How We Created A Fast-Growing $100-million-dollar Coffee Franchise


Michael McFall ’s story in the business world began during the Spring of 1997 when he and BIGGBY co-founder Robert Fish went on their ‘infamous’ walk to discuss Mike’s role within the company which at the time had one location in East Lansing, Michigan. Two hours later, they were no longer talking about Mike managing a second store but were agreeing on terms for creating a new company and growing the brand.

A handshake sealed the deal, and suddenly, they were partners of what is now the third-largest coffee franchise in the United States.

Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start BIGGBY COFFEE?

My business partner started this company with one store in 1995 without me. I became an employee at the first location in 1996. A year later, my business partner and I went on a walk in the Spring of 1997, what is now known as the ‘infamous walk”, to discuss the details of opening a second store with myself as the manager.

Biggby Coffee Flavors

We ended that walk as business partners on a handshake with the goal of turning BIGGBY COFFEE into a successful multi-unit concept.

Have you raised any money? How much?

About another year later, we agreed to franchise the business and by August 1999, we had our first franchise location open. Franchising does not take capital, so we did not raise any money.

How did you get your first three customers?

In our world, our customers are our franchise owners and our main goal is to help them build a successful franchise. Our first three ‘customers’ were actually a former employee, a former customer and the father of a former employee.

What regulatory approvals did you have to go through?

We went through many regulatory approvals and we actually received a cease and desist order for our first franchise location from the Attorney General of Michigan because we signed our franchisee before we were registered and legal to franchise. This happened because there was a great article in the local paper and the Attorney General read it and shut us down, so we actually ended up not moving forward with that first franchisee because by the time we were legal, he decided that he didn’t want to move forward with the venture.

Who is your target demographic?

Our target demographic is more of a mindset than an age, the mindset we are looking for is when somebody is looking to make a massive lifestyle change; someone who is leaving corporate America, retiring or becoming empty nesters. We’ve seen that empty nesters have been some of the best franchise owners because they have run a business for 20 years, that being their home, and the employees are typically around the same ages as their children. So, the dynamic that an empty nester creates in their location mirrors one of a household and it really works out great. Retail is like welcoming someone into your home, that’s the mentality that we look for from anyone who is making a lifestyle change. Whether you’re an empty nester, tired of corporate America or retiring, we want to hear from you.

What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?

Regarding a funny moment with a customer, there are so many, but on two separate occasions, I have been witness to franchise owners who have been sleeping on sight before opening. The first was early on, I stopped by to check in and see how everything was going and I saw the owner’s car in the parking lot. When I went inside and asked the employees where the owner was, they told me she left about 40 minutes prior, but her car was still there. So, I head back out and as I walk past her car again and I see her curled up in a ball in the backseat of the car, taking a quick nap before the second shift. I woke her up and she looked at me and said, ‘nobody will ever hear about this’ and we both just stood there in the parking lot laughing. The second time was the night before opening day at a new location and the owners were there until 4:00am setting up. We open at 6:00am. So, when I arrived at 5:00am, the doors were locked, but the owner’s cars were in the parking lot. I had a key, so I went inside and found the two owners sleeping by the fireplace. They decided that since they had to be back in an hour, they might as well not have gone home so they curled up with used newspapers as blankets.

Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team?

I met my partner when I started working at the first BIGGBY location as a barista in 1996. As the company started to grow, so did my role within the company.

Biggby Coffee Founders

As discussed, I came on as a full partner in June of 1998 as we were launching the franchise. I was aggressive and I knew that this was a company I wanted to commit to growing.

Any tips for finding first employees?

When looking for employees; franchise owners or baristas, we are looking for one hell of a salesperson. The best advice I can give is to look for someone who is aggressive.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?

My parents were extremely supportive of me and they did everything they could to make sure I was setting myself up to live the life that I love. They let me sail around the world at 16 years old and they put me through a private liberal arts school. So here I was at 24 years old working as a barista in a coffee shop and they never said a word. They were so supportive. I remember a friend of mine who worked at a technology company called me up to talk about his multi-million-dollar stock options and I was an assistant manager at a coffee shop, so those were interesting times.

What motivated you to start your own business?

As we started to build, we weren’t of much significance and it took a lot of time to get where we are now. Sometimes, it would feel like the weight of the world was on our shoulders and we were making no money and things looked really bad for us, but we always made sure to keep our heads high and any time anybody asked us how we were doing, our answer was always ‘we are great, definitely exceeding our expectations’.

Biggby Coffee Resto

People want to be with a winner, they want to partner with a business as a customer that is thriving. We worked hard to make sure our customers knew we were going to be around and growing for years to come.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

My biggest motivator is just to be better. It’s one of our core values. You wake up tomorrow and strive to be better than you were today. Things go wrong every day. It’s important to accept that at any given time, things will go wrong, but you have to strive to be better. That’s what really keeps me going. I want to improve; I want to be better.

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

My advice to anyone starting out is to hone in on their skills and leverage them and understand their weaknesses and get support. At BIGGBY, we sell coffee. So, we want to sell the best cup of coffee we can, and our goal is to always try and sell one more cup of coffee tomorrow than we did today. That has been our mentality for 25 years.

What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?

There is nothing stopping us from being 3x the size we are now. We actually know the date we will be 3x the size we are now and it is marked on our calendar. It’s all planned out. It is Q4 of 2024 and we will be at $495M revenue.

How do you protect yourself from competition? Do you have any trademarks/IP/patents?

We protect ourselves from competition by being better. You can’t control what anyone else is doing. The only way to grow your business is to be better and be constantly thinking of new ways to bring value to the customer and generate revenue. We have a lot of trademarks. Trademark everything.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without? Why are they essential?

Answer: BIGGBY would not be able to function without Microsoft 365, Trello and the suite of tools offered by AWS. We have built our own proprietary Point of Sales software called Perc-O-Matic. It took us six years to develop perc-o-magic and it is now deployed in all of our locations and we know it will be a powerful tool in our world moving forward. All of these tools are utilized on a daily basis; from sales to scheduling to connecting with each other, these tools help us run smoothly.

What are your favorite books? What are your favorite podcasts?

There’s a podcast called Finding Your Venture that my co-teacher at the University of Michigan produces that is incredible. We teach together on the subject of entrepreneurship at The University of Michigan Center of Entrepreneurship. There’s a great book called the E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber that is just brilliant. The Origins and Evolution of New Business by Amar Bhide is phenomenal. Amar Bhide studied Inc. 500 fastest growing companies over the last 20 years and discusses different business theories he has developed from that data. I can’t say enough good things about it. Also, I wrote a book for startups called Grind that is an attempt to capture the mindset of the entrepreneur during start-up. It will hopefully give an aspiring entrepreneur the look and feel inside life during start-up.

What are the next products you’re working on?

Currently, we are working on fully customizable energy drinks. Right now, the market for energy drinks if cull of caffeine and sugar, so we want our customers to be able to customize everything that goes into their energy drinks. If you want more taurine, less vitamin B, and our standard amount of Ginkgo Biloba we could do that for you. Just like a latte if you want skim milk or extra whipped cream, we can make that happen. We are also working hard to build relationships around the world so we can buy more and more of our coffee in a farm direct model. This will be better for the farmers and their communities and will allow us to know and understand better where are coffees are coming from, which is very innovative. Probably the most innovative thing we are working on right now is a concept known internally as “modular drive thru.” The modules are built in a factory and come delivered on the back of two flatbed trucks, lifted off with a crane, bolted into place and up and serving coffee within 48 hours of delivery. It’s the most innovative thing I’ve ever seen.

Are there any releases you can tell us about?

Our vision is to improve workplace culture in America. We are committed to accomplishing two things that we feel will help us feel comfortable we are improving workplace culture in America. We plan on being rated a 9 or a 10 by all of our employees on a scale of 1-10 on how well BIGGBY supports them in building a life they love. At the same time, we will become a billion-dollar brand by 2028. If we do both of these things people will begin to ask the question, “How did you do it?” We will then have the opportunity to tell our story and spread our love and our impact will be powerful in improving workplace culture in America. We call it the BIGGBY Effect.

Where do you see the company in 5 years?

In five years, we won’t be finished but we will be well on our way to vision completion in 2028. Regarding selling, I never say never, but I don’t see it happening. I live the life that I love, and I want to provide that to everyone within our organization and beyond. I wake up excited. I get the teach, I get to write, I get to manage my business and be involved in the important conversations. What else could I ask for professionally?

Would you ever sell?

In order to sell, someone would have to write a very big check, and I don’t even think that would do it for me. I really love what I do.

Company Name: BIGGBY COFFEE
Founder: Michael McFall



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