Brewing A Bright Future
Sifting through ideas to jump-start a family business, New York resident Andrea Johnson had 'Brand Jamaica' on the brain, with a gentle nudge from her dad. A Richard Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship fellow, Jamrocker Johnson launched Serra Trading Company — a coffee bean retail enterprise — two years ago from her family's farm in St Thomas. Thursday Life reporter Omar Tomlinson caught up with Johnson (naturally, over sips of freshly brewed coffee) at Swiss Stores in downtown Kingston recently at an EITS Café-catered brunch.
Thursday Life (TL): How did the idea to start your own coffee company come about?
Andrea Johnson (AJ):
I worked in luxury marketing for Giorgio Armani in New York, and was considering attending culinary school after the market crashed in 2007. My father did not think that would be a good return on investment and suggested that we start a family business together. My cousin Michael Campbell is the owner and proprietor of Radnor Estate in St Thomas near the Blue Mountain peak, so my father and I joined forces to form Serra Trading Company, which is a purveyor of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee.
TL: When did the company move from conception to lift-off phase?
AJ: In the spring of 2011.
TL: Did you experience teething pains getting the company off the ground?
AJ: The start of the business was arduous for a few reasons, one of them being I had to learn about coffee very, very quickly and I had to do it on the ground and immerse myself completely, learning from our farmers, attending trade shows, doing tons of reading. I had to receive a licence from the Coffee Industry Board, which took a year-and-a-half, but that allowed me to really bring myself up to speed in the coffee industry. We just received an export licence a month ago, so that allows us to process, package and roast a vertically integrated product.
TL: Is Serra Trading only into retailing roasted coffee beans?
AJ: We trade both roasted and green beans.
TL: Given that your company is an online retailer, where's your biggest market?
AJ: My biggest market is mostly North America, primarily New York. My clientele is a fairly diverse group from different parts of America -- some Western Europeans, non-profit organisations, for-profit organisations,
TL: Update us about the business structure of Serra Trading.
AJ: All green beans are imported from Jamaica, which they have to be, because they are Jamaican. They come through our company based in New York and are then distributed to whomever customer.
TL: How do you foresee the growth potential of your company?
AJ: The company has already started to grow very quickly. The roasted beans are actually developing a little bit faster than the green-bean trading. I hope to expand into the boutique hospitality industry providing coffee for high-end offices, boutique hotels, and hopefully, even private jets, while continuing the retail online store.