In 2012 we decided to open a coffee shop, Kim & I. We knew that it was the right next step for us as a business and as a company. And at the time we were both the business and the company... It was just the two of us. Look how cute we were. Look how full of ambition. Adorbs.
We began the process of planning our move. We were living and roasting in Corvallis at the time, and we planned to put down some more solid roots there. But we did already have some traction and momentum in McMinnville having moved to Corvallis just the previous year from Sheridan, and when it came right down to it, we added up all of the factors & McMinnville just made more sense for us. A lot of things since then have confirmed, I think, that that was the right decision for us.
We developed an initial business plan and started looking for locations. We had been, since 2011 part of a Saturday Market in McMinnville, and it was in about March of 2013 that we heard that the Market was closing down, (sad face). But then the owner of the Market's building approached us and asked if we'd be interested in setting up a coffee shop in the building. (happy face. It's nice to be wanted.)
The building in question of course is our current building which houses both Flag & Wire as well as the Grain Station Brew Works.
2013 was a whirlwind! In January I didn't know if we were going to make it as a company! We had no money and we weren't getting the funding we'd need to open the shop we wanted to. January, February & March were pretty rough both emotionally and financially. Kim & I are both people who can withstand a LOT of pressure if we know what's happening and at that time we did not.
But then we found a location and got our funding, all within the span of about a week in late March/early April! May, June & July contained so much work as we built out the space from a bare warehouse. I had a right-hand-man that a few of you might remember, Ryan--who I loved then and who I love still.
I also mined friends for labor and assistance and nobody gave more to the effort than my friend Armen who you are much more likely to know or remember because he's still around just about every single day. I operate well when I have a clear understanding of what needs to be done. I love being able to cleanly "sink the plow" and push a project forward, so those months of buildout were exhausting, but I loved them. We opened in August! The date is... fuzzy:) Around here we have about 3 different dates that we work off of, but I think it was the 11th...Maybe.
Matthew was my first hire--he's been with us since the beginning, and I feel like the three of us--Flag & Wire, Matthew & I have all grown together. None of us are the same as we were in August of 2013, and we've all three been impacted in a positive and special way by the other two.
Those first couple of months were so much fun as the small but loyal customer base we'd earned at the Saturday Market began enjoying our expanded service. And we always do very well in the Autumn at Flag & Wire. The wineries are in full-harvest-swing and their employment numbers swell with extra harvest help, and they need a lot of coffee to make great wine! That goes until about November and then it's bundle-up season, and then Christmas!
But then the winter came... I'd gone months without really being nervous--I had things to occupy my mind. But after Christmas our retail business dropped like a rock. A heavy one. On a planet with heavier gravity than Earth. It really dropped.
Here're some fun numbers! Private businesses don't generally dole out their numbers but for you, our people, here goes.
In January of 2014 we had five days in which we did less than $100 in revenue, and our low point was a whopping $82 on the 13th. On that day I would have woken up in Corvallis at about 5:00 in the morning, in order to get to work about 6:30. Because we use Square Register I can look back and see that I had only two transactions, a hot chocolate and an Americano in the 7:00 hour, totaling $7.
The americano was purchased by Levi Finley, an artist who trades on the name "Of Shipwrecks" and is responsible for this little gem to the right here, as well as a lot of other neat pieces you'll see in & around our branding in the coming months. He's just bonkers-talented and we could NOT be more thrilled to have him around. And we couldn't have been more thrilled on the 13th of January 2014, because he was one of our only customers! :)
The other transaction was & remains perhaps the most consistent customer we've had from the very first day. Ben Frum & his hot chocolate. We've joked that he'll put one of my kids through college... I'm not so sure it's a joke.
The 7:00 hour was depressing from a revenue standpoint. But not as depressing as the $3.00 we made between 10:00am & 11:00am, or, notably, the $0.00 we made between noon & 1:00pm. Eventually 3:00 rolled around, and by the time I cleaned up and counted the money, (that bit didn't take long), and made the long trek home to Corvallis it would have been after 5:00 in the evening, and my children would have entered what we called at the time "crazy hour". If you have little tiny kids you know the hour.
We do better nowadays...(wink)
Why am I telling you my numbers from the winter of 2014? I guess because it feels like a million years ago and a business I don't remember anymore. Like a friend that's moved away I'm starting to forget what that business--that life was like. It was, that winter, almost pure misery if I'm honest with you.
But we had something to hold onto! A belief that we were on the right track. A willingness to PLOW where we might've chosen to wilt. And throughout that whole rotten first winter where my health suffered, (physical, emotional, spiritual), when our marriage was hard and my kids didn't see me nearly enough, when I worked, personally and alone for the first 65 days of the year, throughout that whole time when we felt like failures there were glimmers of hope and the seeds of success all around us. We couldn't see them--we were in a haze. But they were there anyway.
"What were the seeds, Nick? Did you quadruple revenue in March?" I did not.
The hope that we have and that we hold onto has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the people around us--the ways we're able to affect our communities in a positive way.
When you don't have any money it's tempting to close your eyes to the hope and the light and the positive all around. But it's still there.
In the years that have followed we have indeed done much, much better from a revenue perspective. But I think those lessons we had the opportunity to begin learning in a period of hardship helped to move "it" forward for us as people and as a company. And it's true what Biggie said... Mo Money, Mo Problems.
The challenge I see today is prioritizing people in the same way we were able to at the beginning. So much of what we do is easier now. But the most important thing to me is the people in my life being & feeling loved and cared for--we spend time and money and energy trying to make that the center of what we do.
We botch it--I know we do. I know of customers that we've lost because a ball was dropped. And usually I was the one who dropped the ball.
But our challenge every day is to sink the plow and push. To do the hard work--the discipline of preferring others over ourselves. To expect excellence from one another and to be constantly bolstering and shoring one another up.
In the winter of 2014, my world came crumbling down when my wife challenged my passion for coffee. "Do you even care about this anymore??". Many of you have already heard about my "Kitchen Floor Moment".
The realization that I'm not passionate about coffee but people has influenced every decision since that time. Letting go of becoming the coolest kidz at the trade-show has allowed me as a leader and us as a company to focus on what matters much more than coffee ever could--people, obviously.
My family has taken more priority. My staff, our customers and wholesale clients, the hard-working people who grow our coffee. How can we make decisions every day that will impact people those most positively.
The down-stream effects of that time--the winter of 2014--have been many, and in fact are still presenting themselves.
In 2015 we underwent a major rebrand of the entire company--we had, until that time operated as Mud River Coffee Roasters as well as Chrysalis Coffeehouse, and then online we were in the initial stages of rolling out doorstep.coffee. We'd been wild and reckless and unbridled in our attempts to build a business. Like an animal trapped and flailing in the mud--every move, every flail seemed to sink us deeper and we never really stopped to try & calmly strategize our way to dry land. The winter of 2014 took some wind out of our sails--we had a "quit-date" that we set together if the business didn't improve. When it did improve we were left with the decision to go back to recklessly flailing, or to take a more disciplined approach.
In 2016 our wholesale program began growing in earnest and both our family and the roasting/wholesale portion of our business moved to Yamhill county, putting the entirety of our business under one roof and putting Kim where she had belonged all along--in the center of day-to-day activities. Not very many things have had a more significantly positive effect on our business than having Kim more in it. But then--that's always our story! It's the people that make the difference. I can do a LOT by myself! But two people can do more than twice as much as one.
In 2017 we had some concern for our retail business--the Alpine Improvement Project, which we'd known was coming someday since the beginning, actually started! We were excited for our new beautiful street, but we knew that with diverted traffic & limited parking our retail business might suffer. In the end we hunkered down for a storm that never came. In 2017, we experienced a substantial rate of growth, refined our processes and vision and came out the other side with a beautiful new street that we're proud to be on.
And here we are in 2018. It is fun to think about the past 5 years and meditate a minute on where we've come from. It makes meditating on the future more exciting. We've already begun. We don't have to start again. Hard times will come, frustrations arise. But now we know what it looks and feels like to carve something out of nothing--to dig into debt and dig out again, to be unknown and become known. We did it before, and we survived when we thought we might not. It makes the future seem bright. It makes us eager to plow into 2019 and beyond.