1,165,165 cups of coffee later, what have I learned?

5 years ago we opened our first coffee shop.  It feels like yesterday in a lot of ways, and in a lot of other ways it feels like 20 years ago.  In that time we’ve opened 2 additional locations, had over 200 people on our payroll, and donated thousands to local fundraisers and non-profits.  1,825 days later here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

You don’t know everything.  I remember opening our doors at store #1 and the sales were magnificent.  Certainly not the highest sales in the brand, but sales far exceeded what we told our lender they would be, and certainly exceeded our own expectations.  I can remember walking into meetings after being in business for 3 months feeling like I was the smartest person in the room, and I’m quite sure I spoke like I was too, but I wasn’t.

You have tremendous influence.  My days were (and are) made and ruined on the comments of staff and customers.  Rather it’s a compliment or a criticism, if I know the individual their words carry weight.  Similarly, I can make or break someone else’s day.  We see around 1,000 customers a day, and we can make their day or ruin their day.  Smiling, giving genuine compliments, and just acknowledging people goes a long way.

You have to sacrifice, but you don’t always have to sacrifice.  17 hour days are long days when you do them for 60 days in a row.  I would see my children only when they would come visit me at the store.  But we knew it was a season of sacrifice for a greater reason.  One month into business was my 2nd daughter’s first birthday and so I was home that evening for the first time in a long time for a birthday party.  I received a phone call that the toilet was “crazy clogged” and they couldn’t plunge it, so off I went to plunge a toilet.  I left my daughter’s birthday party to plunge a toilet.  How foolish is that?  How many customers would I have lost if I had my staff write “Out of order” on a paper and tape it to the door until I could plunge in the morning?

You can trust people.  Opening week we had more people working a close than I ever have had working a close since, additionally I had support from my home office with a staff member assisting with guidance as my team mopped and washed dishes.  My parents, siblings, wife and kids, all were going to meet for dinner at a taco place a mile away and I agreed to attend, but advised them to pre-order my tacos and I would go to the restaurant when the food was served.  I showed up, scarfed the food, and hauled back to the store no longer than 5 minutes later.  I’m pretty sure we had made zero sales in that time, or in the next 30 minutes.  I learned I could trust my people to meet my expectations regardless of whether I was in the store.  Fast-forward to April of 2016 when my older sister went into ICU due to complications in her fight with leukemia.  The day she went into ICU I had two managers taking over as the top dog at stores 1 and 2, and store 3 had been open for 2 weeks.  I knew I could trust each of these ladies to run their stores well, and not once did my phone ring while I was by my family in the hospital.  Thank you Alexa, Andrea, and Bethany.

You should be continually hiring.  If you are inspiring and equipping the people who work for you to one day move on to bigger and better things those individuals will need to be replaced.  If you’re not equipping or inspiring your employees then you’ve probably got some pretty big problems on your hands.

You need to rejuvenate during off seasons.  There’s a time to rest.  Weight lifters allow their muscles to heal after lifting sessions (I hear), and after a busy season its important to allow your body to rejuvenate.  I can remember when I started no longer being at the store every time the open sign was on, I finally crashed and became ill for longer than a week.  I’m not sure that could have been avoided, but getting sick every year because you are pushing so hard to fight a short off season to be an “on” season is not a great long-term strategy.

Your team has great ideas.  I can remember when Sarah talked to me about doing a harlem shake.  I had no idea what that even was.  But we were the first one in the brand to do one.

You will be copied.  Harlem shakes, all sorts of crazy marketing ideas we implemented were eventually duplicated by others within the brand and/or outside of the brand.  As it turns out they weren’t all our ideas to begin with.  I would try to help with any advice or learnings I had from any creative efforts.

You can give a little and it will be a lot.  Time is a finite resource.  Taking a little time to chat with a customer or an employee will always feel like it’s a lot to the recipient.  Similarly, giving away a free drink doesn’t cost my much financially, but it feels like I just gave away the keys to the kingdom to whomever I am giving it to.

You are not alone.  I can remember standing out back by my dumpster and crying.  If this whole thing fails there’s only one guy that is to blame, his name is on this blog somewhere.  that’s a lot of weight to put on your shoulders.  The truth is that no matter what you are doing you are never alone when you are doing it.  My family and friends were and are cheering for me, praying for me, and supporting me daily.  If you feel alone you need to pick up your phone and call someone.

These last 5 years have flown by and have been by far the best years of my life.  I’m sure if you are reading this, and have made it this far, you’ve played a role in making that the case.  Thank you, I do not take your contribution for granted.

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7 thoughts on “1,165,165 cups of coffee later, what have I learned?

  1. Dear Mark,
    I hear every word you have written and I feel I may have lived of lot of those things myself. You see all the good that has happened in the last five years and I appreciate your wisdom. You have made me step back and take a different look at my last 8 1/2 years as an operator. Reading your words I feel proud of what I have done and will keep your words of wisdom present in my mind. Congratulations to you and your family on your success!!

  2. Great article Mark. You are an inspiration and I couldn’t be prouder to be a fellow operator with you on the team.

  3. Mark,
    Congratulations on your first 5 years! You’re a gifted leader and the Lord is blessing your hard work. You made a number of excellent points in your blog.
    I think you already know this but just a word for you, me and every other working parent. Almost anyone can unclog a toilet or keep the counter running but only you can be daddy to your kids and honey to your spouse, the years go by too fast so guard your time with them.

  4. Mark,
    In the five years I’ve known you, I have seen growth in You, your family and your business. I thank God for the privilege of knowing you and being known by you. Whenever we are in Holland we try to stop by, I never can pass a Biggby and not stop wherever we are in the State. Our store in Midand is great, I try to support Doyle and Julie as much as possible, the staff is wonderful!
    God bless you with much more success,
    Michael and Dawn Green