Knapp Time: Madcap’s Ryan Knapp Talks Coffee Retailing at International Coffee Week

One the big topics of discussion and interest here in Brazil is the specialty coffee retailing experience in other places, specifically the US. Ryan Knapp from Madcap Coffee Roasters in Grand Rapids, Mich. was invited to speak about his company’s retailing experience and methods during one of the Café DNA sessions.

The audience listens to Ryan Knapp address specialty retailing in the US.
The audience listens to speakers including Ryan Knapp address trends in coffee and specialty retailing in the US.

Ryan introduced Madcap as a company that only buys 87+ coffees (very rare, expensive and intriguing coffees compared to the mass market “ and this revelation drew some gasps and incredulous questioning at the end of his presentation), and he told the audience about his five-year-old company’s evolution and how they view the retailing experience today.


Ryan Knapp gives his presentation during the Café DNA sessions.
Ryan Knapp gives his presentation during the Café DNA sessions.

To begin with he said that originally at Madcap they felt their role in the seed-to-up chain was to teach everything they knew about the coffee “ where it came from, who grew it, how it was processed, who roasted it and how “ to everyone. Gradually, however, they came to realize that not every customer needs or wants to know everything about the coffee. Sometimes they just want to enjoy a great cup of coffee in a nice space.

And so Madcap refined its mission statement, and began to tailor its offerings more to its customers. It was, I thought, a very illuminating presentation and one that with Ryan’s wit and delivery broke down the multiple pressures and customers a café faces into easy-to-understand segments.

Ryan did this by describing three of his favorite customers: Mari the Librarian, Jim the Lawyer, and Tommy the Coffee Geek. He spoke about what they’re looking for in their coffee experience and related it to his own enthusiasm for alcohol. (Yeah, that sounds kinda bad, but follow with me, err ¦ Ryan for a moment.)

Mari comes into Madcap every day and always orders the same drink (a cappuccino.) Sometimes she takes it to go, but most days she takes a seat in the corner, drinks her coffee and cracks open a book. She’s a great customer, and Madcap is happy to have her make the café a regular part of her day. She obviously loves coffee, but she’s never shown much interest in learning about where her coffee came from or the roast profile or anything more about it really. She just wants a great cup, served by a friendly person, in an inviting space.

Ryan said he relates to Mari and felt he shared her coffee experience when it comes to wine. He likes wine, and will have a glass or share a bottle on occasion, but while many people are oenophiles, Ryan isn’t one of them. He doesn’t need to know the terroir, or harvesting method, or vintage as much as he’s just interested in having a nice glass of wine.

His second customer profile was Jim the Lawyer. Jim comes into Madcap multiple times on most days. He is eager to engage with the barista. He wants to find out more about his coffee, and his order is unpredictable. It will just be whatever strikes his fancy that day. He also buys whole bean to take home and will ask for brewing tips, and had the barista help him select a home grinder. But moving the conversation into processing methods or elevations or micro-climates, loses Jim’s attention. He’s definitely an enthusiast. But his enthusiasm definitely has its limits.

Ryan compared this to how he feels about beer. He enjoys drinking micro-brews and will happily try a sample of a new brew. œSome of my friends even call me a beer snob,  he said because he will always choose a microbrew over a mass lager. But he also knows that he enjoys particular styles of beer, and will most of the time order something that appeals to his palate. He’s not ordering beer to experiment, and he’s not really interested in learning about the brewing process or the variety of hops or malt used.

It's Tommy the Coffee Geek, the third of Ryan's customer archetypes.
It’s Tommy the Coffee Geek, the third of Ryan’s customer archetypes.

Ryan’s third example was Tommy the Coffee Geek. œThese people are all in,  Ryan said. œHe’s got multiple brewing devices at home. You don’t have any idea what he’ll order. He wants to know what’s new and exciting at Madcap. And coffee is his number one hobby. 

œI’m like Tommy,  Ryan said, œwhen it comes to cocktails. When I go out to a bar, I want to know all about the drink the bartender is making. I ask questions, and I want to know as much as I can about everything he’s doing. 

The challenge, then, Ryan said it making an experience that can appeal to all three customers, and he added creating a space that welcomes everyone whether or not they’re even into coffee, because a positive experience in Madcap just may make the non-coffee drinker become one.

Madcap’s approach to the situation is to pay as much attention to the cafés physical space as they do to their coffee. Attention to detail must carry through every part of the experience. They also try to keep as simple a menu as possible, but keep open the option for exploration (for customers like Jim or Tommy) with a single-origin espresso always available alongside the house blend. They also offer flights of different coffees or the same coffee brewed different ways, so that the customers can always have the opportunity to try something new.

Further they try to have regular coffee education available whether it’s cupping, home brewing classes, or tours of the roastery. All the options are open to their customers, but if the customer just wants to have a great coffee in an invited space, like Mari, they are valued and welcome too.

I really enjoyed Ryan’s presentation, and I thought it gave an easy-to-follow breakdown of what specialty coffee customers are looking for in the States. The Brazilians in the audience seemed to find the depth of many of the customers knowledge and passion for coffee to be pretty cool if surprising, and certainly discovering that people halfway around the world take your work so seriously and enjoy it so much, is rewarding.

What do you think? Do you have regular customers like Ryan’s or are there other types out there that are more or less challenging to serve? And how do you make a coffee experience to appeals to all of the archetypes?

About Ken 263 Articles
Kenneth R. Olson (he/him) is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Washington Huskies, and public libraries.