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Isaac Stott, Brand & Marketing Director of Seven Districts Coffee, based in Welton Hill, Lincolnshire & Farsley, Leeds, talks about how and why his company’s coffee business has grown during the pandemic. 

From humble beginnings – selling coffee from the back of a renovated horsebox – Seven Districts Coffee has blossomed online and in-person. Over the last two years this small business has grown into two venues and a flourishing website. Brand and Marketing Director Isaac Stott explains how agility and local support has helped business boom...

Tell us about you
Seven Districts – we’re named for the seven districts of Lincolnshire – started in 2019. It was two friends, Ben and Ellis, selling coffees from the back of a horse box. That developed into getting a roaster in Ellis’s garage and selling coffee online. 

Then, just before the pandemic, I joined and we got to the stage where the garage was too small – every time we opened the door, tonnes of smoke would come out. The neighbours were thinking they’ve got Breaking Bad going on next door. People were arriving at the garage to buy coffee. It wasn’t cool. It was weird! 
So, we wanted a new venue that could house a larger roaster. We found a pub in Welton Hill with enough space for the roaster and for a coffee shop. We launched that in the middle of the pandemic in September, and had people coming in for takeaways. It's funny, a lot of other people have had a brick and stone building and have really moved online during the pandemic. We've almost done the reverse. 

Now we’ve also got an office in Farsley, Leeds, which is where I live, at the Sunny Bank Mills site. Will and John, the managing directors are passionate about the area, and their commitment to keeping the community growing and doing good work stood out for us. 

Our research is showing that small businesses across Yorkshire and the Humber are feeling much more positive about the future. Would you agree?
Yeah, absolutely. I think that's one thing that the pandemic has really brought out, we are all having to think on our toes. We are really trying things. People are willing to try stuff and see if it works, whereas before, they wouldn’t. That's definitely added to the positive vibe that people are getting. 

What – for you – are the main factors that are making you feel more positive? 
The Buy Local element of it. Everyone believing in Buy Local. It used to be a bit of stick it to the man – beat Tesco – but now people are just quite proud of standing alongside their local butchers or coffee roasters and saying, ‘Yeah, actually, I really like this, this is good.’
We’ve always wanted Seven Districts to be about three things: Quality, stories and community. The quality comes from the coffee, the stories are the tales we share with every one of our coffees, and the community comes from the amazing locals visiting us, our friends and customers online, and working with loads of cafes and coffee shops around Lincoln and further afield, and the community attached through each those. But the pandemic totally brought on a whole appeal of local and people wanting to support local. There's positivity for us from that. There are people that have totally come out of the woodwork as big fans of ours that are just down the road. We might not have met them before. Local spirit has really jumped and that's helped us grow as a brand. 

People feel like they own the local brands, the companies around them. It's quite humbling to see that. It's your baby, you've worked so hard on it, and then to hear someone else kind of go, ‘Yeah, I love these guys, they're doing so good.’ It's like, Yeah, let's go!

What changed for you as a business during the long months of lockdown? 
We were doing okay online. We had a good flow of people coming through our website. But we’re even better now. Trying a brick and mortar sounded like a terrible idea, at first: managing people and staff everywhere. But actually, the staff members came in like, ‘I'm part of this, I'm owning this’. It wasn't just like another job, it was people coming in with hope and passion. We felt that impact online as well. Our online audience grew. Communication and community grew. Across Facebook, and Instagram and all those platforms people were saying, ‘We love that you're local, we love that you're one of us and that you're really going for it.’ 

To have people pick up a flag and run with us, is amazing. So yeah, community. Our online audience grew from all over the country. And by launching the coffee house, our local audience grew loads. We’ve become more hyperlocal, which we love. 

The biggest pivot we made was actually having a venue and having people come to us. That extended our brand. And we took a lot more time and effort over how we communicate, and draw people in: keeping customers in the loop online, sharing interesting things, communicating constantly. In person, helping people learn how to make a great coffee and to enjoy it together. 

Looking ahead, do you think the bricks and mortar and the online aspects of your business are equally important? 
They're both impactful. Having an online presence is as important as having a physical presence. We want both parts of the business to feel like an experience. Seeing a roaster roasting coffee is an experience. Online, part of the subscription model that we are launching involves sending books with our coffee. Enjoying coffee takes loads of different experiences, not just one. 

Looking forward, what are going to be your biggest challenges and why? 
Keeping that element of experience strong and true. It’s keeping that heartbeat running through everything that we do, both in our venues and online. That will be a big challenge. Alongside that is the internal staff experience. Understanding the people we work with and letting them know that they are important and part of the story and should be cared for. And that their ideas matter to us. All at the same time as making sure that we've always got a good product and that people are enjoying it.

What are going to be the biggest points in your favour?
Our people. The team that we have. I hope they feel that being part of us means that that they can grow, and that we can grow. It’s also about understanding what we want to be. What’s central to us are stories, quality and community. Knowing that directs our path. It gets our feet going in the right direction!