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By Ken Abramczyk • OBSERVER STAFF WRITER •
February 28, 2010
Bob Fish opened his coffee shop to what he
describes as a “resounding thud.”
He served four customers an hour. When a coffee
shop owner collects only $16 an hour, he can't pay
Fish said he employed “guerilla tactics” to market
his coffee shop and, in 18 months, he made $1
million. Today that company now has 112 coffee
shops in five states, including two in Livonia.
The founder of Biggby Coffee, known on the
company's Web site as Biggby Bob, shared the story
of his success Friday with members of the Livonia
Chamber of Commerce.
Fresh out of Michigan State University's hospitality
business program, Fish worked and then bought the
Flapjack Shack, owned it for two years, then sold it
in December 1993, to take a year off and develop a
He travelled the United States and ended up in
Seattle to learn about specialty coffee. He opened
his first Beaner's Cuppacino in an old Arby's
restaurant next to Crunchie's in Lansing. The name
was changed two years ago because Beaner's is
considered a racially derogatory term. Fish chose
the original name for the coffee bean, and changed
it to Biggby because “it was the right thing to do,”
After his initial struggles with the shop, Fish said he
ran “buy one, get one free” specials. He realized that
the larger chains did not cater to the average
consumer. “One specialty coffee is a pretty good
investment,” Fish said.
He also worked to connect with his customers and
the community. He stamped his business cards with
“one free beverage” and personally distributed them
Coupons redeemed for coffee required a name and
address so that he could input those names onto
his computer and personally print out coupons and
mail them. He gathered up a database of businesses
and potential customers within three miles of his
shop and loaded that into his computer as well, a
predecessor to his e-words link on the Biggby
Coffee Web site.
Soon he opened other shops in the Lansing area.
The growth of the shops continued. In 2000, the
company expanded to seven. By 2009, it had 111
with 33 locations in metro Detroit.
Fish believes the economy is turning around. Sales
have increased 5 percent at his shops in January
and February, he said. His shops have created
1,600 jobs and 78 new small business owners.
Biggby totals $40 million in sales.
Fish highlighted “PERC,” an acronym to highlight
some of Fish's business mantras, which are
perception by the customer, every customer leaves
the store in a better mood, recognize each customer
as an individual, and consistently provide a high-
Fish also emphasizes a simple system: focus on the
“top line” of revenue; energy, excitement and
enthusiasm; and always have faith, confidence and
“You have to have faith to be an entrepreneur,” Fish
said, recalling the eight loan rejections before the
Advertisement ninth bank approved him. “The last guy I got to, he
finally said, ‘I don't understand any of this stuff, but
I believe you can do it.'”
Steven Swaggerty, a senior financial adviser at
Ameriprise Financial, enjoyed Fish's presentation.
“He's living his mission statement,” Swaggerty said.
“He's giving out to the community and, in the
process, he's building his business. That's a life
Swaggerty liked Fish's definition of courage, “doing
something you are afraid of anyway.”
Paul Daniels, operations manager of Correct
Mechanical, said it is no surprise that Fish is a
success. “He's knowledgeable and full of life,”
Daniels said. “There is no way a guy like that can't
succeed. He does all the right things.”
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