When you hear a name “Bean Brothers” you might think of some brotherhood created around coffee beans and you would be totally right.
The company was founded in 2009 and the first brand was ABLESQUARE, an offline co-working/studying cafe. As three co-founders of the company, Seongho Park, Hoonshik Sung and Wonil Nam, met while studying in Seoul National University and noticed there were not many co-working spaces. Later on, they have learned that coffee experience in Korean coffee shops was very limited: over 200 types of green beans were imported to South Korea every year, but customers were not able to experience most of them as franchise cafes used only 1- 2 types of blends; moreover, from a customer side, the understanding of coffee was low as customers lacked opportunities to develop their own taste due to limitation of high quality coffee. As business grew and owners were focusing on customer experience and coffee more and more they decided to open their second brand, Bean Brothers.
The new brand was born in 2013. It first started as an online subscription platform, it enabled customers to experience variety of beans every month, with understandable tasting guides and attractive packaging and equipment, each month different beans were introduced under a monthly theme. Seeing their brand mission “To be a personal coffee guide” to people”, the founders collaborated with 2013 Korean Barista Championship 2nd place winner, Jayce, and renowned roaster, ABLE COFFEE GROUP co-founder, James, to enhance the customer’s engagement with the beans by following beans’ stories.
Working online helped the team realize that there is no one absolute great taste in coffee and every customer has their own taste, and that it should be respected. Thus accessibility for every customer became the core of the brand. Moreover, as at that time “brothers” already had offline and online experience they have noticed the differences: online customer experience relies heavily on images, movies and text while offline relies more on the barista who is making the experience. As for Bean Brothers, offline experience is more interactive as they can customize each customer’s experience to their taste and level of experience of coffee.
Started as an online brand, Bean Brothers opened their first store in June 2014. Now the team has 7 outlets around South Korea and one more store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As you can guess from the brand’s name, one more important component of the brand culture is “brotherhood” – which is terminology to emphasize the team spirit in the company. Bean Brothers believe that the art of running a good coffee bar is a delicate, rather complicated teamwork, and giving new experiences to customers is another higher level teamwork as it is very important for offline business.
“For most of the events a barista would team up with marketing team to come up with something interesting. We are always thinking about coffee and ideas pop up from different people. We are open in embracing new ideas,” says Seo Young Youn, Head of Marketing of BEAN BROTHERS. And there are a lot of ideas among the “brothers”: events like public cuppings, aeropress and brewing classes, chocolate and coffee pairings, coffee&tea blending classes, tastings in the dark etc.. But events here are not limited only to classics of the third coffee wave as Bean Brothers do not think that they just sell coffee to people, but that they share an experience, where coffee takes a big part of. It has always been important forthem to be perceived as a “lifestyle brand”, because coffee itself is always a part of our lives: it can stand alone, but most of the time it is an important background of our daily life – at our work, at dates or meet-ups and in every-day situations. This is how the company decided to introduce general-customer oriented events like coffee&film nights, coffee + yoga classes ,coffee & music evenings, whisky tasting, public talks etc., bringing new people to their coffee shops and giving new experience to old brand’s fans. And indeed, adding something else to coffee classes can bring more people that might never even been interested in just brewing filter coffee. The customer experience—and the purchasing decision–is now a social experience. Bringing new experience to digitally connected customers creates positive word of mouth that works better than any advertising or promotion. “We try to match every customers’ needs, considering their knowledge and experience level in coffee, their taste and that’s how they get into us.”
The brand’s main customers are composed of 2 groups – people who are aware of the coffee quality, and secondly people who love the brand, they are mostly 20-40 years old, millennial generation. That is why Bean Brothers wants to be seen more than just a coffee company, but as a lifestyle brand, attracting new audience with new collaborations and ideas to make the brand more interactive and exciting. As they claimed 5 years ago to be everyone’s coffee guide, today in the age of transparency and flexibility, Bean Brothers is one of the great examples of how companies can learn from their customers and stay wide open to their always-changing requirements. Alex Castellarnau, Head of Design at Dropbox, in interview for Forbes said it this way: “A new brand, service or product is only started by the company; it’s finished by the customers. Millennials are a generation that wants to co-create the product, the brand, with you. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship with millennials will have an edge.”