October Cover – Nick Pantos

Nick Pantsos – For the love of coffee

  • A fascinating journey from fruit shops to Caltex twin servos to one of Australia’s most successful wholesale coffee companies.
  • Strategies to overcome the challenges in an increasingly competitive market.
  • Key lessons learned over almost 20 years in the wholesale coffee business.
  • How a company that began business in a small tin shed grew to a concern occupying a modern 1500 sqm premises with state-of-the-art facilities.

IF YOU’VE EVER enjoyed a cup of barista made espresso coffee from a cafe on the Central Coast, chances are the coffee and the machine that brewed it were supplied by Expresso Coffee Specialists, the family business owned and managed by Nick Pantsos. There’s also a good chance that the Barista was trained in the fine art of coffee making by the company’s accredited Barista Trainer. Established on the Central Coast in 1998 in a small shed with a staff of three, Expresso Coffee is the largest national distributor for global coffee giant, Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) and has been their number one supplier year in, year out. The company’s growth has been the result of passion, dedication, hard work, strategic decision-making, resilience, and exceptional ongoing customer service.

Pantsos grew up in Wollongong and spent much of his childhood helping his parents run the family’s three fruit shops.

At the age of 19, Pantsos suddenly found himself with the responsibility of running the family business after his father passed away. Four years later, Pantsos was given a golden opportunity through a family friend to become a partner in the brand new twin Caltex service stations on the M1. He was just 23 at the time.

Pantsos ran the Caltex business successfully over the next five years with the help of finance and administrative specialist, Colleen Maloy, who continues to work alongside Pantsos as Administration Manager today. Leaving Caltex in 1998, Pantsos, who by now was financially comfortable and married with two young children, began the hunt for the next chapter in his business journey. “The week I left Caltex my wife asked me, ‘What can you see yourself doing?’ And my reply to her was, ‘I would love to buy the coffee company that used to supply us at the twin Caltex’”. However, the business was not for sale. After almost purchasing another retail business, Pantsos was given a heads up by his accountant that he had a client who was thinking about selling. As luck (or fate) would have it, that business was the very same coffee company he had wanted to buy. By the end of the day Pantsos had bought the business.

Within 12 months, the business was rebranded to Expresso Coffee Specialists under the management of what continues to be the management team today, Pantsos (Director), Maloy (Administration Manager) and Russell Morrison (Sales Manager).

Outgrowing their premises in Wyoming within four years, Expresso Coffee moved to a 500 sqm warehouse in West Gosford and gradually increased their customer base of cafes, restaurants, hotels and motels over the next several years. Their staff numbers also grew. In 2015 they took a calculated risk and relocated again, this time to a 1500 sqm modern premises at Lisarow, which they fitted out with a roastery, large warehouse facility, technical department, commercial coffee machine showroom, and a purpose built Barista training facility.

One of Expresso Coffee’s key points of difference from day one has been customer service. Pantsos and the team pride themselves on never losing sight of the customers’ needs by providing them with dedicated account managers who visit their customers at least fortnightly to check on them, ensure their machines are running smoothly and take their order. “We are one of only a few coffee companies to offer this level of service,” said Pantsos.

Increasing competition over the years has been a challenge for the company. Twenty years ago there were only a handful of coffee companies but today there are hundreds, including boutique roasters. “The pie has grown but it has also been cut into very small pieces. So we knew it was necessary to maximise our share without saturating our market,” said Pantsos. One of the ways Expresso Coffee is combatting this challenge is by introducing their own roastery managed by an Artisan Roaster. This allows them to create boutique blends that are custom made to order and uniquely branded and packaged. Despite the growing popularity of boutique blends however, Pantsos is careful to keep it ‘boutique’ and maintain his focus on selling JDE brands. On the back of Expresso Coffee’s sustainable success, JDE “We’re making the Patonga Hotel the Central Coast’s best place for your next business meeting – visit us soon!”

Andrew Smith, Owner Nestled amongst giant Norfolk Pines, directly opposite the wharf, Patonga Beach Hotel is without doubt the most sublime place to while away an afternoon with exquisite fresh food, fine wine and ales.

An easy 30 minute scenic drive from Gosford places you at the Central Coasts most talked about destination venue.

Key lessons

  • Stick to a niche market – Expresso Coffee had been servicing the domestic market for coffee machines as well as the commercial market but learned that the return for effort coupled with increasing competition from large retailers made it counterproductive to remain in that market.
  • Allow sales personnel to concentrate on selling and employ a dedicated and fully certified Barista Trainer to train cafe staff.
  • Focus on natural, steady growth as opposed to trying to grow too fast, employing too many people and saturating the market. It is this growth strategy that ensured the GFC did not affect the company significantly.

By Phaedra Pym

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