S2 EP 02: Launching a Franchise System with Bob Fish of Biggby Coffee

July 09, 2019
https://www.wayfindinggrowth.com/201 Launching a Franchise, Using Empathy to Make Decisions, We All Face Shipwrecks

Parallel industries can teach us so much. In this episode of Wayfinding Growth, Remington walked away with several "aha moments" from a coffee franchise that sparked ideas for our agency. We hope you'll do the same.

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Bob Fish, Biggby Coffee

Biggby Coffee (pronounced Big-Bee) is a privately owned coffee franchise business based in East Lansing, Michigan. There are close to 250 locations across 8 states, each locally owned and operated. Bob Fish and Michael McFall are the co-CEOs of Biggby Coffee. 

Bob, along with co-found Mary Roszel, launched the company in 1995 near Michigan State University. Franchising started in 1999.

"My Harbor is Littered with Shipwrecks"

Bob says you can't have success without shipwrecks. Growth takes risk. 

He recalled how his first store in East Lansing opened "with a resounding thud." It took grit and tenacity and a dream to make it happen through those shipwrecks. In fact his biggest shipwreck was about 5 years into the life of Biggby. Bob and his partner decided to buy a small coffee chain in Toledo, Ohio.

The plan was to buy and flip the brand. They went to a vendor for a loan, a bank for a loan, and put their own money into the venture. As life moved forward and they thought it was going well, they hit their first major obstacle. 

The bank came to the business and said they were shutting their loan down. Bob and the leadership team discovered they weren't keeping their balance sheet in the "right ratio" for the bank. 

Bob says the lesson was conquering hubris and arrogance, because he hadn't read the fine print in the contract and taken it seriously. On the precipice of bankruptcy, Bob and his partner had to then show up to the rest of the world with a positive attitude. 

Empathy and Branding

Biggby didn't start as Biggby. The brand actually started as Beaner's Coffee. In late 2007, they changed to Biggby Coffee. The idea behind the original name was a reference to coffee beans. The team wasn't aware of the other meaning of the word. “Beaner” is often used as an ethnic slur for Mexicans. So Bob and partner Mike McFall agreed that they wanted to voluntarily change their name.

Founded on the principal of being the friendly coffee community and loving everyone, the pair wanted people to know that the organization was open and accepting of all nationalities and people. The name “Biggby” was chosen as it was the vocalization of the black and orange “big B” logo that already existed. Biggby became a fun name, and the first store opened under the name Biggby Coffee on October 29, 2007, in Westand, Michigan. The name change was completed in all stores by January 31, 2008.

The successful name change is attributed to the Biggby corporate entity making the decision to shoulder the entire cost of the name change. From exterior building signs, PR, and a myriad of other expenses, Bob and Mike felt it was only right to cover the costs for franchise owners. Bob said the cost added up to about $1 million. And it was worth every penny.

In December 2007, Biggby Coffee was awarded MBC Global's 3rd Quarter Multicultural Achievement Award for completing the name change on a completely voluntary basis.