Founder / CEO
Good Walk Coffee Company Inc.
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
Interview with Matt Ward
Chris Mellow was introduced to golf by his grandfather and father at a municipal nine-hole course in the mountains of North Carolina and has been playing ever since. The 46-year-old started his career in marketing in New York in the mid-90s during the first “dot com boom” and has experience working with companies from startups to Fortune 50 corporations. As a long-time coffee connoisseur he saw an opportunity to create a Direct-to-Consumer business around his shared passions for coffee and golf.
THE MELLOW STORY:
For the first 20 years of my career golf and coffee were hobbies. My profession was branding and advertising, working at agencies to help clients build and launch their businesses and marketing campaigns. I was lucky enough to work with everyone from early dot com start-ups like Audible to Fortune 100 stalwarts, like American Express. One of the things I loved about working on the agency side is that you’re always learning about new industries and meeting the entrepreneurs risking it all to build new businesses. The downside to working at an agency is, once your work is done, your clients tend to go off and continue to grow. I knew early on that I wanted to eventually build my own business and get to see it through from the initial seed of an idea to growing into a thriving business.
As a strategic planner by trade, I was trained to look for intersections where there was an unmet customer need with a unique product idea I could offer. As a close follower of the coffee industry, I saw that coffee had matured to a place where really every company could make excellent quality products. It had become impossible to compete on quality alone. In other industries when this has happened brands need to find something else for customers to attach to emotionally. That’s when it clicked for me that there are a lot of coffee drinkers who share my other passion in life, golf. As we researched the opportunity and started exploring our own experience of the intersection of coffee and golf, we saw the potential that became Good Walk Coffee Company.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
In general, the passion is pushing our business forward in any little way possible. I think the exciting thing about building a business is that it makes even the mundane tasks enjoyable. John Foley, the CEO of Peloton has a saying that “the avalanche starts with a pebble” and speaks of going into work every day trying to push as many pebbles as possible. That’s our mindset, as well. Every day is exciting when you’re able to see progress happening, even at a smaller scale.
What was the genesis for the Good Walk Coffee Company?
My background is in marketing and brand building. As a passionate coffee drinker, I saw that industry evolving to where everyone was trying to compete on higher and higher quality. At a certain point, the whole industry makes good quality coffee and a brand needs to find a unique way to connect with consumers.
For a commodity like coffee, that can be a lifestyle passion point. I grew up golfing and have followed golf brands for decades now. I knew that for most golfers, it’s more than a hobby or a game and really is their lifestyle, like it is mine. I put my marketing Strategic Planner hat on and dug into the research on both industries and saw that there was an opportunity for a coffee brand that was anchored in golf. It all sparked from there.
What separates your products from others in an already crowded market category?
There are endless choices for someone looking for good quality coffee, but there’s no other brand right now that also shares the roots in golf. We are very purposeful about our niche because it’s founded in the intersection of two things we’re authentically passionate about, coffee and golf. Right now, that makes us very unique.
Who is your customer today? Who is your aspirational customer in the years to come?
We have had a lot of success building our brand digitally, specifically in social media. Because it’s also where we live natively, that came naturally as a first step. Our goals are to continue growing our consumer base through digital channels but eventually will also add retail channels so that we’re able to reach consumers who don’t spend all day on Instagram, like we do.
Outline your marketing efforts in terms of approximate outlets — via brick and mortar stores, green grass shops and online sales?
Right now we have made the choice to focus on Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) sales online. We have product for sale on our e-com site, as well as at Amazon, because that way we can offer flexible ways to purchase, like via subscriptions, and control the customer’s experience when they open a box from us. We’ve also begun experimenting with going into pro shops and small specialty shops because we know that we can reach our core consumer there. We will be growing our retail offering more broadly in 2021 but for this year we’re focused on being a great DTC brand.
Given the impact of the pandemic — how do you see the balance of 2020 playing out for your efforts?
We are very fortunate that we have a product and a retail channel that has not been affected negatively by the pandemic. With most people working from home and coffee shops being closed, our sales picked up quite a bit since the pandemic hit. 2020 will be a good one for our business, which is something that we don’t take for granted with everything going on in the world right now.
Plenty of companies tout the importance of customer service. Define the term and the approach you follow.
Customer Service is everything because that’s your customer’s experience with your brand. It can make or break a business. We follow a simple rule of “treat the customer how you would like to be treated.” We’re big on surprise and delight and whenever we need to fix something, we go above and beyond so the experience can be a positive one for our customers.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Probably access. There are a lot of angles to the issue, but in general if we made it easier to access golf, it would get more people into the sport, it would keep more people involved, and overall “grow the game” as a lot of people like to say.
The major golf organizations — USGA, R&A, PGA of America, PGA TOUR, LPGA -are all seeking ways to attract Millennials, women and minorities to golf. If you were counseling them what you advise they be doing?
Again — access. There’s already a lot of great work being done to push playing less than 18 holes. There are amazing renovations going on at municipal courses and new courses are being built that are either short courses, 9 holes, etc.
All the new off course businesses, like Top Golf or Five Iron Golf will be ways people get to experience our sport without the intimidation of jumping straight onto a golf course. I think there’s a lot of great work already happening that should keep golf growing with Millennials, women and minorities.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
“Leave the course better than you found it” was something my grandfather used to say when we were playing. It meant fix ball marks on the green that weren’t yours, replace divots, but it’s also a great way to approach business and life. The world’s a lot better place when we’re not just focused on our own little bubble.
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