Business management

Fi O’Brien and Casey Lalonde: Girls Who Grind Coffee

As part of our campaign with Getty Images to change the image of female-led entrepreneurship, the co-founders of Wiltshire-based coffee roastery Girls Who Grind Coffee tell their business story.

“Don’t let anyone, or your own mind for that matter, talk you out of living your dream.”

Their journey has been a fairly serendipitous one, explains Fi. “Casey is originally from upstate New York, and I’m originally from Melbourne, Australia, but we met and became friends in our now hometown of Frome in Somerset. While our kids played, we got chatting about our love of coffee and our various experiences within the industry and discovered we both felt as though there was room for change and improvement.

“In short, we wanted to see more equality. As women, we’d felt a little pushed out of an industry that we’d loved so much and had so much to give to.”

So the team decided to be the change they wanted to see. “Starting up our own, all-female roastery seemed the perfect culmination of both of our ideas and passions and allowed us to have the greatest impact,” says Fi. “We made the conscious decision to focus solely on buying coffee from female producers, sharing their stories and giving them the recognition they rightly deserve for the incredible work they do.”

The uncertainty of the global pandemic has been difficult for Girls Who Grind Coffee, as it has been for so many businesses. “Not knowing how this was going to affect our fairly young business was quite a scary position to be in,” says Fi. “Obviously, the hospitality industry was one of the first industries to really feel the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, and with that the wholesale side of our business was immediately in jeopardy.”

It’s incredibly motivational for our hard work and determination to be recognised and celebrated. Seeing more representation of real women in business is what we’re all about.

Fi O’Brien
Co-founder, Girls Who Grind Coffee

But as wholesale sales declined, online retail sales thankfully soared – though with some staff on furlough and social-distancing restrictions in force, they were twice as busy with half the staff. “But we got through, adapting as we went along, and creating sectioned work areas within our workspace meant we could deal with the demand,” explains Fi. “We very quickly streamlined our ordering process, focusing on our online store and retail products. The biggest thing we took away from all of this was the importance of being able to adapt within your business – being too rigid in your thinking and approach is a recipe for disaster.”

Aside from staying open through the pandemic and now being “busier than ever and with a larger team”, Fi and Casey are especially proud of their ongoing Cheek To Cheek initiative. “This is a GWGC women’s empowerment initiative that puts 10% of the sale price of all our retail bags of roasted coffees back into the pockets of our producers, on top of the premium price we pay for their green coffee from the beginning,” says Fi.

“Coffee producers struggle to make a living wage from their product, and this is made even more difficult for women, who more often than not receive less money for the same task carried out by a man. We believe the stories behind the coffees we purchase add value to the final product sold, so we want to give back to the producers in exchange for everything they give, above and beyond the beans themselves. We want our producers to feel part of the process, part of our team and be proud of the incredible coffee they have produced.”

It can be an intimidating prospect to go out on your own, but once you get the cogs in motion, it’s incredibly liberating and empowering.

Fi O’Brien
Co-founder, Girls Who Grind Coffee

In the coming year, GWGC wants to focus on growing the roastery with the potential to also open concept stores and cafes. “I think this would be the ultimate way for our customers to experience our brand in a fully immersive cafe/store,” says Fi. Meanwhile, Casey is continuing to build on GWGC’s strong relationships with its producers. “The potential for GWGC is endless,” says Fi.

On being part of Female Focus: #BeTheRoleModel initiative, Fi says: “It’s incredibly motivational for our hard work and determination to be recognised and celebrated. Seeing more representation of real women in business is what we’re all about.”

And to other women looking to launch their own business, her advice is “to simply go for it”.

She adds: “It can be an intimidating prospect to go out on your own, but once you get the cogs in motion, it’s incredibly liberating and empowering.”

Doing thorough research and writing a robust business plan are key steps, adds Fi. “But don’t let anyone – or your own mind for that matter – talk you out of living your dream. Yes, it will be difficult, and, yes, it will be a killer amount of work, but if you’re passionate about your idea, it will all be worth it in the end. As with any business idea, make sure it’s full of worth and purpose.”

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