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Madam Friedrich is ready for her first adventure

Friedrichs Coffee, led by owners Gary and Colleen Meyer, ready to enter the world of tea


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“Better or worse?”

That’s become a familiar question for Gary Meyer, owner of Friedrichs Coffee LLC, to answer. In fact, it has tasted like two years at the eye doctor – and tasted wasn’t a misprint.

Colleen, Gary’s wife and partner since they launched Friedrichs Coffee in 1991, is leading a new initiative that diverts slightly from coffee beans, to tea leaves.

“(The eye doctor) uses all these different ways of asking you the same question, but you are defining what is ultimately going to be their decision,” Gary said. “And Colleen does that to me all the time with the teas, but she is really meticulous on teas and blending of teas. That taste profile, it just takes countless hours and hours, and you live with it. She has been living with it for almost two years now at home.”

Now it’s time for the Midwest to taste her teas in clear focus.

Friedrichs Coffee, an Urbandale roaster and retailer that distributes specialty coffees across 15 states and has five Greater Des Moines retail stores, is venturing into unknown territory with a Colleen-led plan to begin distributing and selling organic teas and at least one of her handcrafted rooibos blends. Plans are in motion to begin the tea party when the company’s quarterly catalog goes out to about 3,500 potential customers in September.

“We have never had our arms around tea like we have our arms around coffee,” Gary said. “It takes somebody with the passion and the motivation to make it happen.”

Friedrichs Coffee has always offered tea at its retail locations, but relied on a wholesaler for its supply, and didn’t distribute teas like its coffees. Now Gary and Colleen will be bringing everything under their own roof, doing their own blending, packaging and delivering.

“It is like a separate business. You can only be spread so far thin and we have talked about it for more like two years,” Colleen said. “It will be like another business, another investment, and how much energy and how split and divided do you want to become?”

Split and divided is something Gary and Colleen have rarely been throughout their nearly 18 years in the coffee business.

“We just developed this unique bond, that a lot of the things we do, we’ve done together,” Gary said. “We have always worked together and so we have become a lot alike.”

Except maybe in their love for the taste of coffee. Coffee drips through Gary’s veins, literally and perhaps figuratively. His great-grandfather Sir Friedrich, for whom the company is named and branded, owned his own coffeehouse as part of a hotel and restaurant in Germany.

“Sometimes it just feels like this is what I was destined for, what I was created for – to be an artisan roaster and retailer of fine coffees,” Gary said. “I feel like I have found what I am to have my love affair with in life, as far as in the workplace.”

So keep it on the hush, but Colleen has never really preferred the taste of coffee. She enjoys it now, and jokes she can even drink it without making a face, but her true passion is tea.

“So we have our special interests, and we each have our strengths and our weaknesses and our passions, and we just kind of find ourselves doing those parts of the business,” Gary said.

“What I am to coffee, she is kind of becoming to tea.”

Colleen said she has been working with a broker in California, whom she feels has solid integrity, and a paper trail that allows her to trace the tea back to its origin. She said the tea they currently get through a wholesaler is great tea, but going directly through a broker rather than a wholesaler eliminates a step, giving her more control over the freshness, and it opens up a wider range of tea selection. She said, however, Friedrichs Coffee retail shops won’t completely stop offering wholesale teas, and will phase them out over time.

Colleen also said she isn’t worried about how the tea will sell in the retail stores, but although they have had a few customers inquire about them distributing tea, she is less certain how much response she will receive from the catalog.

As the soft launch nears, Colleen admitted some nerves that stem from a fear of the tea deteriorating once it arrives from the broker if everything isn’t in line to properly distribute the tea. Luckily that’s Gary’s expertise.

“That is the part of it that I really like,” Gary said. “It’s the problem-solving part, making sure everything is efficient, making sure everything is running perfect, developing strategies, developing business plans, just getting the machine up and running and working.”

Fine by Colleen.

“That is why we are good together,” she said. “He thinks of all these little details, and I just think about let’s get tea in the store.”

But there is one potentially slippery area when it comes to the branding of their new product, like perhaps changing the name of the brand.

“I don’t know; it is going to be part of our brand,” Gary said. “A brand is a funny thing. You define how you want the brand to move forward and we have made enough wrong decisions to keep us with the Friedrichs brand the way it is.”

One of those decisions strayed from the well-established brand personality of Sir Friedrich, the adventurer who personifies the company’s image, when Gary and Colleen initially rebranded the company as Midwest Coffee Traders when they first began distributing coffee. They quickly learned their lesson and reversed the name change.

Mike Schreurs, CEO at public relations firm Strategic America, originally worked with the Meyers to develop the Friedrichs brand. He said companies have to be careful to make sure a product extension doesn’t diminish the power of the primary brand – in this case Friedrichs Coffee. Schreurs said Gary and Colleen could make a case for doing the branding or sub-branding many different ways.

“I have to tell you, in our business, there are so many different ways of taking a look at it and really it just comes down to sometimes breaking the rules is the best thing to do,” Schreurs said. “And in other cases, if you break the rules, you will just be roadkill for the next guy that comes along.”

Schreurs, who no longer works with Friedrichs Coffee but remains friends with the couple, felt tea is a natural extension from coffee and offered soda pop and beer companies’ additions of “diet” and “light” products as examples when a sub-brand almost became a lead aspect of the primary brand.

“To a degree they either certainly leverage off the power of the primary brand or they begin to diminish it.” he said. “It is just a matter of how powerful that niche is for growth, and in the case of Coke and Pepsi and many of the traditional beers, the lights and the diets overtook the size of the initial market.”

Although Gary said it is probably safest to stay with Friedrichs Coffee, much depends on performance.

“I don’t know what our brand will look like,” he said. “It is a good question. Will tea become part of it as we move ahead? It depends on what tea does.”

Schreurs offered some advice.

“For Friedrichs, (the brand) is ‘There is a coffee with character. A story is told,'” he said. “If they can conserve the same aspect with tea, then I think they are going to be right aligned with something they have already established and have equity in.”

Maybe the wildly interesting and partially embellished coffee man, Sir Friedrich, needs a partner to help boost the brand – Madam Friedrich, his tea-brewing partner perhaps?

All she’ll need is a monocle … properly focused, of course.

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