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Starting a Business

The New Face of Coffee

Biggby Coffee founder Bob Fish believes in management by walking around. And it's working.
2 min read

This story appears in the February 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As the owner of a 115-location franchise with 2008 sales of $38.5 million, you might expect Biggby Coffee co-founder and CEO Bob Fish to be running his espresso empire from an executive office. Yet, almost two years ago, Fish traded his office for a new work space: the Biggby Coffee stores themselves. "I decided to give up my office because I felt the truth was out there in the stores," says Fish, 45. "And if I really wanted to know what was going on in our system, with our operators and with our customers, then I basically needed to be in the stores."

Fish opened the first Biggby location in 1995 with Mike McFall, 37, and Mary Roszel, 64, and they began franchising the East Lansing, Michigan-based business four years later. Now he spends much of his time traveling to his stores across nine states, which Fish sees as a big differentiator between himself and other franchisors. From casual drop-ins to formalized meet-and-greet events, Fish's store visits allow him to get firsthand feedback from employees and customers alike. "It's inherently more valuable than any poll I could do or any focus group or marketing data I could drive," Fish says. "What I do is get the real thing live."

Fish also chronicles his travels on his blog,, along with video interviews and store news to communicate simultaneously with all channels of his business--franchisees, employees, customers and the corporate office.

In addition to the built-in system and brand identification franchisees enjoy over independent entrepreneurs, Biggby hopes to help its franchisees by focusing on people, says Fish. Employees are encouraged to make individual connections with their customers--even the drink names are people-friendly, with names like "Caramel Marvel" and "Mellow Mellow." It's a conscious effort by Fish to steer away from the pretentiousness of other coffee shops with mass-appeal products that are fun and inviting. "That's the way life should be," Fish says. "And that's the difference in our particular system."

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