Darron Burke’s picture is on the front of every bag of coffee he sells, a testament to the fact that he is always standing behind his product. When Burke launched Café Don Pablo as a specialty coffee roaster in 2004, he spent as many as 10 hours a day on his feet handing out samples of the coffee at Costco and sharing the company’s vision with anyone who would listen. As president and CEO of Café Don Pablo and its parent company, Burke Brands LLC, Burke has doubled the company’s product sales on average every year since. By embracing every opportunity to engage customers in the story and the mission of Café Don Pablo, he spearheaded the company’s tremendous domestic and international growth to $12 million in 2010 revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Burke about how he spreads Café Don Pablo’s mission of quality and value to get buy-in from customers and employees.
How have you set your company apart from competitors?
I wanted to give people an honest deal, and I wanted to produce the best of the best for a very good price. In other words: value. I don’t think that value ever goes out of style. … We wanted to give people a fair deal, a great quality coffee at a fair price. When somebody gets something that’s really special, if the quality of the product is such that it’s outstanding and you can tell that it’s different and better, people tend to want to share that with their friends and family.
Whenever we’re at Costco or Sam’s Club and we’re giving out samples and people walk by with another brand of coffee in their hand, they drink ours. They put theirs away immediately.
How does setting up sampling booths help communicate your value to customers?
We’ve spent a lot of time and a lot of money educating the consumer, and it’s worked. I make sure — and this is with everybody I come in contact with that has an interest in the business — I always try to share the vision and direction with them and try to get them to buy into it, because if they do, that just makes us stronger. For the last five years I’ve been standing out there myself on weekends giving out literally 1,000 little 4-ounce cups of coffee to people and giving them my little spiel and telling them why, what sets us apart. We’re the No. 1 selling coffee in Costco, and it’s because of that, because I’ve literally given tens of thousands of people, handed them a cup of coffee personally and told them about our company. There’s a lot of brand equity that’s been built up.
Where does customer feedback come into play?
You try to glean any piece of information that you think is going to be helpful to you. Obviously customers are a wealth of information. All kinds of people write in and give suggestions and it helps quite a bit to see if you are on track. If you screw up a bit, and sometimes we do — maybe you’ll burn a batch of coffee and they’ll put it in a bag instead of throwing it away — we hear it from the customers. So that just helps us to realize that we may have some concerns and we need to address them.
What can a leader do to communicate the vision to employees?
You need buy-in from the people. People have to believe you. You have to be honest and credible and transparent. They have to know that you have their best interests in mind. Everything you do has to be with a win-win mentality. I’ve always tried to put myself into the shoes of the other person, whether it’s somebody that works with us or our customer or our potential customer or vendor. And that I’ve found has helped quite a bit. What I try to do is seek first to understand and then to be understood. If you really get to understand somebody else’s point of view and then work from there, they’ll really appreciate that and they’ll help you achieve your goals.
HOW TO REACH: Burke Brands LLC/Café Don Pablo, (877) 436-6722 or www.cafedonpablo.com