When the team from Northern California-based Supersonic Coffee debuted the company during the Specialty Coffee Association of America show in 2014, we were hardly the only ones who sat up and took notice. Supersonic’s crew is impressive to say the least: Björg Brend Laird, chief organizer of the Nordic Barista Cup since 2006; John Laird, formerly of Verve Coffee and Pacific Bay; Brian Jones of Dear Coffee, I Love You; Lizz Hudson (on a consulting basis), formerly of Stumptown Coffee; Jay Lijewski, formerly of Fourbarrel Coffee and Intelligentsia; and other heavy hitters with decades of industry experience.
Their roll-out has been dramatic, and beautifully executed: Get the name and the brand out, plus some super yummy and highly coveted samples, at the SCAA show in April of 2014; partner with a some of the most progressive coffee companies in North America to be the first to serve Supersonic through an outreach called the Pioneer Partner program; get some wow-factor allied companies on board (Supersonic is exclusive with Alpha Dominiche and Nordic Approach in the United States); and, in the final countdown to doors being open for serious business in September, make a beautiful short film about the Pioneer Partner program that shows all the sides of the Supersonic Coffee movement: its humanity and ethics; its commitment to wholesale partners; its dedication to working out every single last new-business kink before throwing wide the doors; and its insanely high standards for quality across the board, from people to coffee itself.
This story is about the film side and the Pioneer Partner program. It’s not a brand-new concept—that is, to bring on trusted and respected coffee companies to try your roasts in exchange for feedback and distinction as early adopters. Supersonic provided nine companies across the United States with a complete program, which included a welcome kit outlining the goals, among which were retail exclusivity for two months.
“We compiled a ‘love list’ that was actually well over 50 shops long, but we didn’t have room for 50 Pioneers,” says Jay on how the Pioneer Partners were selected. “So we narrowed it down to a more manageable number. We chose them based on a lot of different factors. Firstly, we respect their opinions, their palates, and their execution. Some are extremely cutting edge and trend setting shops in large cities. Others serve as an amazing oasis for specialty coffee in an underserved market. All are run by great people who we are giddy to work with.”
Supersonic’s Pioneer Partners are under no obligation to continue using Supersonic after the two month period, but of course Supersonic hopes they will. “Instead of simply sending coffee samples, we sent a system for communicating directly with us to provide valuable feedback,” says Supersonic’s Brian in a press release issued today. Each Pioneer Partner was set up with a unique email address for direct communication with the Supersonic team.
The welcome kit also included printed cards that detailed another branch of the Pioneer Program: each company was given the opportunity to invite three of their customers to be a part of this early loyalty initiative. Commemorated by engraved titanium keychains, one for the Pioneer and three for the customers selected, this side program is called Co-pilots. For the two months that the Pioneer Partners have been trying out Supersonic Coffee in their cafes, the Co-pilots have been taken care of directly by the Supersonic team via gifts of coffee samples for home use, and limited edition gear.
Like I said: deciding to partner with elite coffeehouses in order to test the field and build loyalty isn’t new—but the thoughtful way Supersonic is achieving it with a superbly conceived and designed program is. Indeed, it’s impressive and pretty brilliant to include customers chosen by the Pioneer Partners, as these folks are likely serious coffee consumers who are not shy about waxing poetic on all things coffee with their own peers. This gives Supersonic an even broader reach, and establishes an immediate and intimate relationship with an influential consumer base.
“The Pioneers that we chose, and the Co-pilots that they chose, have amazing experience in the coffee world,” says Jay. “We have been taking their feedback on everything from roast profiles to packaging to outbound shipping configurations. Every aspect of our operations are fluid and hot for the striking right now. We are listening to everything!”
The cherry on top of the whole Pioneer and Co-pilot project came in the form of a personal visit from Jay Lijewski, who personally drove to each of the nine Pioneer Partners’ companies for a sit down and reach out—he wanted to thank them in person with a handshake and salute. He wanted to see for himself how Supersonic was being received. And he wanted to celebrate the companies that were Partnering with Supersonic in its early stages. The nine Pioneer Partners are: Houndstooth Coffee in Austin, Texas; Barista Parlor in Nashville, Tenn.; Modern Coffee in Oakland, Calif.; Revolver in Vancouver, B.C.; Volta Coffee in Gainsville, Fla.; Búdin in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Old Town Coffee in Lander, Wy.; Milstead & Co. in Seattle; and Copa Vida in Pasadena, California.
“Meeting face to face and actually being in a customer’s shop adds so much to the partnership,” Jay tells us. “Being able to put a face to the name makes every phone call, email, or text so much more meaningful and personal. Clear and easy communication will be a huge part of the Pioneer Program and the entire Supersonic wholesale program for that matter. The video is a way to celebrate these great shops. They are super sexy coffee bars! We wanted people to know where they can get Supersonic.”
What else did Jay learn while on this epic road trip through which he and PJ clocked almost 9,000 miles? “PJ and I learned the best way to grind coffee and boil water on the center console while doing 80 on the freeway,” Jay laughs. “Stopping the car to get hot water at a gas station is so 2009.”
Stay tuned for more news from Supersonic Coffee—the crew plans to blow the door off in September when it’s officially open for business. For now, follow Supersonic on Twitter and Instagram (@ENJOYSUPERSONIC).