As a coffee-loving duo grow their business, they seek to be different from the competition — starting with the front door.
When Josh and Abbey Schmitt began roasting coffee beans in 2013 in their garage in Oregon, they had no idea their hobby would turn into a business.
Back then, Josh was roasting coffee beans using a popcorn popper for friends and family. A year or two later, the couple moved to Bradenton, Abbey’s hometown. Diving into their hobby, they began to sell bags of roasted coffee beans at the Bradenton Farmers’ Market. At first, it was only a few bags. Then it started to grow.
“It caught me by surprise how many people wanted coffee,” Josh says. To keep up with demand, the couple secured a location in Bradenton to roast beans and Banyan Coffee Co. was born. That demand shows in sales growth: While Josh Schmitt declines to disclose specific revenue figures, he says the company doubled in 2019 and grew sixfold in 2020 over 2019. "And for 2021 we expect to double or triple our revenue" over 2020, he says.
Now the couple has another big dream: to own their own coffee shop. Along the way toward that goal, they’ve learned how to adapt to changes, pandemic and otherwise, while being willing to experiment with new products. Challenges include finding and keeping employees and getting customers to shop locally, doubly hard in a sea of Starbucks.
One key to the Banyan model, says Josh Schmitt: a no-snobs rule. He's come across a lot of “coffee snobs” in his days of drinking coffee. From coffee shops to other roasters, he says they don’t always come off as welcoming — which tends to be unwelcoming to customers. “I want it to be approachable to people,” he says. “You should be able to brew coffee the way you like it.”
Emulating Dutch Bros., a coffee shop in Oregon, the Schmitts have committed to making their company inviting to customers. Which is why they provide free local delivery within 48 hours of customers placing their orders. “We take our coffee seriously,” Josh Schmitt says.
On their way to owning their own shop, they’ve added services to expand their current business. Recently, for example, the Schmitts added a mobile coffee truck that comes stocked with several coffee options. The truck was Abbey’s idea to encourage people to try a new coffee from a new place and different brand. Josh adds that the truck's inviting vibe takes the pressure off customers. “We have people coming to see us to see the truck,” he says.
The couple has taken other steps to build a welcoming and inviting brand. One example? Using social media to post stories behind the coffee beans they roast. Another strategy, taken from the Dutch Bros. model, is to give out free stickers to customers. All of these strategies are backed by Josh Schmitt’s mindset of actions speaking louder than words.
The Schmitts recently started partnering with local distilleries to create barrel-aged coffee. Josh Schmitt notes this was a way to try something different — and also build the inviting side of the brand in the business community. They started experimenting with different alcohol barrels and noticed the aging created unique flavor notes in the coffee beans. “If you work together, you can be so much more successful,” Josh Schmitt says.
When the couple first started the coffee company, they didn’t know a lot about the industry — starting the hard way. But that wide open palate has also helped fuel the couple's success so far, leading them embrace new ideas and partnerships.
The pandemic, of course, has presented some setbacks, but Josh Schmitt says, it's also opened doors to unforeseen opportunities. “We adapted,” Josh says. “If you don’t, that’s how you get left behind.”
One way of adapting? Selling teas. “We always have challenges, but we like the challenge of trying to figure it out,” he says.
Josh Schmitt says right now there’s no timeline on when the couple will open their own coffee shop — yet they can smell the opportunities. One big mark of proof is they recently purchased a bigger roaster, in order to keep up with demand. They’ve started looking at potential locations, but haven’t found the just-right spot just yet. It has to be within budget, and, of course, inviting to customers. And the couple hopes to keep on expanding after that. “If you’re not learning, I don’t know if you’re successful,” Josh Schmitt says. “You learn from your mistakes.”