Ex-Mesa State athlete stirs online coffee market
A college basketball standout’s idea for an online coffee business started brewing in 2012, about five years after he retired from the hardwood.
A captain of the Mesa State College team that won a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Western Division championship in 2006-2007, Kenny Schlagel ranks among the top 50 Mavericks of all time with his single-season record for steals (58) and assists (24).
“He was just a great player for us – a great teammate,” former Mavericks’ head basketball coach and current Colorado Mesa University Assistant Athletic Director Jim Heaps said. “He was an all-conference type of kid. He had a foot issue in his senior year that really kind of held him back.”
Nothing is holding Schlagel back these days. Fluent in Spanish and armed with a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Colorado, Schlagel figured out a way to pay his bills with coffee money.
As part of his graduate program, Schlagel spent about a month in Chiapas, Mexico, where a family member operates a coffee growing cooperative in the jungle.
“It kind of tied things together,” he said. “I saw a way to get cooperatives, growers and other coffee distributors on the web.”
Steeped in best practices learned from a graduate entrepreneurship class, Schlagel’s idea links roasters and other buyers in the U.S. with growers and other sellers in South and Central America.
With the help of Café Sierra Madre, the cooperative in Chiapas, word went out to other growers about Schlagel’s idea and many signed up.
Ndukt.com launched about 18 months ago. Currently, 110 companies from 25 countries are registered at the site. Every country in South and Central America is represented except one, Schlagel said.
“We’d still love to get Belize. They have some great coffee down there,” he said.
The service works this way: Ndukt.com creates a free, one-page, multilingual profile for each coffee business that signs up. An open list of user profiles is updated every month. The word “ndukt” grew out of the word “induct” but was changed so it didn’t mean anything in other languages, Schlagel said.
Users can search the ndukt.com database of growers, cooperatives, wholesalers, roasters and other distributors on an open search directory.
If users find what they are looking for, they contact other members in their native language free of charge. Or, Schlagel and his staff will translate messages into English, Spanish, French or Portuguese for a fee.
The site also allows buyers to bid and negotiate prices with sellers directly.
The base price for coffee is set by a New York commodities exchange. Ndukt.com monitors the base price of coffee with live updates.
Sellers and buyers using ndukt.com can negotiate the premium, if any, that will be added to the base price. Premiums are normally added for shade-grown, organic and fair trade coffee, Schlagel said.
For no charge, buyers can coordinate shipping, transfer money and navigate U.S. customs on their own. Or, they can pay ndukt.com a fee to handle it.
Ndukt.com does not base its fee on a percentage of the price of coffee sold over the website, Schlagel said.
“I’m quite intrigued,” said Dan Welsh, co-owner of Colorado Legacy Coffee Co., 1048 Independent Ave. “We’d love to get some coffee from Chiapas (Mexico).”
That is not an option for Welsh right now because he buys all of his coffee through a broker in Seattle that does not currently deal with growers in Chiapas.
Welsh said the customs process is so complicated and confusing since Sept. 11, he decided he needed to hire the broker to negotiate long-term contracts with growers on his behalf.
Long-term contracts fix the price Welsh must pay per pound for coffee beans. When prices go up unexpectedly, because of a natural disaster, for example, Welsh’s long-term contracts protect him from any resulting price increases.
If the market price goes down, however, Welsh can end up paying more per pound than what the market demands, although that is less of a problem.
“The price I bought at was a profitable price for us,” Welsh said. “I can assure our customers for next year we’re not going to raise our prices.”
Schlagel said coffee shops that don’t roast their own beans are not allowed to use ndukt.com.
“We don’t want to cut in and take the business (from local roasters),” he said.