Keeping our City Green: How Bikeables helps #HamOnt shop local


Happy New Year Marauders!

It’s Life After Mac week and it’s probably got you freaking out, thinking about the dreaded question…what’s going to happen to me after Mac? Am I in the right program? What am I even going to do with my degree?

I came to Mac looking to pursue a degree in Kinesiology, but throughout my 2.5 years living in Hamilton, I’ve had the opportunity to visit so many local businesses and meet entrepreneurs of many different ages, educational and professional backgrounds, and walks of life. It made me realize that anything could happen to me after Mac!

One thing I love about Hamilton is the entrepreneurial scene and how each business owner has their own unique story.

Awhile back, I had the opportunity to have a coffee and chat with Justin Abbiss, a young business owner in Hamilton who had studied environmental science at Trent University. Justin is now the co-owner of Coffeecology and owner of Bikeables. Coffeecology is a local coffee roaster with award-winning, fair-trade, organic coffee launched in 2012, which supplies coffee around the Hamilton and Toronto area. Bikeables is a sustainable food delivery service, providing bike-delivered groceries, beers, and wines from local vendors, and was launched in 2016.

Want to learn more? Here’s a transcript of our interview.

Are you from Hamilton?

I was born just outside of Hamilton and I left for 8 or 9 years. I came back about 3 years ago.

Where did you go for those 8 or 9 years?

I went out west to BC and Yukon and North West Territories.

And why did you come back?

Hamilton was not what it is today. I liked it, but I never really felt attached to it; but, every time I came back to visit my family, I got more attached to the idea of being back here in Hamilton. I was driven by family too, I started feeling more and more drawn to Hamilton. My wife and I moved back 2 – 3 years ago now and we love it.

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What got you into Coffeecology?

It’s a family business. My dad started My Dog Joe in Westdale. Joe was my German Sheppard (that’s where the name came from). Then he started Mulberry Street Coffee House.

Around the time he started Mulberry, we started Coffeecology together to do the roasting and supplying the coffee to the cafés. He went on to start a coffee shop in Grimsby called Station One and a café on Locke Street called Democracy.

So they’re all owned by the same person?

No, not anymore. He’s sold most of them except for Democracy. Now we have Coffeecology.

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Tell me about Bikeables. What made you start this business?

I told you a little about our coffee business. We supply to cafes, but we also have a direct consumer subscription model, where we package our coffee in reusable mason jars. We’ve been delivering by bike to Hamilton and Toronto for about 5 years now.

So Coffeecology was what started this?

That’s where the inspiration came from – people like having freshly roasted coffee, so we thought well why wouldn’t they like getting fresh baked bread, maybe some tea, granola, and then it just spawned from there, craft beer, fresh produce.

[Bikeables and Coffecology] are two different companies, but that’s sort of where the inspiration came from. The real value for customers is that we’re trying to make it easier for them to shop local and support local small vendors by providing an online ordering website and then providing the fulfillment. We can take that burden off of people from having to drive across the city to all their favourite little cafés, and bakeries, and at the same time, we’re keeping those cars off the roads.

How did you end up in this career path?

Well it’s kind of interesting. My previous career was totally unrelated. I was an avalanche forecaster in British Columbia. In the winter time and summer time, a wild land firefighter, which is pretty common. People that work in the ski and avalanche industry sort of migrate towards firefighting or tree planting in the summer.

So that was my previous career, which is pretty much totally unrelated to what I’m doing today, other than I was outside all the time, and fairly fitness focused. During that time, we had started Coffeecology, and I was very involved, sort of in a remote capacity.

How were you involved in it?

I helped start the company. I was coming back and forth here, so I’d be here for a few months and then we’d do some online work out west. When I came back, I kind of took over Coffeecology, at least helped in the beginning and then moved into a management role. That’s sort of what led to starting Bikeables.

You told me what you studied in university. Did that add to where you are now?

I started out studying environmental science, so yeah, I’ve always felt strong about pushing environmental initiatives and living a more green-focused life. I’d say that definitely had an impact on where I am now today as a person.

What struggles or problems did you face when you started, or was it just smooth sailing?

No, far from it! I think just like anybody who’s starting a business and trying to validate [an] idea, there’s a demand for it. The idea that when you’re starting a business, you should be solving a problem. Figuring out what that problem is and then trying to come up with an easy-to-use solution for consumers.

Challenges were online retail and we’re a fulfillment logistics company, so we’re doing everything. You think of a company like Amazon, and I’m not comparing us to that at all, but they don’t do the delivery, they don’t do the fulfillment, they source that out, but we do everything. We also spot the bikes and the riders, and we’ve got to make sure we hit our certain time slots to keep our customers happy, so there’s all sorts of logistical issues that we face day-to-day that we’ve had to figure out, and we’re still figuring out as we move along.

You look pretty young. Do you think that ever made it hard to be taken seriously, or do you feel like it every makes anything hard for you?

I think if you’re confident in what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing, that comes through when you’re talking to people, so I feel I’ve never had a problem in that regard. I’m pretty passionate about what I’m doing, so when I’m talking to people at special events, I feel like it comes through and people can see that passion. I think people are drawn to people who are passionate about what they’re doing. I know I certainly am.

How long has Bikeables been around and how did you grow it?

We just celebrated our one-year. So we’re still pretty young. We’ve still got lots of room to grow, but a lot of it’s been word of mouth and some online marketing. We’ve also done some direct mail campaigns, door to door flyers, and events like Supercrawl to try to get the word out.

Why did you choose Hamilton for Bikeables specifically?

Well, predominantly, we are from Hamilton, we live here, so it was a natural place to start Bikeables. We have plans of moving Bikeables outside of Hamilton, but keeping true to our corporate values and our beliefs that we only sell local products from each city, there would be individual Bikeables chapters.

Hamilton is a great place to start a business right now, right?

Yeah, it’s really supportive. There’s a lot of people starting small businesses and everyone is really supportive of each other. It’s great.

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A big thank you to Justin for sharing his story. For those interested in learning more about Bikeables, you can visit the website here.

-Jen

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