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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Sorry to join this conversation just a little late, but I wanted to make sure to weigh in here, just a little bit.

Thanks very much to Sandy for clarifying the dates a bit. Just to be super-duper clear though, here's how the next few years work out:

SCAA Annual Events:
2011 Houston
2012 Portland
2013 TBA (East Coast)
2014 Seattle
2015 Seattle
2016 TBA (East Coast or Central)
2017 Seattle
2018 Seattle
2019 TBA (East Coast or Central)
2020 TBA
all future dates TBD

So you can see a pattern emerging, where we use Seattle as a west coast anchor, then putting other shows in different parts of the country on alternate years. We figured that would maximize the benefits of locating in Seattle during those years, and also spreading our event around the country in other years.

As for regional events: SCAA enacted a strategy 3 years ago to put an emphasis on regional SCAA events. Since then, we have put on regional Skill-Building Workshops, Barista Competitions, Social Events, and Retreats in various parts of the country. These efforts have been hampered by limits of resources, both money and effort. The Seattle strategy will help us ramp this up significantly.

I've been on the board for the past two years as we have made the decisions that led up to this announcement. The board and staff reached out to dozens of SCAA members from all walks of the membership during the evaluation of this plan. The goal of everyone involved is to pursue the maximum benefit for the specialty coffee community across the country. This has been framed as a business thing- it's not really; it's about community building. At the same time, we have the obligation to be as smart as possible with our members' money, giving the community the maximum possible benefit we can at all times.

SCAA approached Coffee Fest in the hopes of working together to benefit the community in Seattle and elsewhere in the U.S.. At the time I hoped we could figure something out and I still believe it's possible! I agree that everyone can work together, as a community, to bring great events to the Specialty Coffee marketplace.

Please let me know if I can answer any questions,

Peter Giuliano
Peter Giuliano said:
So you can see a pattern emerging, where we use Seattle as a west coast anchor,

Just curious (perhaps just nosy...) but with the office just down the street and over a block or two, wouldn't the Long Beach Convention Center be an excellent occasional venue on the West Coast? Arizona seems to be flailing a bit, and LB wold be an excellent road trip from Tucson or Phoenix, whereas Seattle is a bit of a jaunt. Plus, if it were timed right, I could hang out for the LB GP! ; >
Being that the last Long Beach gathering was my first I had nothing to compare it to. I still look back fondly with very fun memories.
Joe

Andrew Hetzel said:
I suspect Long Beach is too small. Even considering a lighter turnout than more recent shows, we were stuffed in there like sardines! Remember the lack of meeting rooms and 3-hour registration lines? It was a mess.
Peter-

Can't really say that Portland and Seattle are in different parts of the nation - they're really about the same from a traveling standpoint. Based on your post, five of the next eight SCAA shows will be in the PNW. Evidently, variety is not the spice of life for the SCAA in the foreseeable future.

Perhaps you could get more in-depth with why you and your board has decided to lead the SCAA in this direction? Is the Washington Convention Center cutting the SCAA breaks on pricing? Kickbacks? With half of the next eight shows going to the WCC there should be some sort of significant financial incentive, otherwise you're not getting the best value for the members dollar.

Also, I hear lots of SCAA-types bandy about that the show needs don't fit into many of the nations venues. Care to share with us the criteria needed in selecting a venue? Seems that there have been many gripes about the SCAA pulling the show out of Pittsburgh (which incidentally, has suddenly grown a vibrant specialty coffee scene over the past couple of years) and much of the verbage regarding the whys has been about some sort of abstract "the venue doesn't meet the needs." Perhaps a delineation of those needs will help clarify and give greater understanding to those of us who will have to fork out additional money to travel to some far corner of America four years out of eight, or even travel more to attend SCAA Regional Events because they're being pulled from the show.
Sure, I'm happy to give some more background on how the board came to this decision.

SCAA Events staff (i.e. Cindy and Marcus, plus other SCAA Staff) put a tremendous amount of work into researching and comparing the various cities we locate our event in. Here are some factors; this is not nearly a complete list:

-Ratio of show-floor to classroom space at the convention center (we use an unusually large proportion of classroom space because of our large educational program)
-Quality and state of repair of the conference and show space
-Availability, access, affordability and quality of hotels
-Amenities of the city (restaurants, etc)
-coffee scene in the city
-Number and affordability of airline flights to the city (some cities are much better than others)
-Availability of dates (our event is in the spring, but cannot be on Easter; we are competing with other organizations to book dates. Believe it or not, some cities are booked up years in advance for certain dates)
-"Friendliness" of the city in terms of hired labor at the conference center (how expensive is it?); electrical and fire codes (we are weird in terms of the fact that we use a TON of electricity and we also ROAST COFFEE, which terrifies some municipalities) service (we also need strange things like lots of brewing water, and flexibility on coffee service, which some conference centers won't provide)
-Various costs: rent, water, electricity, security, labor, transportation, storage, etc.
-A venue where we can have both a secure event (our trade show) and a free-to-the-public event (the USBC) at the same place
-previous experience and attendance at cities (track record)
-geographic location (east/west/central)
-motivation of the city to host us (some cities want to charge us lots of money to have us there, others try hard to attract us)

OK. So our staff- particularly Cindy Cohn, who has been doing this professionally for many many years, crunches lots of cities, taking all of these things above (and plenty which I'm sure I have forgotten off the top of my head) and prepares the information for the board. She has many conversations with our members, particularly those who do lots of trade shows and events. She organizes all this stuff, and brings it to the board, who ask the same questions which are now being asked- plus some. Remember, the board is elected just for purposes like this- to represent the interests of our members in big decisions like this one. The board- who are diverse both geographically and in terms of business focus- take this responsibility to the members very seriously and try to come to a decision that will have maximum benefit for our members and for the specialty coffee community in general. I can tell you this conversation went on for hours, with board members trying their hardest to understand, ask all the right questions, and make the best decision.

A big issue is always affordability. We know it is important to keep the price of attendance reasonable. We also know that hotel price and flight prices are important.

In the case of Seattle, the city worked hard to give us a tremendous value on the total cost of locating there, and made us a great offer that will allow us to keep the price of attendance very low; and also invest in more regional events for our members, etc. etc. etc. We decided to balance that offer- and the other non-financial benefits of Seattle- with shows on the East Coast. The board's desire was to make the best of all worlds, balancing geographic diversity, financial responsibility, and city quality. And yes, Jay, I think the plan DOES give variety, along with quality, financial responsibility, and affordability. These are all spices of life I suppose!

I hope this helps,

Peter
Jay

In response to your question of why the SCAA is compelled to estblish roots in the PNW.

The SCAA would like you to believe that only Seattle can meet their needs as a conference city, not true. What is true is that the SCAA is being given the Washington State Convention Center for no cost by the Seattle Visitors & Convention Bureau, in exchange for booking multiple years and guaranteeing thousands of rooms (at least I hope they are guaranteeing those rooms, otherwise the local taxpayer suffers like me). If you check out the SCAA’s financial statement from ’09 you will better understand why they are doing this.

There are many cities that offered the SCAA a “deal”, but Peter Giuliano’s list of reasons is disingenuous, especially when he mentions the ability to roast coffee and the need for a great deal of electricity. The only place you can roast coffee at the Seattle Convention Center is on the loading dock, as it is everywhere else we produce Coffee Fest, and electricity is never a problem in any modern facility (we have been in 39 across the country). What Peter does not tell you is that Seattle is one of the most expensive cities to fly into and to ship product, as our exhibitors do.

However, a more important reason that the SCAA is not discussing is the fact that Coffee Fest has developed this market over 19 years and made Seattle a strong regional event that they see as an easy way to increase their attendance by riding on our coattails. We have no problem in their coming here every 5 years as they have in the past.

Los Angeles offered them a “deal” too, and it is closer to their home office and a large part of the membership, why not there? Isn't a national association supposed to serve its broad based membership? Why is it Ric and Peter are not concerned about their members that do not like this and are being vociferous in their opposition? We have it on high authority that this decision is not even unanimous amongst the SCAA board as some have stated that they are not in favor of the decision.

If the SCAA has to come to Seattle to make more money perhaps they should write a new business plan and cut some expenses.
Mr. Silverman-

We just made the best choice we could for our show and our membership. The list I wrote in response to Jay's request: "Care to share with us the criteria needed to select a venue?" was a list intended to communicate the complexity in selecting a host city. Electricity availability and cost, and ability to roast coffee, does indeed vary from city to city, as I said. So do all those other things. The decision is complex, and it is the responsibility of the SCAA volunteer board and staff to weigh those factors, and make a good decision on behalf of our membership and of the specialty coffee community.

Mr. Silverman, I don't know you. I'm happy to engage in public discussion with you, but please don't accuse me of being disingenuous. I'm trying my best to be as honest and open about these things as possible. I'm a volunteer elected to represent the SCAA membership, which I am trying my best to do, with transparency and in good faith. I will continue to fulfill my obligation to answer the questions that are posed to me, and I will always do that honestly. If I'm wrong- I often am- please feel free to correct me or argue with my logic. But please don't create the impression that I am being dishonest. I value my professional reputation- as I'm sure you do.

Peter G
As to the tit-for-tat regarding SCAA and CoffeeFest, I really don't care. That's for you guys to sort out and while I object to SCAA being located in Seattle for half of the next eight years, I find the two shows to be quite different. CoffeeFest excels at serving the coffee retailer - exactly the area of industry that the SCAA fails.

Peter - certainly I can understand the lure of free convention space at WCC, but at what cost to the attendees and exhibitor. Having administered the BGA Booth for several years, I understand the logistics involved in trade show exhibiting but I take issue with the assertion that Seattle is an affordable city.

In a few hours, I board a flight from BWI to SEA that cost me $850 r/t, the Alamo car rental will cost me $180/day - and that's one of the cheapest rates I could find. The cheaper rate was from Alamo's parent company, Enterprise and it was only a couple dollars (literally) cheaper. Though I'm not back to Seattle until Sunday, hotels in the immediate vicinity of the WCC are running $150-200/night.

I don't know about you, but I certainly cannot describe a trip to Seattle as an "inexpensive" trip. Truth is, the notion about a coffee scene really doesn't apply. The SCAA has held many shows in cities where the coffee scene outright sucked. Hell, most of the coffee served at the SCAA Trade Show isn't up to scratch. The reality is that most attendees don't venture beyond the show so a "vibrant" coffee scene isn't much a lure - and to be honest, the current coffee scene in Seattle is really quite lackluster. There's more exciting stuff going on in that backwater of Pittsburgh than in Seattle.
Jay,
Since you ended your comments here with the suggestion that the Pittsburgh coffee scene might have it over the Seattle coffee scene could you support that somewhat strong statement with some examples? I have had coffee on both coasts and would like to know why you feel so strong other than the fact that you live there on the other coast and get to test many more coffee shops than I do. As far as I'm concerned a lot more goes into a cup of joe than a nicely roasted bean blend. Based on many of your great posts here on BX I think you would feel the same. If you had not ended your comments with this claim I might not have come back with a challenge of this sort. Admittedly I'm a little off topic with this post but I know you have much more experience than I on this subject Jay.
Very sincerely,
Joseph

Jay Caragay said:
As to the tit-for-tat regarding SCAA and CoffeeFest, I really don't care. That's for you guys to sort out and while I object to SCAA being located in Seattle for half of the next eight years, I find the two shows to be quite different. CoffeeFest excels at serving the coffee retailer - exactly the area of industry that the SCAA fails.

Peter - certainly I can understand the lure of free convention space at WCC, but at what cost to the attendees and exhibitor. Having administered the BGA Booth for several years, I understand the logistics involved in trade show exhibiting but I take issue with the assertion that Seattle is an affordable city.

In a few hours, I board a flight from BWI to SEA that cost me $850 r/t, the Alamo car rental will cost me $180/day - and that's one of the cheapest rates I could find. The cheaper rate was from Alamo's parent company, Enterprise and it was only a couple dollars (literally) cheaper. Though I'm not back to Seattle until Sunday, hotels in the immediate vicinity of the WCC are running $150-200/night.

I don't know about you, but I certainly cannot describe a trip to Seattle as an "inexpensive" trip. Truth is, the notion about a coffee scene really doesn't apply. The SCAA has held many shows in cities where the coffee scene outright sucked. Hell, most of the coffee served at the SCAA Trade Show isn't up to scratch. The reality is that most attendees don't venture beyond the show so a "vibrant" coffee scene isn't much a lure - and to be honest, the current coffee scene in Seattle is really quite lackluster. There's more exciting stuff going on in that backwater of Pittsburgh than in Seattle.
Joseph Robertson said:
Jay,
Since you ended your comments here with the suggestion that the Pittsburgh coffee scene might have it over the Seattle coffee scene could you support that somewhat strong statement with some examples? I have had coffee on both coasts and would like to know why you feel so strong other than the fact that you live there on the other coast and get to test many more coffee shops than I do. As far as I'm concerned a lot more goes into a cup of joe than a nicely roasted bean blend. Based on many of your great posts here on BX I think you would feel the same. If you had not ended your comments with this claim I might not have come back with a challenge of this sort. Admittedly I'm a little off topic with this post but I know you have much more experience than I on this subject Jay.
Very sincerely,
Joseph


I'll assume Jay will come back with his own answers. As we're actually in Pittsburgh I'll make a few points.

1. We all want to be able to drive to an SCAA show sometime in our lifetimes. When the show was initially slotted for Pittsburgh (2011), the entire Mid-Atlantic was energized about it.
2. Pittsburgh would draw a regional audience - car traffic - from an area roughly bounded by NYC to the east, Toronto and Detroit to the north, Indianapolis to the west (possibly Chicago) and DC/Louisville to the south. That's a big swath of country encompassing 10 states/provinces and 4 of the top 10 metro areas in North America.
3. The convention center facility is more than adequate to meet the SCAAs needs, not to mention being LEED certified and green. The airport is pretty cheap. The hotel situation is OK, not perfect, but there's enough there to support the show at its largest size. And the VisitPittsburgh team would do a phenomenal job ensuring the event's success. In short, the venue (city and facility) meets every need.
4. The show was moved to Houston in a series of moves that was not at all transparent to membership. I've looked into this and after several discussions was told it was all in the minutes. Eventually SCAA sent me the minutes from the meeting where this issue was supposedly discussed. The minutes include no information on the change.
5. Working our way through the murkiness surrounding this decision, it appears to knowledgeable observers that there were several exhibitors who objected. There was "market research" provided to exhibitors (either by these few exhibitors or the SCAA, not sure which) that appeared to indicate that there would not be a good turnout based on how other shows have performed. However, those surveys were, as an SCAA board member is fond of saying, "comparing apples to wrenches".
6. A truck went through the floor of the new convention center (2004, I believe), giving shows that were booked an out.
7. SCAA moved to Houston - a city with nothing for coffee, abysmal public transport, not very walkable and just not very interesting.
8. We're all still pissed off about that and feel we've been lied to - the attitude from SCAA BoD members being "tut-tut, get over it." Back when I was trying to get at the facts in a thread on coffeed, three different SCAA executives gave me three different answers, all of which were obfuscated with civet feces, and little of it based in sound business decisions. It really sounded like they were led by the nose by one or two specific exhibitors to make a change. The "good of membership" had nothing to do with it because having the event in Pittsburgh would be good for more of the membership than any event not held in California, where most members operate/live.

As far as the "coffee scene", Jay may have taken some liberties. There are certainly fewer shops doing great coffee and nothing like Vivace. But there is a committed community. There are people trying to raise the tide for everyone. There's regional public awareness of the growth Pittsburgh has made in specialty coffee. And again, there is the ability to attract trade visitors from a much larger and diverse regional base than either Seattle or Boston (or Houston).

If SCAA doesn't want to take advantage of that, hopefully CoffeeFest will at some point in the near future. And if it does, I'll bet the house that that Pittsburgh event outdraws SCAA's national show.
Rich,
Case well made. I'm all on your side even thought I live on the west side of the big map.
JoeR

Rich Westerfield said:
Joseph Robertson said:
Jay,
Since you ended your comments here with the suggestion that the Pittsburgh coffee scene might have it over the Seattle coffee scene could you support that somewhat strong statement with some examples? I have had coffee on both coasts and would like to know why you feel so strong other than the fact that you live there on the other coast and get to test many more coffee shops than I do. As far as I'm concerned a lot more goes into a cup of joe than a nicely roasted bean blend. Based on many of your great posts here on BX I think you would feel the same. If you had not ended your comments with this claim I might not have come back with a challenge of this sort. Admittedly I'm a little off topic with this post but I know you have much more experience than I on this subject Jay.
Very sincerely,
Joseph


I'll assume Jay will come back with his own answers. As we're actually in Pittsburgh I'll make a few points.

1. We all want to be able to drive to an SCAA show sometime in our lifetimes. When the show was initially slotted for Pittsburgh (2011), the entire Mid-Atlantic was energized about it.
2. Pittsburgh would draw a regional audience - car traffic - from an area roughly bounded by NYC to the east, Toronto and Detroit to the north, Indianapolis to the west (possibly Chicago) and DC/Louisville to the south. That's a big swath of country encompassing 10 states/provinces and 4 of the top 10 metro areas in North America.
3. The convention center facility is more than adequate to meet the SCAAs needs, not to mention being LEED certified and green. The airport is pretty cheap. The hotel situation is OK, not perfect, but there's enough there to support the show at its largest size. And the VisitPittsburgh team would do a phenomenal job ensuring the event's success. In short, the venue (city and facility) meets every need.
4. The show was moved to Houston in a series of moves that was not at all transparent to membership. I've looked into this and after several discussions was told it was all in the minutes. Eventually SCAA sent me the minutes from the meeting where this issue was supposedly discussed. The minutes include no information on the change.
5. Working our way through the murkiness surrounding this decision, it appears to knowledgeable observers that there were several exhibitors who objected. There was "market research" provided to exhibitors (either by these few exhibitors or the SCAA, not sure which) that appeared to indicate that there would not be a good turnout based on how other shows have performed. However, those surveys were, as an SCAA board member is fond of saying, "comparing apples to wrenches".
6. A truck went through the floor of the new convention center (2004, I believe), giving shows that were booked an out.
7. SCAA moved to Houston - a city with nothing for coffee, abysmal public transport, not very walkable and just not very interesting.
8. We're all still pissed off about that and feel we've been lied to - the attitude from SCAA BoD members being "tut-tut, get over it." Back when I was trying to get at the facts in a thread on coffeed, three different SCAA executives gave me three different answers, all of which were obfuscated with civet feces, and little of it based in sound business decisions. It really sounded like they were led by the nose by one or two specific exhibitors to make a change. The "good of membership" had nothing to do with it because having the event in Pittsburgh would be good for more of the membership than any event not held in California, where most members operate/live.

As far as the "coffee scene", Jay may have taken some liberties. There are certainly fewer shops doing great coffee and nothing like Vivace. But there is a committed community. There are people trying to raise the tide for everyone. There's regional public awareness of the growth Pittsburgh has made in specialty coffee. And again, there is the ability to attract trade visitors from a much larger and diverse regional base than either Seattle or Boston (or Houston).

If SCAA doesn't want to take advantage of that, hopefully CoffeeFest will at some point in the near future. And if it does, I'll bet the house that that Pittsburgh event outdraws SCAA's national show.
now this thread is just encouraging me to avoid both shows. it doesn't seem like anyone has their facts straight, and there isn't much transparency.

if i ran my business like this thread, i'd be bankrupt.

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