Nothing quite goes together like coffee and entrepreneurship! Well, maybe we here at Mug.News are a little biased… That’s why when we got the chance to see what was brewing at Scooter’s Coffee, a scrappy Omaha-born coffee company with plans to open its one-thousandth location by 2024, we jumped at the opportunity! So, top off your coffee and enjoy this morning’s read!
A little background on Scooter’s Coffee
Scooter’s Coffee was founded in 1998 by Don and Linda Eckles. The couple drew inspiration for what would become Scooter’s Coffee while living in California after stumbling upon a man building a drive-thru coffee hut. At that time, coffeehouses were a hot commodity, however, they were places to sit and sip, not somewhere you’d stop if you were in a hurry. With this in mind, the Eckles asked themselves “What if you combined coffeehouse quality with drive-thru convenience?”, and just like that, Scooter’s Coffee was born. The first location was opened in Bellevue, Nebraska and by 2001, the founders decided to franchise the business. Today, they quickly approaching 400 locations in over 20 states.
Of course, to reach its ambitious goal of 1,000 locations by 2024, the company needs prominent leadership and oversight. Enter Todd Graeve, the company’s current CEO.
A little background on Todd Graeve…
Todd graduated from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in the 90’s with a business degree (accounting) and worked as a CPA early on in his career. One of Graeve’s clients was so impressed by his work that he asked Graeve to become the CFO of his Florida-based company in 2003. About a year later, Graeve received a call from close family asking if he wanted to join them in a venture to bring Scooter’s Coffee to Kansas City – he agreed; Graeve quickly learned that running a business (even a franchised one) was not easy. However, it was this experience as a franchisee that he credits best prepared him for his eventual role as the company’s CEO.
“That initial season in Kansas City where we pioneered Scooter’s Coffee to a new market was the hardest season of our business life,” said CEO Todd Graeve, recalling his early days as a young franchisee. “In full transparency, we were a bit green and experienced some financial struggles to start. We learned a lot quickly, and had to fight for the stores and our young business. Also at that time, Scooter’s Coffee was learning how to support franchisees in new markets like Kansas City. But, a burgeoning franchise and brand was growing and learning with an entrepreneurial and gritty mindset. It took some perseverance, but we did get there. Looking back upon my experience, I would never trade it. Those initial hardships and learnings in Kansas City instilled in me a more authentic, personal connection and commitment to our franchisees and their success.”
Dealing with the competition
The coffee industry from the global, national, regional and local levels is one of the toughest and competitive industries out there. So, how does Scooter’s Coffee plan to compete with the giants like Starbuck’s and Dunkin?
“In order to compete with these much larger companies, it is crucial to deliver something more consistent and provide a better experience,” said Graeve. “This means better drinks, faster service in a drive-thru lane, big smiles and the best locations. Another crucial aspect is getting to market first and establishing loyalty before the competition. In our business, loyalty is more profound than in most other industries. To put it into perspective, our customers visit our locations 3 or more times a week. They’re very loyal to their favorite store and barista. In most cases, this is different than frequency of visits to someone’s favorite pizza shop or burger place. Customer loyalty in coffee is unique and part of the strength of the business model.”
So, how will Scooter’s Coffee pull this off?
“By keeping things simple, staying disciplined and identifying one lane that we can dominate: the drive-thru lane,” he said.
“I am a firm believer that growth often creates complexity and complexity, in turn, can kill growth,” said Graeve.” “At Scooter’s Coffee, we are striving to keep things simple by not chasing shiny hooks. This means always understanding who we are and what our core competencies are. By keeping it simple and with disciplined focus on our core, we have the best chance at becoming the best in the world at something – that something being drive-thru specialty coffee.”
In order to become the best at drive-thru coffee, Todd explained that his company is taking steps to prioritize drive-thru innovation.
“As volume increases each year, we must continuously contemplate how that volume can be harnessed while breaking through bottlenecks and elevating customer experience in our drive-thru lanes,” he said. “Strategically, we have started to move ordering boxes back as a part of speed throughput. By moving the order boxes back to allow for a five to six car stack, there is enough time for production to move cars through fluently and efficiently. This is a part of the solution for volume and speed of service, but additional drive-thru innovation must be considered,” he ended.
Looking long-term, the company’s new director of drive-thru innovation will explore new opportunities for Scooter’s Coffee to innovate its drive-thru, all while staying true to its values. This may include locations with multiple drive thru lanes or multiple ordering boxes.
Lastly, Todd elaborated on how Scooter’s Coffee has contemplated the idea of expanding internationally at some point, however, he explained that the company’s current plans are to pursue the “big opportunity” and “underserved landscape” of the Midwest and beyond domestically. By making the Midwest a company priority, Todd believes Scooter’s Coffee can protect and fortify the unique position that it has in the Midwest thanks to the low-hanging fruit in the surrounding 20-30 states.
“With Scooter’s Midwestern roots in mind, it only makes sense to double down on this market,” he said. “With a strong Midwest footprint, we’ll be well positioned to expand nationally and eventually internationally.”
The Mug team was also interested in hearing more about the company’s menu board innovation and drink to food mix.
“One of our key competencies in our business is our speed in the drive-thru lane,” said Graeve. “As a company, one of the things we spend a lot of time contemplating is our menu board innovation and our drink to food mix. To get specific, too many options or an abundance of limited time offers can actually make you overly complex and therefore slow down the drive-thru lane. Therefore, we are very methodical when adding new items to the menu in order to ensure that one item on our menu does not impede the flow of our drive-thru.”
Where do you see the coffee industry in the next 5-10 years?
“In the US, we’ll probably see some more density in the regional or superregional Midwest. Thankfully, we are uniquely positioned in Omaha, Nebraska to compete really well in the Midwest specialty coffee industry.”
Advice and final thoughts from Todd
Todd, what advice would you pass along to our fellow coffee-loving entrepreneurial-minded readers?
“Entrepreneurship is exciting, but it is never easy. However, you can make the journey easier if you know who you are and keep it simple. Also, as an entrepreneur, sometimes 80% is better. If you wait for something to be 100% perfect before taking a step forward, the likelihood is that diminishing intent will begin to override; as a result, you will never step forward or may step forward too late. One final thought: don’t be all things to all people because that leads to complexity, which stunts growth.”
Given that this site is very coffee inspired, we had to ask this next question.. If you were a coffee, what flavor or type best describes you and why?
“In business, I believe you should always be innovative but also keep it simple. Combatting the headwinds of complexity is key to strong and continuous growth trajectory. With that in mind, if I were a coffee, I would simply be this: a steaming hot cup of rich dark roast coffee, black (with no cream or sugar).”