Three Thousand Thieves: Seven years on and still brewing strong

Three Thousand Thieves began with a dream of bringing the best artisan coffee blends to home brewers across Melbourne. Today, Athan Didaskalou’s side hobby has grown into one of the largest coffee subscription businesses in Australia.

Key points

  • Three Thousand Thieves is a coffee subscription business that sends new packets of artisan coffee blends to home brewers each month.
  • Founder, Athan Didaskalou, chose Australia Post’s eParcel service to get subscription orders to customers as quickly as possible. 
  • Three Thousand Thieves is now one of the largest coffee subscription businesses in Australia and Athan has transitioned to a logistical set-up that allows him to grow exponentially. 
  • Sales increased during COVID-19 as people wanted to recreate their favourite coffee experiences at home.

In 2017, Athan Didaskalou was finding his feet with a unique coffee subscription business, Three Thousand Thieves. Back then, he was excited to be making some of Melbourne’s best beans part of morning rituals everywhere.

The initial idea was a simple one - to share Melbourne’s passion for coffee with a wider audience and connect boutique roasters with home brewers in a convenient, joyful and explorative way. Customers would receive a new packet of coffee on the first of every month, delivered straight to their door and in style.

Using Australia Post’s eParcel service, Athan began sending elegantly packaged artisan blends accompanied by tasting notes, growing details and background stories. It was a careful curation designed to enhance the coffee-drinking experience.

“It’s hard to fathom now but six or seven years ago Internet subscriptions for physical goods just weren’t being done,” says Athan. “And if they were, it was mainly US-based.”

For his subscription model to work, he needed to get his product into the hands of customers as quickly as possible – coffee has a shelf life after all.

He says, “After trying lots of different couriers, we just kept coming back to Australia Post. No one else could get our parcels delivered on the first attempt as often as they could.”

“From a dispatch perspective, we know that an address is accurate before the manifest is done. If a customer enters their postcode incorrectly, Australia Post’s tech figures it out – it doesn’t allow dispatch unless the address is accurate.”

“The second part is the SMS tracking notifications that let people know their parcel is about to arrive. That alone is a game-changer in ensuring first-time delivery happens.”

As Three Thousand Thieves grew from a side hobby to one of the largest coffee subscription businesses in Australia, they came to rely on Australia Post’s eParcel services more and more. From packing, addressing and lodging each parcel manually, Athan transitioned to a logistical set-up that allowed him to grow exponentially.

He says, “The technology behind back shipments made it really easy to grow. When you start dealing with thousands of shipments, you don’t want to be doing manual inputs.”

According to Athan, Victoria is home to more roasters per capita than any other place in the world – but that hasn’t stopped him scaling logistics to start selling from roasters outside of his home state too. Athan adds that the new and improved eParcel rates make this expansion even more viable for his business going forward.

In a time when many businesses are doing it tough, Three Thousand Thieves is a rare exception. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve actually seen a boost in sales as people look to recreate their favourite coffee experiences at home.

“The biggest change we’ve seen in the last six months is that office orders have dropped because no one’s in their workplace, but home sales are through the roof. Everyone’s drinking more coffee at home.”

Even with a drop in international orders, from around 7-10% of overall sales to between 4-5%, the numbers are working in their favour. It means that while many businesses are in the midst of downsizing, Three Thousand Thieves is still orienting towards growth.

Here’s Athan’s advice for small businesses looking to grow – in the face of a pandemic and beyond:

Sharpen your digital marketing

eCommerce has skyrocketed this year due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. According to findings published in Australia Post’s 2020 eCommerce Industry Report, ‘Inside Australian Online Shopping’, 200,000 new shoppers joined the online space in April 2020. In this environment, Athan’s number one piece of advice is to focus on digital touchpoints – your website, social media channels and eDM. If you’re not sure how, he suggests taking an online course to upskill.

Be open to updating your customer experience

Over the next year, Three Thousand Thieves are transforming their customer experience by adding variable shipping. This means that orders are shipped and subscriptions timed based on the day a customer orders their coffee, rather than the first of every month.

According to Athan, this will address a customer pain point they’ve been aware of for a while – the possibility of placing an order early in the cycle but not receiving your first delivery for up to four weeks.

Get your logistics sorted early

Looking back, this is where Athan wishes he’d been better prepared. He recommends researching delivery logistics early on rather than starting with manual processing and working out how to scale those processes as the business grew.

Don’t rush to expand too soon

Seven years on and Three thousand Thieves are only now expanding their product offering to include gifts and home brewing equipment. But their main focus is still the core offering that their customers and roasters have come to know and love.

Find a business model that matches your product

For many Australians, coffee drinking is a daily habit – which is why an on-going subscription model works so well. As Athan points out, “The best part about Three Thousand Thieves is actually the second delivery. After your first parcel arrives and you forget all about it, that’s when you get your second delivery. It’s a re-jolt of excitement. People fall in love with us on the second round.”  

After learning a lot from their own business’ journey, the Three Thousand Thieves crew have developed some tips and insights about starting and growing a small business that they can now share with others:

  • Pay careful attention to the experience you’re creating for customers of your online store. Package your product so that people look forward to it. Remember, it’s a big part of the experience of buying from you.
  • Tell your story, and that of your product. People connect with people – so help them know who you are and what you’re about.
  • Create community around your business and the way you do things. Find ways other than purchasing your product for people to connect with you and other like-minded customers.
This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for your business needs.