BIGGBY*® COFFEE, the Michigan-based specialty coffee shop franchise with over 280 units nationwide, has become a beloved institution for customers and franchisees alike since being founded nearly three decades ago. This is thanks in large part to the franchise’s “commitment to genuine care” — a philosophy that guides every facet of the brand’s customer- and franchisee-facing operations.
The BIGGBY® COFFEE leadership team, which includes co-founders and co-CEOs Bob Fish and Mike McFall, prides itself on its dedication to providing franchisees and employees a unique opportunity to build lives that they love. 1851 Franchise spoke with Fish and McFall to learn more about the brand’s story and how this love-centric approach to franchising took shape.
Bob Fish: Another partner and I opened the first cafe in 1995, and a year later we hired Mike McFall as a barista. Essentially, we were looking to open a second location, and my partner had recommended that I talk to Michael about a manager position. Michael and I got together at the cafe and had a chat. I had never really met him because we worked different shifts, and we ended up going for a walk, and after a few hours it was clear we shared the same values and ambitions. We shook hands that day with plans to grow the brand.
Mike McFall: But we didn’t know we were going to franchise at first. We just knew we wanted to form an entity we could utilize to grow the brand, whether that meant seeking investors to grow more corporate locations, and so on. We ended up in franchising because a whole bunch of people kept calling us asking to franchise! It was really a demand-led decision, and it wasn’t rocket science to figure out franchising could be a strong path. We started looking deeper into the business model and teamed up with Mary Ellen Sheets, a franchise expert at TWO MEN AND A TRUCK*®, who spent a lot of time with us and gave us insight into what we needed to do to prepare for franchising.
McFall: Mary was really a huge advocate of the franchising business model, which really helped sway our decision. TWO MEN AND A TRUCK had been very successful, and we learned all about the dynamic between the franchisee and franchisor, as well as the value of the entrepreneurial spirit and outside energy that franchisees bring to the table. They come in fired up and ready to build a business. To this day, that drive is one of the most beneficial components to franchising. They also bring a sophisticated, diverse background to the brand.
Fish: We knew we wanted to grow the concept — there was no doubt about that. But in terms of taking the organic corporate growth route, we knew it would be a lot slower. Franchising can really accelerate your growth, and that appealed to Michael and I for different reasons. But the main conclusion we’ve come to retrospectively is that we just love teaching people. It is a quid-pro-quo relationship, yes, but we like coaching and helping others build a business. Franchising allows you to do all those things, while also growing the brand faster. It allows you to be a coach, and we found that to be very rewarding. We never looked back and said: “Why did we franchise?” It has been a very happy journey for us all-around.
Another reason we franchised was because we knew specialty coffee and franchising go hand-in-hand. We are really in two industries — franchising and specialty coffee — and those two fit together well. In comparison to other retail concepts, for example, a coffee shop really thrives if it is owned locally. Franchising allows you to have that local ownership, while also benefiting from the proven systems and procedures in place.
McFall: I would say the biggest thing is making sure you are ready to take full responsibility. If you are willing to take responsibility as a franchisor for the capital investment that the franchisees are going to make and own that yourself, then go ahead and start a franchise. The franchisees are looking to you to be a leader and ensure that their investment is safe, so you have to work hard to make that a reality.
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