Ed Sladen talks quality, service and relationships – and how Sprout delivers what matters most to clients

We asked Sprout co-founder Ed Sladen about the work that led him to start Sprout Coffee, what he thinks matters most to his clients and how Sprout delivers on this.

How did your early career prepare you to co-found Sprout Coffee?

Throughout university I worked in the hospitality industry which instilled the customer service ethic. After leaving RMIT with a Bachelor of Business, the company I worked for had some real challenges. They tried to beat the rest of the market with a new online platform but it couldn’t have been more of a disaster. Customers were not happy and dealing with daily issues wasn’t great to go through, but you learn a hell of a lot more when things are tough than when things are going well. The senior management did an amazing job turning that ship around and they actually became the market leader in the superannuation and insurance industry. Looking back I see how much I learned during that time. It taught me incredibly valuable skills particularly around customer service and how important it is to invest time and energy building great professional relationships. Following that, I was lucky enough to get a position at Map Coffee as National Corporate Manager. I continued dealing with corporate clients which I really enjoyed, and instead of selling life insurance, I was selling a commodity that people love!

Why did you decide to launch Sprout coffee?

Map Coffee was acquired by Tata Global Beverages in 2014 and the business went from being family owned and relationship-focused to a more corporate structure. As things often do when there’s an acquisition of a company, there were differences in the new ownership and this created an opportunity for me and my business partner Steve Joy to think about leaving to start Sprout Coffee. We knew clients loved the business model but when it came to doing things sustainably, with an ethical supply chain, reduced waste and recycling, we knew there was a better way and that we could take things to the next level.

Did you always want to be a social entrepreneur?

No – I just found myself thinking there’s an opportunity to improve the way office coffee services were managed and thought hey, why don’t we make that opportunity a reality. Social entrepreneur is not really a term that I would relate to myself. It’s just the way we do business. Through my role at Map Coffee looking after corporate offices and seeing the capsule industry take off, I could see the volume of coffee that offices were going through and that all the coffee grounds were going into landfill and then all those capsules… I couldn’t bear the thought of that volume of single use capsules going into landfill. I knew there had to be a better way.

What gets you out of bed every day?

Apart from my 1 year old boy who doesn’t yet seem to enjoy sleeping in, it’s my team and clients that get me out of bed every day. We have a wonderful bunch of people at Sprout and they put in all the hard work to ensure the clients love our service. We couldn’t do it without them, and of course we certainly couldn’t do anything without our loyal clients. So making sure they’re happy with our service gets me out of bed every day.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy meeting new people and building relationships with clients and providing a quality product and service that they love. Running your own business certainly comes with challenges but it allows you to determine strategy and direction. Being able to influence the way we do business is something that gives me great satisfaction.

What matters most to your clients?

First you need to have a product that clients want to consume, so we make sure all of our beverages taste great. Service is imperative – if the coffee machine is broken, staff are not happy and that’s never good. Our turnaround times are market leading in this area and our clients love that. Price is obviously a factor, and we aim to develop a great tasting product, with an industry leading service offering at a competitive rate. Plus all clients have differing needs so we provide a full range of flexible service offerings too. And of course, we do all this with a heavy focus on sustainability. Our clients love the fact that we ethically source our products, carbon offset our machines and recycle our coffee grounds through the Melbourne Zoo who turn them into compost for the garden.

What does customer service mean at Sprout?

Our focus on service starts with really getting to know our clients, listening carefully to their requirements so we can develop a coffee solution that’s exactly the right fit for them. Every client is different, so we’re super flexible in our service offerings – including product range, machine models, and refilling, cleaning and maintenance schedules. Because life happens, we make troubleshooting and responsiveness an absolute priority too. As I mentioned, we have an amazing team. They’re out there, on the road, managing deliveries, filling and cleaning coffee machines in our clients’ offices every day and if there’s any kind of problem, we’re on to it straight away.

Aside from the obvious sustainability benefits, what else have you implemented in your business processes and service delivery that makes office coffee better for your clients?

Firstly, we know that looking after the machines is key to a great office coffee experience. We keep the machines clean and we’re strict with our preventative maintenance to make sure they’re always producing the best possible quality coffee. We also manage the delivery of consumables to offices, restocking kitchens and taking away the coffee grounds too. When it comes to having great office coffee on tap, there’s nothing our clients have to worry about – we make sure everything runs smoothly.

How have you managed to embed customer centric thinking within Sprout?

All new starters at Sprout Coffee go through the induction process where we cover off “The Sprout Way”. They’re well aware of the importance of providing the best customer service possible. At the end of the day, you can have the best tasting coffee and the fanciest coffee machines but if the service that backs up the products isn’t top-quality, nothing else matters. We always tell our team that it’s easy to turn a poor customer service experience into a positive one through quick and proactive response. It’s just the way good business is done. To find how you could be enjoying the benefits of your own sustainable office coffee with industry leading service, phone 1300 870 151 or book a free Sprout Coffee trial online today.