How These Entrepreneurs Turned a Coffee Obsession into a Thriving Multifaceted Business

How These Entrepreneurs Turned a Coffee Obsession into a Thriving Multifaceted Business

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Ask Pat and John Curry about their business, Buona Caffe Artisan Roasted Coffee, and you’ll get an answer that’s reminiscent of Forrest Gump’s Bubba – Just replace “shrimp” with “coffee.” Mrs. Curry told us, “We have a coffee and espresso bar where we sell cups of coffee, bags of coffee, espresso drinks, and a light lunch menu. We roast coffee for retail and wholesale. We supply coffee to local restaurants, caterers, coffee shops, and the Governor’s Mansion. We do custom-labeled coffees as corporate gifts. We do coffee fundraisers. We do coffee catering. We also sell a selection of specialty coffee brewing equipment. We’re a dealer for Wega espresso machines. And we’re a dealer for Bunn coffee makers, grinders, and brewing equipment.”

So, how did two coffee aficionados turn their passion for java into a prospering and multifaceted business? They recently shared their story with us.

From the Back Porch to a Bustling Business

We were journalists by trade. Anybody who’s ever worked in a newsroom knows there’s always a pot of coffee going. Coffee has been a part of our background for a long time. We don’t drink alcohol by choice, so coffee has always been really social for us. We gravitate towards coffee houses – It’s the type of place we like to hang out.

John found a book on home coffee roasting and started experimenting there. He began roasting the coffee that we drank on a daily basis. We had friends over all the time who said, “Oh, your coffee is so great! Can I buy some?” We never had enough to sell. So, from there, we bought a one-pound roaster and started sampling to see if this was even a viable business to pursue. All the while, we were working at a newspaper.

The idea originally was that this was going to be a little nights and weekends Internet thing. We started out with John roasting coffee on the back porch. Then, we bought a huge coffee grinder, a heat sealer, a box of bags, and some labels. We would package on the kitchen counter and box things up on the dining room table. Since we wanted to be legal, we rented a small space not too long into that and got a business license and all that kind of stuff.

Before we opened the coffee bar, our first retail location was at a Saturday morning farmer’s market. It was very inexpensive, but it was very good marketing. It kept the money coming in and it helped us establish visibility and a following. It was a great low-cost way to get the business started.

Financing the Company Through Growth

At first, we were mainly using our money, our savings. We were buying equipment used on Craigslist. We put larger purchases on a credit card and paid it off. The original credit card we were using was a personal card. When we formed the company, we opened business bank accounts and a credit card for the business, too. We used that extensively for a while to build the company.

When we took out the lease on the coffee bar, we had a lot of work that needed to be done to make the space usable. To pay for that, we did a combination of things. Some of it was money that we had already earned from the business. We also used some credit card advances for plumbing and electrical on the shop and bigger-ticket items. Then, we got an SBA loan. John had been through some classes at the local small business development center, which was a program of the University of Georgia. The woman who was the director of that program was just invaluable to us in helping us navigate the small business loan process. Besides having to do a real business plan, we had to do projections for the sales and growth of the company. At every turn they wanted more. We think we put together about 100 pages of documentation for the loan, which took weeks! It was slightly overwhelming!

To help with cash flow, John set up a system so that money automatically transfers from our checking account to our savings account to make sure there’s money there to cover payroll and sales tax. Sales tax can get away from you if you’re not careful. Most of our transactions at the point of sale in the shop are done by card, so we also have a system where that money is automatically deposited in the checking account every other day. We get that money fairly quickly, which helps with cash flow, too.

For most of our stuff, we pay upfront. But, we have one coffee supplier we pay on terms. There are certain coffees we need all the time, but storage capacity is becoming an issue for us as the business grows. To make sure we have the specific coffee we need, we sometimes do a contract where the supplier will hold it for us and charge a small amount per month. It costs us a little more, but it’s worth it so that coffee doesn’t get away.

Business Benefits and Challenges

Being your own boss is the best thing about owning a business. We don’t have anybody else telling us what to do. But, if we make a mistake, it’s all on us. There’s no one else to blame.

Managing cash flow is the hardest thing about running the business. Being a small business, we’re selling $5 cups of coffee and $11 bags of coffee. We’re not selling a lot of big-ticket items. Cash flow was an issue for a while in that we were doing “just-in-time” ordering. We would start to run out of something and order just enough to get by. As the business has grown, this has become less of an issue. Now, when we need something, we can pay for it and not worry about waiting until the last second to get something in.

Lessons Learned

We knew that there was going to be a lot of expense upfront because we had several big pieces of equipment we needed to purchase. We thought that once we had those items purchased, we’d be done with the big-ticket items. But, it was a surprise to us how quickly we would need to replace those items. For example, we bought an ice maker secondhand when we first opened, but we’ve replaced it with a really nice one. We started with a home dishwasher that had a commercial cycle, but replaced that with a commercial sanitizer. Spending a lot of money has been ongoing as we’ve been building the business.

A smart thing we did was, in order to keep costs on the lower side, we became a dealer for some major equipment like espresso machines and coffee brewing equipment. So, we get dealer prices on things when we need to purchase them for ourselves.

Something we figured out early on is that a lot of coffee shops go out of business because they live and die by the number of people who walk through the door every day. So, we decided from the very beginning that we were going to do more than just have a coffee bar. We wanted to have diversified revenue streams because, in the summertime, our business kind of drops off because it’s really hot here in Georgia. Pretty much any way we can find to work in coffee, we’re going to do it.

Advice for New Entrepreneurs

You have to go in with your eyes open, knowing it’s going to be a lot of work. Our days are as long as they were before we opened the business, but we’re in control of that. If we need to do something outside of work, we can schedule it into our day. It’s hard getting away when you have a business, so you have to put people in place that you trust who can run your business without you. If it can’t run without you, you’re in trouble.

We did everything ourselves at the beginning. You need to be prepared to do that when you first start a business. But, you also need to know your strengths and weaknesses. There are some things that we’ve just said, “You know, we need to get other people to help us with this.” Once you become successful, you need to let go of some of the things you used to do, because you can’t do everything anymore.

The Future for Buona Caffe Artisan Roasted Coffee

There could be more Buona Caffe’s in the future!

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About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing (http://www.fireworkwritingonline.com/), located in San Jose, California.

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