Assistant Editor Callie Evergreen asks what makes emerging brand leaders tick—and presents their edited answers in this column in each issue. To suggest a subject, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the story behind Summit Coffee?
Obviously, there are national players like Starbucks, Dunkin’, Peet’s, then thousands of independent coffee shops doing a really great job, with an ocean between these two types of coffee companies. I felt like there was room for a really thoughtful, high-end coffee shop to benefit from building out the systems and infrastructure Starbucks and Dunkin’ benefit from. I wanted to create a path in the middle between these two groups. A lot is rooted in the idea of intellectual curiosity, this question of “why can’t we?”
Why did you decide to franchise Summit?
We believe cafes are best when locally owned. It’s really hard for a corporate empire to feel like they’re making a genuine connection at the local level. By bringing in franchisees, they’re stakeholders on the ground building genuine relationships with customers in ways we can’t. I had to get over this stigma of franchising itself, and now I can’t imagine scaling it in a better way.
You’re a franchising newbie. How’s it going? What do you wish you would’ve known?
I’m a newbie leading a team of newbies. One thing we’ve done well is leaned on partners and business friends in the franchising space. We’ve been Clean Juice’s coffee partner for six years and they’ve been super helpful to run questions by.
I think I would’ve spent more time on the front end thinking about what site selection meant to us. I think it’s tempting and flattering when developers and brokers are coming to you with all these retail opportunities. But honestly, it has been a success. Two weeks before the pandemic hit, that’s when we filed our FDD. We now have just sold our 11th franchise. For a little humble coffee company, we’re off to a good start.
What makes you stand out?
We just announced we’re getting rid of the surcharge for non-dairy milks at all cafes. We’re trying to be an industry leader in many ways. One reason is
sustainability. Another is customer awareness. When we looked at data, in 2019, 8 percent of customers were choosing oat milk. Last year, it was 44 percent of customers, a staggering jump. As you expand, you need to continue to find ways for new customers to be excited about you. Not everything is about profit margins. You can almost look at it as a marketing expense. This is a calculated move.
You recently partnered with Vacation Races. How is this on-brand for you?
The people who really like us and who we resonate with are outdoor enthusiasts, and in particular, runners. There’s a book called “The Power of Unpopular,” and one concept it talks about is finding your people, and as long as you can make that particular group of people big enough so it makes your business survive, then it really just becomes a brand for those people and it’ll spill out from there.