BIGGBY COFFEE co-owner Michael McFall Provides Advice for Small Business Owners

GENESEE COUNTY, MI — Grabbing a cup of Biggby Coffee is probably part of a lot of people’s daily routine in Genesee County.

Biggby Coffee is the U.S.’ third largest coffee franchise which started in Lansing, but has spread across all of the U.S., including in the Genesee County area.

With over 902,000 small businesses and 150,000 new small business applications filed last year, Michigan has a strong entrepreneurial and small business community.

Most recently, there was a Black Business Expo held in Flint last month where advice was provided to small business owners.

But Michael J. McFall, co-owner of Biggby Coffee, also teaches entrepreneurialism at The University of Michigan Center of Entrepreneurship, said there isn’t a magic potion to run a successful business.
“Whenever people ask me how I have been able to get the company to where it is today, there is one word for it, and that’s focus,” McFall said. “For 20 straight years, my business partner (Bob Fish) and I wake up every morning trying to get better at selling cups of coffee each day. And I think the key there is 20 years. A lot of people look for success quickly. I went a decade without hardly making money.”

Despite some of the hard times Flint and its surrounding area has experienced over the years, McFall’s best piece of advice to those dreaming of owning a business starts with having money to do so.

“You have to put yourself into a position financially as an individual to be to be able to make an investment in the business,” McFall said. “That’s step one, is to be in a position to have capital for yourself. Most people who are going to be investing in somebody, if you’re looking for investors, they need to see that you have some capital to put into it. And then they also want to work with somebody or invest in somebody who’s been smart financially.”

Over his 27 years of experience at Biggby Coffee working from minimum wage barista to co-CEO of the company and working with students at the University of Michigan, McFall has learned that by valuing, supporting and listening to his staff, they are more likely to remain in, and be committed to, the organization.

For small business owners, there is a challenge to retaining employees. McFall’s philosophy of cultivating a culture of love in the workplace is one that supports employee retention and building a strong work environment. He believes that to build a team of top-talent, it is essential to first invest in employees to create a culture that not only focuses on building connections, but also pursuing passion.

McFall added there has been a shift in the employer and employee relationship.

“That shift went from a traditional mindset where the employer or the manager went from thinking about the employee as someone you offer a job. You pay them, they show up to work, and for that amount of pay, they are supposed to be loyal and do a great job. That’s the traditional mindset as an employer.

“In the last few years, that’s transitioned. The mentality I like to think about is that your employees are volunteers. They volunteer to show up to work for you, because most likely, they could leave your employment tomorrow and get another job by the next day. And so, what are you doing to add value to them? How are you investing in them, to make them want to be a part of your organization and your team? Because if you’re just depending on it being the standard benefit package and an hourly rate, that doesn’t get it done anymore.”
Despite dealing with a worldwide pandemic, McFall is not surprised by the amount of people wanting to own a business.
“Typically when the economy becomes unstable, which it has been, my understanding is that people really begin to think about starting their own business because they want more control,” he said. “They want more control over their own life. They want control over their financial security. And so they they start to look at starting their own business and becoming an entrepreneur. It’s not surprising that applications are up that’s very standard when when the economy becomes unstable, or struggles. It’s a little counterintuitive, but people do get more interested in starting their own company.”
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