While travelling around the world in the 1990s, Steve Benitez found himself in the local coffee shops of every city he visited. It was an atmosphere he enjoyed, and his way to assimilate with the local culture.
One day, an idea sparked in him: take this experience home instead of waiting for the next trip. A man with an entrepreneurial mindset, Steve decided to pursue his passion and spent the next two years building his coffee business.
As he wandered between stalls one day at a coffee exposition, Steve met a man named Bo, an Italian-American coffee roaster whose passion made an impact on the young entrepreneur.
Inspired, Steve put a name to the business: Bo’s Coffee. More than 20 years later, the company has grown to more than 100 stores in the Philippines. Beans are handpicked from the Philippine highlands, roasted by artisan roasters and transported fresh to branches around the country.
Teamwork, respect, integrity, commitment, excellence and passion are central to Bo’s Coffee. These values guide the company’s everyday decisions. Bo’s Coffee has a dynamic culture that Steve says is open and creative. “I encourage our employees to share their ideas and work together as a team to achieve our goals with excellence,” he explains. “We have a young workforce and I believe in the creativity of youth.”
Steve’s first approach to management is hiring the right people. After searching for the best talent, he generally keeps a hands-off approach. “I empower people to make their own decisions,” he says. “When an employee is aligned with our goals, vision and mission, I let them do things the way they want to.
“I try to hire the best people in their field of expertise so we can achieve greater things together. My goal is to surround myself with people so much better than me to create a culture of learning and mentoring from one another. By doing so, it is my commitment to the growth of each member in the organisation individually and the company as a whole.”
“I try to hire the best people in their field of expertise so we can achieve greater things together.”
The next step for Bo’s Coffee is to expand globally. It has already opened a branch in Qatar, and plans to deliver a Philippine coffee experience to more countries in the future. “Our goal is to open 200 to 250 more stores by 2022, and enter into at least five other countries,” Steve replies.
“First, we must achieve operational excellence to be ready for this expansion. It’s not about focusing on what we don’t have, it’s about knowing what to do with what we do have. If we know how to use what we have efficiently, we can be productive.”
Customer consistency is an essential aspect of growth. To make sure customers have the best experience possible instore, Bo’s Coffee is meticulous about training. “We try to have consistency in the stores, which starts with the hiring process,” Steve says.
“People who join the shopfront should have the kind of personality that engages with customers. We hire people who care about others and speak well. We’re improving our training department before we are confident it will work on a global scale.”
“In the pursuit of success, we sometimes attempt too many things at once. I was once told that when you’re going through a battle, you choose which front to take on. You can’t tackle too many because if one weakens the whole force will collapse. So I try to focus on one front at a time, and strengthen it.”
As the largest homegrown coffee chain in the Philippines, Bo’s Coffee wants to use its resources to support local coffee farmers and have a positive social impact.
“Our country is dominated by foreign franchises, but our mission is to make Philippine coffee popular,” Steve explains. “We highlight its ingenuity in our stores. We have a very distinct Philippine coffee experience that differentiates us from other brands.
“I was adamant, from the start, about pushing Philippine coffee. I really believe in its quality and potential. There is a growing movement now to support it, highlight it, and improve the condition of the Philippine coffee industry.
I’m very thankful that the movement we initiated many years back in our company has started a spark that gave Philippine coffee the attention it deserves.”
The company has also opened its doors to social entrepreneurs as a way of making business inclusive and helping others achieve success. “We aren’t just a coffee company; we are a platform for change,” Steve notes.
“We aren’t just a coffee company; we are a platform for change.”
“We partner with Philippine brands and entrepreneurs. We continuously seek out partners who have products that align with our business. Among the social enterprises we work with are Anthill, Theo and Philo, Bayani Brew, Tsaa Laya and Agrea, to mention a few.”
Though the company has excelled, it finds it still needs to prove itself in a world of giants. “Patience is a big challenge for us,” Steve admits.
“Unfortunately, some malls prefer certain brands to be located in the best spots. We work hard to prove ourselves in our country. We’re trying our best to change the perspective.”
Every executive understands that growing a business includes pressures, challenges and stresses. Steve believes it is all worth it if his company can be a powerful tool to make a positive impact on the community.
“We do what we do in our stores to transform them into platforms,” he says. “We want to become a size that will make an impact. Our purpose is to increase the demand for Philippine coffee so we can help increase the incomes of local farmers.”