Has a lack of competition in Scottish coffee made us more stagnant?

I want to slip in with something a little more racy. It’s not quite an opening thought for the 2019 but more of a thought that has been working its way into my mind and out of my mouth to passing ears recently in the shop - ‘Has a lack of competition in Scottish coffee made us more stagnant?’.

Cairngorm Lookbook D610 select-0279.jpg

If you’ve read any of our previous blogs here then you’ll know that we opt to talk about pretty broad and challenging topics. This isn’t so much a place to market ourselves, but more to spike the punch and start the party/debate. I will most likely return to a posting months, probably even weeks or days later with differing opinions. I think it’s good to think outwardly sometimes, like throwing a big wad of mud at the wall to see what sticks.

If you haven’t yet read ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, then I would throughly recommend doing so. It’s not one to miss. A couple of the things that I picked up on and made me think:

  1. Life is growth. You grow or you die.’ I mean technically by growing you also die in an anatomical sense, but you get where he’s coming from.

  2. In reference to Adidas: ‘Of course it's possible that they weren't arrogant at all, that to motivate myself I needed to see them as a monster. In any event, I despised them. I was tired of looking up every day and seeing them far, far ahead. I couldn't bear the thought that it was my fate to do so forever…it irritated me to no end. And it drove me. Hard’.

photo from addicted2success.com

photo from addicted2success.com

It got me thinking, not about whether the lacking presence of Scottish baristas in the brewers cup made us stagnant or if it was about bloody time ‘CIGS’ was hosted in Falkirk finally to inspire us all, but more that a lack of competition in a business sense - coffee shop to coffee shop - was making the scene too comfortable. 

For the record we are great friends with the majority of shops we’ve encountered, at the very least hopefully not enemies, and I suppose that’s kind of the point. In a world where everyone can make good latte art and serve pretty decent coffee, in what direction can we grow to keep us from sinking into the masses?

Is it time we sparked some energy by waging war on our neighbours? Almost certainly not.

Should we be innovating practical solutions to problems we’re facing in coffee for ourselves and our customers to challenge ‘Insert Coffee Shop’ into trying to think of a better solution and vice-versa? Quite possibly.

To dwell on Knight’s point, we need to always develop further in the hope of not falling away.  

I’ve always heralded the coffee scene in Scotland and maintain that it’s some of the best I’ve experienced. We’re also a part of the Disloyal 7 which in essence is a stand towards camaraderie and community.  What I’m most certainly not trying to do is avert anyone from being kind in business and to not work towards friendship and loyalty. The Disloyal 7 has been, so far, one of the most valuable resources we’ve been a part of and something we’re incredibly proud of.

photo by Rosie Boyko

photo by Rosie Boyko

Am I alone in thinking that some friendly rivalry could be welcome to force us to improve the consistency of our batch brew or push the presentation of the feta on our avocado toast?

For the record, I’m not trying to suggest that we feel that we’ve reached our peak and see no one as competition - far from it. We have a long way to go to get to the level we’d like to be, but I feel that competition drives that motivation to get there faster. I suppose I take stock of experiences in London or Melbourne recently where the frequency of new shops is maybe higher and the proximity is closer. Both cities seem to be a constantly evolving beasts and the concepts appearing are pretty contrasting to each other. Surely this only serves to encourage everyone else to stay constantly on their tiptoes.

It’s also quite possible that this kind of preach would have been best saved for a staff meeting, with some frantic riling towards staff members whilst ‘Eye of the Tiger’ plays at 150db to surely get the them chomping at the bit to keep that espresso in it’s acceptable variables. It’s goods to talk however about the next step, especially with 2019 on the horizon. We want to be the best version of ourself we can be, and there are some great new places opening around us all the time that are pushing us to do so. We’ll be keeping tabs on coffee in Scotland and taking inspiration from whatever we can to spark fire in us to progress, and only hope that we can repay the favour with whatever we create.

Robi Lambie