Iakovos Draculis, And there was Greek espresso…

April 10, 2013
Espresso may be associated primarily with Italy but some Greek entrepreneurs would not necessarily agree, and they are demonstrating their belief in practice, with determination and quality.

Iakovos Draculis, for example, could quite easily sell espresso to the Italians. In the meantime, he is continuing a century-long history, serving tradition in a cup. Its name… Tusso.

- What makes for a successful person?

Someone who achieves their objectives. Although my grandfather always said “count no man happy until his end is known”, with which I certainly agree. You may be successful now, at this moment in time. But if we want to see who is truly successful, we must wait.

- How do you take decisions in your professional capacity?

Based on logic. There may also be some emotion in the mix, but I can’t estimate the proportion. To achieve something by chance happens only once.

- Is it fair to say you found yourself in a business that was already up and running?

My family is involved with coffee on account of my grandfather who went into the business after arriving from Smyrna. My father followed; he took the first big step by learning how to process and sell Greek coffee. He also broke new ground by making espresso at a time when no one else was even considering it. They were all importing from Italy. I first became involved in the business when I was 18, mainly in marketing communications. In other words, how to convince someone that Greeks too were quite capable of making good espresso. I started very early in life, perhaps because I saw the difficulties we were facing. For example we would present our product to a panel and sometimes be subjected to harsh criticism. As a young man, I found this quite shocking. And when I completed my studies I said to myself “we may have a fine product, a good name and reasonable prices, but not everyone agrees and this must be resolved.” So I decided to resolve this. The first thing I did was create a convincing brand. These initial efforts have since played a vital part in the company’s development, not so much in terms of sales but certainly as far as marketing and communications are concerned. My father and I thus created Tusso; he was responsible for the product itself and I undertook everything else. So I didn’t find everything ready, although it would certainly have been different if I had started from scratch and built up the company alone.

- What kind of obstacles have you encountered?

The challenge was for a Greek enterprise to succeed in the face of strong competition from companies that set up an operation in Italy or England so they could market their product as “Made in Italy” or “Made in UK”. However, such an approach would not have been compatible with our culture or philosophy. We wanted the packaging to state: “Made at ProfitisIlias, Aliveri, Evia”. Anyway, we managed to create something and demonstrate that a Greek company was more than capable of making an innovative, quality product that is on a par with – and in some cases superior to – Italian espresso. But now things have gone to the other extreme, where we have to convince people that it is indeed Greek! [laughing]

- How do things currently stand in the coffee market?

I should start by describing how it was previously, on the basis of my experience. The way in which our product is presented is very specific. We invite customers to a comparative tasting of the product they trust and are happy with, and the product we propose. We then reveal what they have just tasted, tell them the price and the way in which we could do business. There have been occasions when they chose our product and we also offered a 30% discount, but their response was: “That’s all well and good but I will stick with the product I have, because whatever happens I will get that money from my customers”. This was before the crisis. Now, they won’t get the money from their customers. Things have changed radically. The market is now more mature compared to six years ago, when the most expensive product was the most popular. There is now an awareness that you don’t have to spend a fortune for a good coffee, nor do you have to import it all the way from Italy, particularly since it doesn’t even grow there but in the producer countries, where we too go to buy. So there’s no reason why one shouldn’t buy a product – which is even better – from a Greek coffee processing company.

- But you have chosen an Italian-sounding name.

We have always had a very good product. In fact our first customers were the Grande Bretagne hotel, the Minion department store and Zonar’s, one of the most popular cafés in Athens. But we faced difficulties when selling the coffee as a branded product. You see there was a problem with our family name. At the various outlets, coffee shops for instance, they would say “OK, let’s begin, but what do we do… put a sign outside the café advertising Draculis?” It conjures up images of bats and vampires [laughing]. And when the market tells you there is a branding issue, you pay attention and try to resolve it. So, instead of trying to improve the old brand, we had to create a new one that would help the product. At the time, Greeks were not the slightest bit interested in buying anything other than an Italian espresso. But we didn’t want to lie, so we refused to go with a quintessentially Italian name. In fact, when we went to the advertising company, they showed us lists of Italian names and we rejected them all. I was quite disappointed and began my own search. In the end, the name was created with the help of Excel. We wanted something short and we chose a double consonant, one that appears at the end of the word espresso, namely –sso.  In front we placed all possible combinations of the English alphabet. In the design team we agreed to work with the concept of “totally unique espresso”, which is why we strive to ensure that everything associated with Tusso is quite unique.

- Could you sell coffee to an Italian?

I believe it is easier for me to sell coffee to an Italian than to a fixated Greek. Italians are more mature: offer them a good coffee, at a good price, in attractive packaging, and they will buy it. The only reason I wouldn’t sell coffee in Italy is transportation costs. 

- What do you admire in your competitors?

I admire those with small companies who have managed to penetrate the market and secure a share. I don’t believe it is an accomplishment when a multinational does this, since it has many comparative advantages, especially in terms of budget. They literally buy up the outlets. When two or three big companies enter a market, they usually go to a coffee shop and erect their brand sign in exchange for a fat cheque to the owner. They thus get rid of the competitor and then sell him their own product at a high price. In one sense, it’s a form of lending.

- Is there a solution to this?

You must build relationships of trust. The multinational does not have much to offer, only a product that is mediocre at best and sometimes very poor. But this is not what it’s selling. It’s “selling” a solution, but one that involves a certain cost. We place emphasis on personal contact, on assisting the customer, on providing a quality product. In effect, we are not trading in a product but creating it. It’s not unlike a car… the mechanic that services your vehicle does not have the same knowledge and expertise as the person who designed it.

- Do you believe you are cut out for this kind of job?

I am insecure about whether I am good enough. When, as a child, I was asked what I wanted to be, I said an artist. I would also like to have gone into industrial design. In this job I have found the connection, as I am passionate about the details of creating the product. For instance, when I am pouring a cup of coffee for someone, I don’t look at the cup but their eyes.

- Is there someone you admire?

Steve Jobs. I am reading his autobiography, which I am finding quite fascinating.

- Do you see anything of yourself in him?

My most creative side. In other respects, he was larger than life, someone with an extreme personality who found himself in the right place at the right time.

- What can’t you tolerate?

I don’t like stupidity. Or when people show they are not up to the circumstances and expectations for the job for which they are being paid.

- Would you participate in a campaign for the promotion of Greek coffee within the framework of a return to our producer roots?

No, because this would be meaningful only for items produced here in Greece. This isn’t the case with coffee, since it comes from abroad, from Brazil or some other country. So such an approach would not help the economy. Besides, the biggest share of the Greek coffee market is at present held by a foreign company. Of course, drinking Greek coffee may be good for our psyche, but this is an entirely different matter… 

- How are you dealing with the crisis?

With very careful choices. We have always exercised caution, but now we are even more careful. When you chart a course, you must adapt while keeping it steady. As a company, you can’t be changing your principles every three months.

- What does the future hold for Greece?

Every five years I hear that we have hit rock bottom. If we assume that this has indeed happened, and I say “if”, I would like to believe things will change for the better. I don’t believe in quick fixes; I often hear that in four or five years things will be different, but to be honest I think that we shall see a better Greece as the end of our life approaches. These kinds of changes need about 30 years and we are now beginning the ascent, so let’s see it as a journey.

- How do you see your own future?

I make plans without perhaps the necessary detail, since conditions are changing very rapidly. So I see it more like a vision.

- Tell me one way we can achieve our objectives.

By persisting. 

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