Its a lot of fun to run a winery. Its so much fun, in fact, that many are willing to run one at a loss. The same goes for other industries, like hobby farms, breweries and coffee houses. But most confess that living the dream is more fun if it doesn’t drain the retirement fund, and on that topic I learned some good wisdom from the owner of an excellent coffee house.
Steve Hines had built a successful event-planning company by the time he and his wife Beth decided to start a coffee shop near their home in Gardner, Kansas. I’ve known Steve for a long time, and know the idea behind Groundhouse Coffee was to unite the community (i.e., no profit motive). But, as often happens when a company serves customers selflessly, it turned into a decent little business. Naturally, I interrogated Steve over a cup of coffee.
Here are the lessons learned on launching a second career:
1. Scale according to your resources. The Hines’ built the shop within their means, and left some cash available for operating expenses. If they’d had less cash, they would have built it smaller. There’s no reason to stretch; if the idea won’t work when its small, it likely won’t work when it gets bigger.
2. Plan. Groundhouse Coffee existed on paper well before the couple bought the building and hired the staff. Even if you’re self-funded, it’s a great idea to build a business plan on paper as if it were being offered to investors. The process forces you to think it through, and paper is a lot cheaper than bricks.
3. Learn. Steve read a lot about running a coffee shop. He had visited a lot of coffee shops. And when the place opened, he spent a lot of time in his own coffee shop. Its also a good idea to take a part-time job or volunteer position in the industry you want to join. It’s easy to get a job when you offer to work for free, and the lessons learned from the “inside” are well worth the effort.
4. Borrow some talent. Knowing that he didn’t know everything about running a coffee shop, Steve recruited somebody that did: a former manager from Starbucks. He wisely got her on board from the beginning, so the plan could take shape with her input.
If you ever find yourself visiting Kansas City, stop by Groundhouse. It is, in my humble opinion, the finest coffee house atmosphere available in the United States. http://www.groundhousecoffee.com