Today we celebrate five years of being in business. What a ride it’s been! I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned since officially starting the Taproom journey 5 years ago.
1. Family First
It took me two years before I made a hard decision and drew a firmer boundary between work and home: I stopped working nights and weekends. I realize not every business owner can afford that luxury… and to be honest, it wasn’t the most financially-savvy decision to pay other people to work in my stead. And even though it drew out loan payoffs and pushed aside any thoughts of business expansion, I’ve never regretted being a present father, or an actual friend to my wife. I have had the privilege of sitting in school carpool lines, cooking dinner every night, and going on Saturday morning family hikes up Stone Mountain.
When I do step behind the bar at Taproom and serve customers, I can offer a more genuine smile and heart of service because I’ve been able to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I can approach work time with high energy and I can sanely deal with issues as they arise, because my bucket is full.
2. Quick and Quality
When it comes to product and service excellence, these are basic lessons. From the start we’ve known that we will keep someone as an everyday coffee regular if they can count on us to consistently provide a good cup of coffee, promptly, with a genuine smile. Of course I love it when someone hangs out and we can chat about life for a while, but I also know the importance of quickly handing someone their much-needed morning cup and sending them out to tackle the world - that’s the backbone of a successful coffee bar.
3. Community Connections
The history and nature of coffee is rooted in community. There’s an intricate web of connections that spans from origin to cup. Cafes serve as community hubs. Significant life moments take place over hot mugs of brewed coffee. No one who gets into coffee - as a professional or as a consumer - can be a part of this world without at least rubbing shoulders with a few other people. (Literally. There’s a line during the morning rush.)
That’s why whenever we host an event we almost always invite at least one other local business or organization to come alongside us. We do fundraisers, awareness campaigns, pop-ups, co-branding and cross-promotion. Without those kinds of intentional connections, we run the risk of deluding ourselves to believe that we’re flying solo and doing things no one else is doing in our industry or in our community. But the reality is that we’re all a part of something bigger. We can reflect that truth in the way that we approach our events, activities, and our projected identity as a business. As a small part of society, we try to identify and live out our integral role, giving and taking, seeking to be of mutual benefit to others, and wanting to be good stewards of what we’ve been given through this business.
4. Money Matters
Yeah, it’s true. A business can’t run on just lifelong dreams and good intentions. From the beginning I scraped together every penny I could from personal savings, friends and family, acquaintances, and a good number of you through Kickstarter. Even then, the first couple of years of business were tough financially. If you want to open your own business (especially for a coffee shop), know that healthy startup capital and a conservative cash reserve are essential for success. Honestly, my wife and I worried a bit through the initial financial valleys, and at times I didn’t know if it would all work out. If there’s one regret I have, it’s that we didn’t start out of the gate with more money in the bank. But now, five years later, I’m finally starting to breathe a little easier. I’ve been able to retain 100% ownership of the company, and hope to be 100% debt-free sometime next year.
5. Plan and Prepare
You could say that I had eight years of professional preparation before opening Taproom - I got my coffee industry start at Starbucks in 2006. Way back then, I began work on a business plan for a far-off dream of my own coffee shop. I tweaked it for years, and then opened Taproom. And then I tweaked the plan some more. And then some more.
Planning and preparation wasn’t just for the company. I’ve intentionally made plans for individual employees, for professional growth, for my kids and my marriage. A dreamer or visionary paves the path to tangible success through a well-thought-out and well-executed plan. Of course I made a ton of mistakes along the way and I neglected to plan for some unforeseen challenges, but I know I’ve reaped the benefits of countless hours spent on that original business plan.
So now it’s time to plan and prepare for the next five years. What’s in store for Taproom? In all actuality, much of the same. We’ll still do our thing at our store in Kirkwood. We’ll serve coffee and beer, cultivate community in our space, and live the ups and downs of life alongside you all. But we will have some exciting announcements in the coming months, so stay tuned!
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all you customers, friends, family, and community, near and far. Your patronage and support has made us thrive for five years. On behalf of my family and the Taproom crew, thank you.