnership and we expect to have a functional roasting factory in the next couple of months. By November we’ll be selling Café Britt-quality Mexican coffees from the highlands of Veracruz and Chiapas.
Good things have also happened in Costa Rica. A big luxury resort at Conchal Beach, in the northern province of Guanacaste, asked us to take over two of its stores. Then, just after two weeks of operations, they are asking us to take over four additional stores. By the way, this year for the first time ever, the annual Sintercafe world coffee expo will be held there – at Conchal. Coffee lovers from all over the world will be here, and our products will be everywhere in sight.
Café Britt will soon open stores at two of the San José area’s most time-honored luxury hotels, we expect to open a total of 8 new stores in Costa Rica in the next 12 months, and we are in conversations with four additional Caribbean airports.
We’ll be investing some $5 million over the next year in all these expansion projects. And we’re again hiring staff.
Though we were prepared for it, the world didn’t come to an end. Our preparations made us stronger. We kept our focus on quality, and we’re increasing our presence in the world. It’s a new dawn.-Steve Aronson, Aug 2009