When Oliver Stormshak and brothers Sam and Andrew Schroeder purchased Olympia Coffee Roasting in 2010, they immediately started to change the company’s model.
“My goal was to focus more on retail; quality; and, for us, sourcing the coffees ourselves,” said Stormshak, who wears the company’s CEO and green coffee buyer hats. “We wanted to be more intentional and transparent about the coffees, the farmers, the stories, and why they’re special.”
Stormshak began traveling, visiting farms, and negotiating contracts with farmers in six different countries, ultimately transforming the local roaster into a supporter of the direct-trade movement. “It’s more beneficial to the farmer than fair trade,” he said. “Olympia Coffee was progressive and very much a leader in trying to change the way coffee is bought, roasted, and sold.”
According to Stormshak, the owners wanted their operation to be “fair for all.” Indeed, the company’s mission, “social purpose” corporation status, Certified B (Benefit) Corporation recognition, and personal certification program go well beyond just paying a fair price for the coffee. “We believe everyone from the field worker to the mill worker should get a sustainable wage and have a safe working environment,” he said.
Stormshak and his fellow owners have taken the fair-for-all concept even further by publishing an annual transparency report that discloses the pricing the company pays to its supply chain of farmers. “It’s very rare for the coffee industry to have that kind of transparency,” he said.
Stormshak noted relationships are what matter most to the ownership trio, so being part of the fair-trade model, where one party sells to another party, and so on, until the product finally hits the public market, isn’t their way.
“I wanted to take this to next level, and I could see where the industry was going and how it could improve,” he said. “In 2017, we went from 100 percent direct trade, to 100 percent fair.”
He also said Olympia Coffee’s secondary mission is to “bring specialty back to the region.” The company does this in many ways, including its cupping lab, where the coffees served each day undergo a formal tasting test. Public cuppings also are hosted every Friday morning in the downtown Olympia and Columbia City locations.
As of Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 23 “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, Olympia Coffee Roasting was operating six locations with a staff of 72, supporting everything from retail to wholesale to subscription-based sales, with roughly 50 percent falling into the latter two categories. The retail side also includes a large e-commerce base of bean buyers, sales for which have only grown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company even launched a new product it affectionately named “Tip Jar,” with 100 percent of proceeds given directly to its employees to support them during store closures.
So, for a company that has seen year-over-year growth, one might wonder, what’s the secret?
“One of the most important things when it comes to business is to formulate a plan and to think what you want your end goal to be, then break it into steps so you can complete your plan in achievable action items,” Stormshak said.