Adam and Mark Lowes are getting as familiar with their customers as they are with their coffee machine. Emily Morgan reports.
IF you want to speak to Adam and Mark Lowes, owners and baristas of Cloisters Arcade’s resident espresso bar, Low Down, you’ll need to get yourself in front of the coffee machine.
The Lowes brothers don’t often leave their post – Mark on milk and Adam on espresso – at which they work from 7am to 5pm; unusual hours in a city full of coffee shops that seem to close just when the need for an afternoon caffeine hit usually kicks in.
Being different was part of their plan; that and proving to coffee shops they say overcharge and close too soon that you can make a buck by breaking the mould.
“There is nowhere else open, espresso bar wise, after 3:30 except for us. A lot of city workers obviously need their coffee three quarters of the way through the afternoon,” Mark says.
As well as setting the maximum cost of a coffee at $3.50, the brothers and tight-knit Low Down team are all about making and selling tasty food at a reasonable price.
“We are just trying to prove a point and say, ‘this is what you can do for $8 and still have a great business’,” Mark says about Low Down’s sandwich range.
The motivation for The Lowes’ pricing structure came from realising how exorbitant prices in Perth can be compared with those on the east coast (where the brothers have lived) – a common story among Perth cafes and espresso bars that are modelled on high volume.
“When I got back I was shocked at the price of everything, and the attitude,” Mark says.
“We thought we could open and just operate on high volumes and service, in a way a bit old fashioned in the concepts. Quality coffee but old fashioned service.”
Adam says searching for the right property in a city location was difficult and time consuming.
“We really wanted something that was 40 square metres, but obviously in Perth property is on the grand scale,” he says.
Sitting in a cozy 37sqm plot flanked by lunch bars, the brothers are happy with Low Down’s locale.
“We just thought we would go for it in the city and open up in the middle of the coffee belt,” Mark says.
“It gives us the opportunity to live out our fantasy of having a suburban coffee shop, but not having to work on the weekend.
“It’s a very romantic idea having a suburban cafe, but it is a pretty harsh reality. It is much easier to do a lot of volume in the city. It is much more fun and much more exciting to make a lot of coffee really fast.”
If the constant stream of patrons and lines crossing the width of the arcade are anything to go by, the plan is working.
The Cloisters-meets-Italian espresso bar opened last April and initially was making 300 coffees a day.
After only five months the figure grew to 500 and the brothers now sell 650 coffees a day – a number they were expecting to reach after a couple of years, not within their first year of operation.
“We thought maybe after two years we would crack the 500 mark, that would have been an awesome goal. A couple of the businesses that we idealise from Melbourne do about 500 or 600 a day. That was our best-case scenario,” Mark says.
And if you go to Low Down looking for a supersized milk-filled American-style mochachino, best to rethink the destination.
The Lowes brothers are passionate about their coffee and don’t serve large sizes, or decaf, and they don’t buy into what they refer to as the ‘new age’ acidic coffee that has been adopted by many operators in Perth.
“We really encourage short and small coffee, traditional coffee. We don’t do any large size takeaways,” Adam says.
Using a marketing strategy common in the eastern states is working for Low Down, with a large following from coffee-crazed bloggers and the magic of word of mouth consistently delivering new customers.
Standing at the machine five days a week, Adam says the order and routine of customers has become predictable.
“People are all about their routines; in the morning one guy will walk in and I know who the next customer will be,” he says.
“The only surprising thing is now when 30 or 40 new faces show up in one day.”
Mark puts this down to word of mouth.
“You really notice when it reaches the next city block, suddenly there is a whole stream of new people,” he says.
With a strong following and no signs of the growth slowing down, the brothers are reluctant about expanding their business portfolio at this stage.
“We feel there is a bit of a trap in that Perth mindset, where if things are going well you want to expand, but that often stretches people. We have got a great team here, so to try and expand we would lose a part of that,” Adam says.
“We are still getting busier from the moment we opened, so we just want to be very wary of making any leaps before we plateau,” Mark added.