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BIGGBY® COFFEE | Executive Q&A

Co-Founders and co-CEOs Bob Fish and Mike McFall explain what makes BIGGBY’s franchise opportunity stand out from the competition.

By Andrea Jablonski1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 9:09AM 03/19/21

1851 Franchise: Tell us about the founding of BIGGBY.

Bob Fish: The first store opened March 15, 1995 in East Lansing, Michigan in what was an old Arby’s. We had plans to open a second location, but we needed a manager to do that. My partner at the time suggested I interview Mike for that role. 

As is the way with Mike and I, we didn’t sit down for long for the interview. We started walking down the streets of East Lansing and through Michigan State’s campus. Three to four hours later, we came back with an idea. That idea was that we would start a company that would grow BIGGBY® COFFEE (then known as Beaner’s Gourmet Coffee). 

Mike McFall: We started the company that day from a mental/emotional perspective — we were all-in after that walk and a handshake. From there, we opened another store in the fall of 1997, made the decision to franchise in the summer of 1998 and slowly started building from there.

1851: What are BIGGBY’s key differentiators that make it stand out in the industry?

Fish: For the two of us, it was a discovery of an alignment of values. 25 years younger, we were more unconventional and ambitious, and we were really excited by the potential that the coffee industry offered. Today, BIGGBY is a much more purpose-driven company.

McFall: The idea of the coffee shop represents this wonderful place for us to be able to employ our philosophy that centers around taking care of people. The greatest feeling in the world is having someone walk into our store in the morning and sending them out with more energy and more enthusiasm for their day because they’ve had that interaction. That’s one of the core roots that holds this tree up. 

Fish: Another standout is the strength in our partnership. Us getting together wasn’t that different than a couple dating and deciding to get married without knowing quite everything about each other — you feel like there’s this journey of discovery ahead of you, and this is the person you want to do it with. We’re big proponents of the idea of partnership and the idea that people are really the most essential component of any business transaction.

1851: What are the milestones in the brand’s history that have led to its success?

Mike: I would have to say one of the biggest milestones has been the transition to being a purpose-driven company, and that meant first settling on a purpose: Build a life you love. We decided this starts with workplace culture. American workplaces have employees conform to what they need versus what employees need, and that leads to stress among other negatives. If we can improve that even a little bit and make a change, the impact is big. That’s the passion behind the vision. 

1851: What is BIGGBY doing really well right now? 

McFall: I think our performance during the COVID-19 crisis has really been a demonstration of the coming together of the vision and the purpose. We’ve been able to connect with owner-operators, consumers and baristas in a way that was unique, meaningful, intentional and real. The evidence is really in our same-store sales compared to major brands like Starbucks or Dunkin’ — we’ve outperformed both of them. I do believe that our purpose-driven approach is what made that particular difference. Right now, we couldn’t possibly be in a stronger position.

McFall: The other thing we’ve seen success in is the modular drive-thru. We can’t keep up with the number of franchise agreements we’re signing because of the desirable nature of this model during the pandemic. You get all the visibility of a standalone building for what it would normally cost to build an in-line strip-center location, it limits the construction time and costs and it has significantly sped up the process of getting franchisees open for business. These locations require connecting plumbing and electricity, and then they are up and running. The model has been such a huge success that we even have franchisors signing up to do it.

Fish: One of our side missions is to make the word “love” as ubiquitous in business as the word “profit.” Love is not a word used often in business or in foodservice and to do it in an effective manner, it has to be more than a marketing message. 

1851: What’s the biggest lesson you learned this year that will inform the way you do business in 2021 and beyond? 

McFall: So much of what we did was natural because we were supporting people we love with what they needed to survive. Franchisees expected us to lead, and we led. 

Fish: The purpose of our brand was definitively tested. Companies have meaningless mission statements, and ours was tested during a crisis and has been proven to be strong and effective. We figured out in a hurry we were on the right path. We do believe that we are the center of every community that we’re in. When COVID-19 hit, our service — whether it be to employ people or to serve people — was an obligation to the community. People needed it. 

McFall: There’s genuine love there.