Coffee Fest Show is the first client I landed for Chalkboarder, a
company I founded early in 2009, that provides social media strategies and other services. The following is an Open Letter to members of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, distributed by Chalkboarder on behalf of our valued client, Coffee Fest.
~~ Jeffrey J Kingman, CEO, Chalkboarder

Excerpt

Open Letter to SCAA Members from Coffee Fest Founder Alan

Dear SCAA member,


Hopefully you recognize the name, Coffee Fest, the specialty coffee industry’s top retail trade show, consistently providing retailers with relevant information and new products to hone their business skills and up their bottom line.


I am writing to you today to ask you to consider the decisions the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) is making in servicing you and the specialty coffee industry across America as a whole. The management of SCAA is vigorously negotiating with the city of Seattle to produce the SCAA annual convention for six out of eight years in Seattle beginning in 2014.



We support the SCAA on the many good things they do for the industry and we have worked closely with them for all our years in business. We never have and never will encroach on the region in which they produce their annual show. If the SCAA came to Seattle once every 5 years, we would have no concerns. Coffee Fest has been produced in Seattle on an annual basis since 1992, for nineteen years. While Coffee Fest certainly doesn’t own Seattle, we do object to the SCAA’s plan to all but permanently locate here and expect that given the details and facts, you may object too.


Read more here on Coffee Fest's Slideshare document sharing site
. After consultation with Matt Milletto, owner of Barista Exchange, the decision was made that there is positive input to be discovered from all those interested in this matter. Please discuss with good humor :) Jeffrey

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I can not quote the passage from Dr. Spock in the series episode where he dies but could this apply here. This discussion brings this famous comment to mind. Someone help me with the quote when he put his had on the glass against Capt. Kirk's and said good by and explained how important it was for him to die at this time.
Joe.

Chris said:
Brady said:
Hopefully, this new strategy results in more SBWs, and therefore more chances for interested baristas to be certified, take classes, have opportunities to work as trainers, etc.


I do have to say that if the only thing that has been said that supports the Seattle sit-down is that it'll be a possibility that it might make regional support more feasible, and the argument against is that it's common courtesy to never profit from the suffering of others (especially if you're the cause of that suffering), it becomes a pretty easy choice for me.
I am hearing "This'll be cheaper for us in the long run. We realize that this is going to impact the income of the Coffee Fest negatively, but we hope that you'll support us because you may also receive some benefit of their misfortune."
I might be mis-characterizing the board's position, but it sounds like the same old corporate greed-head rationalizations to me. Someone convince me that I'm wrong, please?
Joseph - you lost me on that comment.

Joseph Robertson said:
I can not quote the passage from Dr. Spock in the series episode where he dies but could this apply here. This discussion brings this famous comment to mind. Someone help me with the quote when he put his had on the glass against Capt. Kirk's and said good by and explained how important it was for him to die at this time.
Joe.

Chris said:
Brady said:
Hopefully, this new strategy results in more SBWs, and therefore more chances for interested baristas to be certified, take classes, have opportunities to work as trainers, etc.


I do have to say that if the only thing that has been said that supports the Seattle sit-down is that it'll be a possibility that it might make regional support more feasible, and the argument against is that it's common courtesy to never profit from the suffering of others (especially if you're the cause of that suffering), it becomes a pretty easy choice for me.
I am hearing "This'll be cheaper for us in the long run. We realize that this is going to impact the income of the Coffee Fest negatively, but we hope that you'll support us because you may also receive some benefit of their misfortune."
I might be mis-characterizing the board's position, but it sounds like the same old corporate greed-head rationalizations to me. Someone convince me that I'm wrong, please?
Joesph, I know the scene you are talking about. I do not agree, however. Nobody has to die.

Both parties have something to gain by partnership. Both parties have something to loose by standing on their own.

SCAA already wrestles with an eliteist perception problem. Simply walking in and claiming Seattle as it's own and exclaiming "Finders Keepers Loser Weepers" will not serve them well in the future. All of the BGA threads on this forum have been critiques of the SCAA/BGA's rubber not meeting the road. And most of the time the responses have been along the lines of "There is no problem" or "We're trying to do better". I think the general marketplace is trying to send a basic message to the SCAA that it could be more relevant to the business that make up the lions share of the transactions in the marketplace. If there were no preception problem then Coffee Fest would have no market because everyone would exhibit at Expo. Coffee Fest runs three pretty big shows every year around the country and SCAA would prove itself solipsistic to ignore that. Reminding people that SCAA has a right to pursue it's best interests as it defines them is obvious. Of course it does. I am suggesting that SCAA and Coffee Fest might be better served by steping back a bit from what they precieve as their "best interest" and take a more global look at what the possibilities are.

There is no reason that they cannot work together. It would even be profitable and better serve the small retailer/roaster. It's win/win if they do and loose/loose if they don't.
Chris, here's more in response, from the SCAA blog:

"Locating in Seattle for the years described above will provide a huge savings to the Association. It’s important to remember that SCAA is a non-profit, which exists solely for the benefit of its members. 100% of the money we save by locating in a city who is so motivated to have us can be used to make coffee education and barista competitions more accessible to more coffee professionals, to research and develop coffee quality and standards, and to make our annual Event better and less expensive for those who wish to attend it. We can also use money we save to increase our web presence, giving people who can’t travel to our Event access to our community. Unlike a for-profit entity where additional revenues enrich the shareholders or owners, in our case all windfalls pass to the members in the form of increased services and activities."
why not just have coffee fest one weekend and the SCAA expo the next? that way nobody has to make two trips and you can geek out for like 10 whole days!
How 'bout Coffee Fest rent space within "The Event". It would be a "World within a World". Like a trip down the rabbit hole. Or like "Being John Malkovitch" but it's David Schomer instead. (Perhaps SCAA would have to rent space within Coffee Fest for that.)
This specific message is written from my own voice; not as a provider of services to client Coffee Fest.

In my journey into the world of specialty coffee/tea, I have held many conversations in this "select" industry about how few restaurants in the USA treat coffee/tea as cuisine. By "select", I mean the folks who attend/exhibit at Coffee Fest and SCAA are not known to 95% of the 945,000 restaurant locations and 200,000 Beb&Breakast/Inns/Small Hotels (actually, I'd suggest that percentage is even higher; I'm hedging).

I've spent near on thirty years in the hospitality industry across the US, with nine Exec Chef positions and stints at Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton. I had never heard of most of y'all until last year.

I think there are comparisons to draw between the NRA Show in Chicago with the Intl Restaurant/Bar/Nightclub Show in Vegas; especially when you add in all the other shows:

Fancy Food NY/South Beach
the Regionals (Boston Food, Florida Restaurant, Western Foodservice, NW Food Show and others)
American Culinary Federation Annual
there's more...

All these shows compete with each other to a degree. There are advantages to each. Each serves somewhat different needs. None of them seem to have difficulty financially in locating stably in one location.

Location siting that is geared to the maximum attendance - which is what the exhibitors desire - would seem to be the driving business consideration if I were running a tradeshow.

Again, spoken from my own voice from a competitive business outlook.
Mike Sabol said:
How 'bout Coffee Fest rent space within "The Event". It would be a "World within a World". Like a trip down the rabbit hole. Or like "Being John Malkovitch" but it's David Schomer instead. (Perhaps SCAA would have to rent space within Coffee Fest for that.)

Mike, much as I love the concept of having the best of both worlds in the same place, the idea doesn't seem to make business sense. I see a similar set of exhibitors listed for both events. Even if attendance went way up, seems to me like both organizations would see total revenues reduced. Neither party seems overly interested in that.

I do think that the best-case solution resolves them working together in some capacity. Its my understanding that there's already been an attempt at this, that Alan has had a seat at the table, though you can see from the letter that things didn't work so well.

Perhaps this is a naive idea, but I wonder if the space needs of the two shows are similar enough that they couldn't negotiate with the host cities to use the same set of facilities in different years? Together, they work out long-term deals with Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, New York (or something like that). Surely Coffee Fest already has a set of deals like this in place? Then Coffee Fest pays less to do the Seattle show when they do it, SCAA pays less for Chicago when they do it, etc...

My suspicion is that an approach like this would be unacceptable to Coffee Fest, because they still lose some of their Seattle revenue.

Wouldn't it be interesting to discover what all has been going on behind the scenes here from an objective observer?
Was in the trade show industry for 20+ years. This kind of thing happens all the time when there's a successful Association show and a successful non-Association competitor. The Association always feels "entitled" to reap all the revenue/profits because of "all they do for the industry" and that the competitor is some dirty "for profit" entity with little redeeming value. And that tone has come across in SCAA's postings, both from HQ and from former BoD members.

There's no possibility of the two working together. It makes no business sense for either party. Once CoffeeFest made their initial point, they should hatch an alternative plan, because they're not going to win a fight in Seattle in the first couple of years. And the "whining" will be seen as just that.

That said, by the 3rd and 4th time SCAA goes to Seattle in rapid succession, I'd bet the house they see extremely diminishing returns from both exhibitors and attendees. Seattle is a PITA to get to. And with all shows in any industry being most local (50%-80% of attendees from within 200 mile radius), it'll have played out.

CoffeeFest would actually do much, much better exploring a partnership with NASFT/Fancy Food for a section of Moscone devoted to coffee (or run concurrently somewhere in the Bay Area). Fancy Food has a decent sized coffee representation, but it's not what many of us would consider "specialty". So it could be a win for both parties, although if it were a direct co-location, CoffeeFest would probably have to give up a chunk of revenue (but they'd have a built in foodie audience from Fancy Food).

What SCAA is missing here is that they're not the Fancy Food show. Fancy Food shows in NY/SF are much larger, cover many more product categories and are without a doubt where buyers go for trends and deals (note: I used to handle marketing for FF). NY and SF are foodie cities with international appeal - tons and tons of things to do (and eat) there.

The reason CoffeeFest can succeed in Seattle every year is because they've got other regional shows that produce revenue - they can afford to promote CoffeeFest Seattle as a superregional show, not a national event and still succeed. SCAA has to put all their marketing eggs into the Seattle basket. Four separate times.

To most of the East and much of the South, besides being a PITA to get to, Seattle is pretty much a "so-what". From a specialty coffee perspective, once you've visited Seattle, there's not much burning need to do so again. And once you've been to Vivace, you've pretty much done it all.

Frankly, the main reason for us to go to Seattle is to extend a vacation by driving to Vancouver.

If CoffeeFest were to go to Vancouver with a mix of US/Canadian distributors, I think they'd beat the pants off SCAA the last three of the years SCAA will be in Seattle. Not sure how that works from a business operational/tax standpoint and importing issues for exhibitors, but they should be looking into that.

Also think CoffeeFest should think about Portland at least one of the four years SCAA will be in Seattle. PDX now has more roasters than Stumptown and it's both quirky and fun. Main issue with Portland is that the metro area is still pretty sparse to be able to draw the same size local crowds as Seattle. But PDX might do a better job of attracting people who just don't want to go back to Seattle again and again.

Might also be wise to feel out other Western cities with a CoffeeFest "Showcase" event. San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Bay Area, Las Vegas... lots of cities that might get locals on board and non-locals to consider at least once.

Lots of ways CoffeeFest could go. They could also stay in Seattle, but in doing so would really have to provide some exceptional counterprogramming or marketing offers for the locals.
Jared Rutledge said:
why not just have coffee fest one weekend and the SCAA expo the next? that way nobody has to make two trips and you can geek out for like 10 whole days!

Wow! I think Jared's on to something...except most of us couldn't afford to take like 10 days to geek out....but wouldn't it be NICE!
Brady said:
Is SCAA's responsibility to stay out of Coffee Fest's way at all costs, or to insure its viability and give maximum benefit to its membership?... ...If you ran the SCAA and were faced with the opportunity that Seattle has presented them, would you really say no?

With a longer view, I might.
If this move were to signal the end of the Coffee Fest, (as has been suggested by alluding to Spock's Kobayashi Maru test' speech) by taking away their financial viability, it will be the members of the coffee community, who make up the SCAA membership, that suffer along with them.
Too many folk are looking to the immediate for profit and savings, while ignoring the long term costs of those decisions. I won't mention Wall-Mart at this time, but I will point out that too many organizations and corporations remind me of their rousing cry of 'YAY! Steaks again!" while failing to remember that they are, in fact, a dairy farm.

Sure, there may be short-term savings in ignoring the basic tenets of good manners and swooping in on an already going concern with the not-for-profit advantage, but eventually, it's a dinner plate, not a toilet. It's never good planning to confuse the two.
The fact that it's cheaper, it's more profitable, and it's easier do not strike me as good enough reasons to do something that is ethically questionable and not in the organisations long-term self-interest.

And as far as combining the two shows, while that sound like the Occam's Razor solution here, there are far too many details that would prove un-pofitable and insurmountable hurdles from a simple production standpoint for that to be a viable solution.
It would be the best of both possible worlds for the attendee and exhibitors, but a massive headache for the two organizations.

At least that's how it strikes me.
FWIW, if CoffeeFest were to disappear - and that's a huge 'if' as I believe the cost of losing Seattle as a home base is more damaging emotionally than financially - someone else would appear and do another trade show. Might have a slightly different model, but still, the market opportunity is too great to allow SCAA to have it on their own.

CoffeeFest - and CF alone, not SCAA - has kept other entreprenuers out of launching a competitive show. CF's model is fairly low-cost, modular and portable - hard to compete with as launch costs for a new tradeshow w/o a track record are pretty substantial.

But if CF were to disappear, even if SCAA were to launch a second show, one of those filthy "for profit" guys would enter the market with a compelling value proposition to exhibitors.

It's already being discussed.

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