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A Startup Sounds Off: Big Brands Have Lost the Love

The Millennial founder of Brooklyn Diamond Coffee talks big brand versus small brand love, startups’ success on social media, and more…

Small businesses have been winning over Millennials, and eating into big brands’ profits. Yesterday, we told you that top 10 branded food brands have lost 4% of their market share in the last five years to young, entrepreneurial companies.

Black Diamond Coffee is one of those young companies, and one of the first to ignite the current cold-brew coffee trend. We talked to founder and Millennial entrepreneur Lottie Terzi about how small brands are standing out and starting trends, why big brands are losing love, how social media is leveling the playing field for startups, how she connects with her Millennial consumers, how social feedback should shape brands’ futures, and what trends she sees coming next:

YPulse: Tell us about Brooklyn Diamond Coffee. How did you start this brand?

Lottie Terzi: I started the company in 2013 and it was really started as a necessity because I loved coffee—in particular cold brew coffee—and I couldn’t find it anywhere in the city. Now cold brew is really hot, but at the time no one knew about it so I started making it myself. I started giving it out to my friends, my family, and everybody loved it. It was so much demand I didn’t know what to do. I was doing deliveries alone, I had just moved to NYC, I was in college, and I didn’t have a car so it was really very complicated. So I decided to open the store, and actually there was availability in the South Street Seaport that summer. Magnolia and Pinkberry [were there] and it was amazing—you see these established companies and they’re next door to you, so it really gives you hope and makes you feel like you can do anything. At the end of that summer, I opened the first brick and mortar retail location in Brooklyn. At the end of November 2015, we opened our first New York City location flagship location on 54th street.

We also have the wholesale business where we sell bottles of coffee, and we also deliver. We just partnered up with Seamless actually and Postmate as well.

YP: Why do you think cold-brew coffee has taken off as a trend? What is it about cold-brew that you think appeals to younger consumers?

LT: I think it’s primarily the taste. There’s definitely tremendous sale potential for the beverage itself. The hardest thing for us in the beginning was the education gap—getting people to understand why cold brew was different then a regular cup of iced coffee. But now that you have all the Starbucks in the world selling cold brew, it’s been a positive influence on us because they are the ones educating the customers. So now someone comes into our store, they go, “I know what cold brew is and I know why you guys charge more for it, but I still want it.”

YP: What sets you apart from other coffee locations?

LT: I think what sets us apart is that we strive to create a welcoming, warm, and exciting environment that encourages interaction. We are very big on hospitality; it’s like a requirement if you work at Brooklyn Diamond you have to have a good personality. A lot of companies now sell cold brew coffee, so it’s more about the approach you take, how you treat customers, what environment you create, what you have to offer to them. It’s not only about the products, it’s also about the soul of the company, getting people to really feel and want to be there and be a part of what’s going on with the brand.

YP: Do you see small brands appealing more to young consumers today? 

LT: Absolutely. Before I started my business, I’d always choose a Starbucks over an independent shop, or for like a clothing store I would walk into a Saks or a Bloomingdales over a little boutique. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a growing trend, or because I have a growing business, but now I would walk into a smaller boutique or a cafe over a big box store a thousand times over. First of all, you know they are paying much more attention to you, you know that they care more, and you know that their product is essentially better because they are putting more love into it.

YP: Do you feel you need to stay small to stay successful with your consumers?    

LT: I’ve also wondered about that. The problem with bigger brands is that you don’t really feel the love anymore when you walk into their stores. It’s less about giving the customer something that you love or suddenly it becomes more about money and becoming a big business and taking over the world. I think that it’s about the vibe that you give off to customers that is so important. It’s not about being big or small, it’s about the experience and what you have to offer, and that feeling people get when they walk inside.

YP: What is your social media strategy, and how have you used it to stay connected with Millennials?

LT: Constantly. Right now we do all our social media in house. We do Instagram, Twitter, Facebook… we just got into this new app called Wine N’ Dine. We are doing Snapchat, that’s really 24/7. Constant social media is how we built our business originally, it’s how customers found out about us that haven’t walked into a Brooklyn Diamond Store. It is because of social media that we’ve been able to expand, and we are able to get the confidence in knowing a customer who may have never tried the product before, just sees the packaging, the brand, the image, and they want it.

YP: Do you engage a lot with consumers on your social media profiles?

LT: We use it for feedback all the time. Especially Yelp. We also use a Square register. It’s a program where you can send receipts virtually—which actually is eco-friendly—and [consumers] are able to give feedback instantaneously. You’d be surprised how much feedback we get even just from that directly. It’s amazing how you are able to get an Instagram message, or Facebook message, or a wall post from a customer. You wouldn’t normally know that the customer is thinking that. They are not necessarily going to be as open with you or say something negative or positive in the store but online it’s unlimited.

YP: Do you take the feedback into consideration?

LT: Oh my gosh yeah, we use that feedback every week. We have group meetings, and one topic that we discuss is called “Social.” We all go around and pull up screenshots of pictures we saw posted on social media sites, or comments we get back, any text messages we got. That’s how we try to make the brand better, because that’s really what people want. That’s how people are expressing themselves these days.

YP: What about the growing importance of sustainability within the food industry, do you do anything at your own store?

LT: We make a lot of cold brew as you can imagine, because we have our store and our wholesale business, so we use the extra beans the grinder left over to tend local gardens as soil for their plants, which is great. Another thing we do every month is give 10% of sales to a charity, which has been amazing experience for me as a business owner. It gives you a different satisfaction.

YP: Being part of the food industry, what trends do you foresee for food in 2016?

LT: Customers coming into your store because they saw you on social media, or they saw you on a blog, or they saw you posted on a food website. I think that it’s a trend in the food industry, creating a hype, getting people excited about your product and what they have to offer, and then getting them to come into the store before they even know what they are going to get. They don’t know what a Cronut is, but they know they have to have it, so they wait on a line for a half an hour to have it.

YP: Where do you see your brand going next?

LT: We actually have a lot of different requests; we went to Singapore this week and there were opportunities presented to us. We had an investor, so currently we are deciding where to put the company. Is it opening 30 more stores in 2 years, or is it to be selling in every Whole Foods supermarket in the world, or both? So currently we are at that stage, we’re deciding which route to take.

This interview has been edited and condensed



Brooklyn Diamond Coffee was launched in 2013 by founder, Lottie Terzi who was only 21 at the time.  Brought up in a family where Turkish Coffee was a prized possession, Lottie knew what quality coffee tasted like and couldn’t stand the watered down cups of iced coffee she was constantly being served.  Having searched all over Manhattan and unable to find the perfect cup of iced coffee, she decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own blend of cold brew. Brooklyn Diamond Coffee specializes in Cold Brew coffee and additionally offers, hand-crafted hot coffee, espresso based drinks, loose leaf tea/matcha, fresh juices and vegan pastries.

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