Lessons in Influence from Stumptown Coffee's Duane Sorenson

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This week, foodie website The Daily Meal put out a list of the 30 Most Powerful People in Drink -- a sort of “who's who” list for the beverage industry. One name on the list caught my eye: Duane Sorenson, the founder of coffeehouse chain Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, Ore. With only nine stores, I was surprised to see him listed among the expected big names, such as Starbucks' Howard Schultz and beverage executives at Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch.

How did Sorenson become such a prominent leader in the drink world? Here are five lessons all business owners can learn from, no matter what your industry:

Related: Stumptown's Duane Sorenson, the Coffee Connoisseur

1. Lead the charge. Considered one of the instigators of the artisanal coffee trend, Sorenson traveled the world in search of the best beans. His punishing weeks on the road paid off in a better-quality product, and the coffee was more expensive. I'm sure some people said the whole thing was crazy. 

But Stumptown's devotion to fine coffee was such that competitors became fans -- rather than bitter -- when Stumptown showed them how good coffee could taste. “I realized I couldn't drink my own coffee anymore... I found myself going to Stumptown. It was so much better,” said Randy Rapaport, the found of Portland's now-closed Three Friend's Coffee Shop in an article in Oregon Business.

2. Operate by your beliefs. A proponent of fair pay for growers and eco-friendly methods, Stumptown pays higher prices for better beans. That couldn't have been easy at the start. But sticking with this philosophy has helped raise customers' appreciation for fine java and created a market for the type of coffee Sorenson wanted to sell.

Related: How Can I Stand Out from the Competition?

3. Make your vendors the stars. Sorenson is famous for his many trips to coffee-producing countries, which are reported on in detail in the company's newsletter. This emphasis on grower news gives the company roots and connects customers more deeply to Stumptown's values.

4. Stay old school. At Stumptown, only vintage, manually operated, 70-year-old coffee-roasting machines from Germany are used to roast each batch of coffee beans, with the roaster making subtle adjustments for the profile of each type of bean. Sometimes, you can't improve on doing things by hand.

5. Do sweat the small stuff. Stumptown baristas are known for constantly tasting shots to gauge how their taste is being altered by drafts coming in as the door opens and closes. That attention to every detail is what Stumptown regulars swear by.

How are you standing out from the crowd to influence your industry? Leave us a comment and tell us about it. 

Related: 12 Leadership Traits You Need to Thrive in Tough Times

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