Lessons Learned as a Barista Business Owner

Published on April 25, 2018 in PECO Culture, Leadership & Development, and Areas of Expertise
Scott Adair
Scott Adair
Vice President of Economic Development

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Scott Adair has put a jolt in our relationships with community stakeholders since he was promoted to his current role as Vice President of Economic Development two years ago. He cultivates these relationships by sharing a cup of joe with community leaders, while promoting the positive impact that Phillips Edison’s properties have had in the communities where we are located. He has more than 17 years of commercial real estate experience and has held various leadership positions at PECO. During Scott’s time as a coffee shop business owner, he learned a “latte” about delivering a great customer experience, landlord/retailer relationships, and fulfilling the needs of customers – all lessons that continue to influence his duties today. Read on to hear his story.

In the early 2000’s there was a significant buzz  surrounding the coffee industry. The average price of coffee (per pound) had begun to rise and consumer consumption outside of the home (especially in Utah) was increasing. It was during this coffee renaissance that my wife and I started a full-service coffee kiosk. After receiving a micro-enterprise loan, we opened for business at the South Town Mall in Sandy, Utah. It’s hard to imagine a mall that does not come standard with at least one Starbuck’s, but at the time this mall lacked options for its caffeine driven shoppers.

My wife and I were enthralled with “beatnik” coffee subculture. Owning and operating our own coffee kiosk seemed a perfect way to engage in a new and interesting hobby (some people might call it a “side hustle”). Moreover, since my wife was from Portland, it seemed only natural that we get into the coffee business.

With great excitement we jumped into the world of java and opened our kiosk, The Mug. Both of us were still working full-time and this “Labor of Love” was meant to be a diversion to life. It was also a fun learning and family experience for our five children who we involved. I tell people who ask that being a retailer was comparable to a college-level course in business management and entrepreneurship. We weren’t just making coffee. We were reporting taxes, tracking inventory, negotiating merchant transactions, managing employees, and so on.

But above all, the experience of business ownership and serving coffee to others taught me one key lesson. Specifically, how to treat a customer. And, as cliché as it may sound, it comes down to the “Golden Rule”. In other words, treat others as you yourself wish to be treated. Being in the coffee business was exciting. But it was through serving  my customers that my wife and I derived our greatest joy. Here are a few other invaluable takeaways from my time spent as a barista business owner.

Customer experience is everything.
By nature, people want to do business with people they like. When given the choice, who are you going to side with; the faceless business person who doesn’t care to remember your name or the outgoing entrepreneur who knows your name, and  your child’s name, and  how their little league season ended? Getting to know the “regulars” at The Mug was a cherished part of our retailer experience. Knowing what my customers wanted, building a connection with them, only increased their desire to return. Building relationships builds business.

It’s important to understand both sides of the tenant/landlord relationship.
Throughout most of my career, I have worked representing landlords. But during my time as a business owner, I was a tenant. Being a tenant in the retail world enabled me to better understand the leasehold needs of the average retailer. And this insight helps me to understand and empathize with those tenants whom I work with today. There is an unfortunate, but common, misconception that the landlord is the “bad guy” or the rule enforcer. But in reality, the relationship between a retailer and their landlord should be akin to a business partnership. One that involves mutual respect and mutual benefits to both parties. For one to succeed, the other must also.

My time spent as a retailer only increased my appreciation and understanding for what tenants go through, and what they should expect from a relationship with their landlord. When working with our tenants at Phillips Edison, I will often lean back to my own experience as a retailer and strive to connect with them. This is not just good business. It’s a responsibility.

My favorite caffeinated beverage is officially… plain drip coffee.
Okay, maybe this isn’t a business lesson, per say, but let’s spin it around to enforce another lesson learned. Pay attention to what your customer wants. First and foremost, work diligently to fulfill their needs. And yes, educate them on alternatives and possibilities which may be of benefit to them. But remember… no matter how good of a barista you may be, not everyone prefers a double, non-fat, mocha latte, with two pumps of hazelnut, a cup dusted with cinnamon, and a steamed milk heart on top. Some people just want a plain quality cup of black coffee. Whether it’s through your product, service, relationship, or marketing efforts- listen to what your customers want and pay attention. If you are doing more talking than listening, you’re doing it wrong.

In the end, and after running the business for just two seasons, we sold it. But it’s not that we grew tired of the experience. Rather, it’s that the experience of retail business ownership prepared us for the next  adventure. We were eager to move on, with lessons in hand, to work at something new.

Moving on, however, does not mean forgetting. In my home office, tucked in a corner, you’ll find what my wife calls our “Mug Shrine”. It is complete with photos of our favorite customers, our first dollar earned (framed of course), a book of secret  barista recipes, and a name tag which reads, “Hello! I’m Scott. How can I brighten your day?” It is my hope that with the experiences gained, and perhaps a smile, I can continue to brighten the day of those I serve for many more years to come.

Scott Adair
Scott Adair
Vice President of Economic Development