Scooter’s Coffee has major plans for growth after establishing a strong foundation
with its culture, values and franchise support.
By Staci Davidson, Knighthouse Media
There is a shadow of a corporate giant that looms large in the specialty coffee world. But Scooter’s Coffee is zipping around that shadow and zooming forward, with its own plans for coffee domination: a goal to be the No. 1 drive-thru coffee franchise in the nation. It is prepared to reach that zenith with a foundation of strong core values and a commitment to quality offerings and excellent service, amazingly fast.
“We like to tell people that we build drive-thru coffee kiosks and sometimes attach a coffee house to them. Our focus is on customer service and speed,” Founder Don Eckles says.
Based in Omaha, Neb., Eckles and his wife, Linda, noticed the coffee industry growing in California when they lived there in the early 1990s, and saw potential in the drive-thru category. They moved back to Nebraska and opened their first drive-thru coffeehouse in 1998. They found success by focusing on high-quality drinks, clean stores, friendly employees and speed of service. Now, Scooter’s has grown to nearly 200 locations in 14 states, and has more than 150 franchise commitments to build new stores.
“Back in those days, there were many Starbucks but not many in the Midwest, and they weren’t doing drive-thrus,” Eckles says. “Our thought was that if we are going to build a successful coffee business, we have to figure out why someone gets out Starbucks’ line and gets into Scooter’s Coffee line? We had to be meaningfully different, so we decided to focus on the drive-thru business and high-end drinks.”
That formula is working, and the industry and franchisees have noticed. Franchise Business Review named Scooter’s Coffee a Top 50 Franchise in its 2018 Franchise Satisfaction Awards, among the top 50 in its 2018 list of Top Multi-Unit Franchises and one of the 2017 Top Franchises for Women. Scooter’s also has a place on Entrepreneur’s 2018 Franchise 500 list, on Franchise Gator’s Top 100 list, and Franchise Times’ Top 200 and Smartest-Growing Brands lists.
It took awhile for Scooter’s to get to a place where it was comfortable franchising, and now it is working hard to ensure its foundation remains strong to support all of its franchisees, as well as to keep growing. Eckles believes there is “a real opportunity” for Scooter’s to be the second-largest specialty coffee company in the country, but it didn’t want to start franchising until it was ready.
“People are going to borrow money and they are going to cash in their 401(k)s – you have to have a strong model to build and support a franchise system,” he says. Scooter’s started franchising when friends and family saw the brand’s success. Successfully supporting franchisees is hard work, and it took a number of years before it was comfortable enough that it could open the opportunity to others. “Franchising is not just about collecting a franchisee fee and royalties – it involves developing marketing and building a brand and helping people when they stumble,” he notes.
Eckles says Scooter’s has become good at franchisee selection, and it is looking for people who see the magic of the coffee business and who love the opportunity. “We need people who like people,” he says. “Some of our best franchisees, I just admire them. People think the specialty coffee business is great, but in reality, it’s a business centered on relationships with customers. You are dealing with hundreds of people a day and some of them are not friendly in the morning – you have to really like people, and if you do, this is a great business.”
CEO Todd Graeve believes Scooter’s Coffee has a strong base to ensure continued growth and franchisee support. Graeve became involved in the company about 15 years ago, when a family member approached him about franchising a specialty coffee brand called Scooter’s Coffee in the Kansas City market. He explains he immediately fell in love with two things about Scooter’s that remain true today: the company’s family culture and commitment to world-class beverages.
“Scooter’s was very small at that time – it was only operating in Omaha – but we saw potential to pioneer the brand in Kansas City,” Graeve says. “The culture drew me in – it was very loving, very welcoming – and on top of that, the quality of the drinks stood out. A high-quality product is a great foundation to start with. I came in not knowing the business, but soon I was making drinks and involved with site selection and construction. I leaned into Scooter’s Coffee and the franchisor’s experience, but the foundation was there with the culture and quality product.”
The company is working hard to ensure its quality and culture remains consistent as it grows, and Graeve believes it’s possible for Scooter’s to meet its goals while staying grounded. “As you grow, there are a couple of risks,” he notes. “One, you could grow too fast for the resources you have. So, we are always investing strategically and in advance of growth. We have a new headquarters in Omaha that is four times larger than our previous facility. In addition, we’ve actively hired a Chief Marketing Officer and other operational leaders, reflecting a proactive approach to our growth.
“Another risk is that you become so big that you disconnect from the culture,” he adds. “As we go big with our goals, we want to stay small. We want to maintain and intentionally pursue relationships, and continue to live by our core values. If you recognize that plan early, you can continue to live by your values, maintain your culture and walk in a very human dynamic.”
Scooter’s has established a mission statement to guide its operation as it grows bigger: “To create an amazing experience for each life we touch,” according to Graeve. Additionally, the values that are the foundation of its business are integrity, love, humility and courage.
“That mission translates to our delivery drivers, franchisees, store baristas, office staff, and those who do the roasting and baking,” Graeve says. “And our core values also are important. They are timeless and noncompromising. If we can walk in integrity, love and humility with a posture of courage, we can use this as our bedrock for growth.”
The company’s plans for growth are extensive. Scooter’s goal is to add at least several hundred locations in the next five years, more than doubling its current size, but possibly quadrupling its size, Eckles says. He notes that with its systems, processes and foundation, it has become easy to sell franchises, but Scooter’s must maintain its core values and train people properly to ensure ongoing success.
“We have watched companies get big fast and then implode because they don’t have a structure in place to support their growth, but we are very careful to stay ahead of our growth,” Eckles says. “We have a team of people who are out in the field working with franchisees all the time. They help them with getting the correct espresso shots, speed of service, hiring, training, cost of goods, cost of labor – they are just focused on franchise success.
“The only thing that matters in our work is profitability at the store level and that starts with excellence throughout,” he continues. “We take very seriously the responsibility to support our franchisees. We are proud of the people we work with and the franchisees work hard. We do not have a single store in our system that is for sale – that is uncommon in our industry.”
Scooter’s is focused on expanding in markets like Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and a number of other Mid-American states to build name recognition. Graeve notes franchisees will benefit from tapping into Scooter’s 20 years of experience while maintaining the mission and values it has established.
“We don’t want to go to 1,000 stores if we can’t do that with our core values firmly in place,” he says. “We can be bold and humble at the same time by caring for people along the way while we go to great heights. We have to attend to it – we establish those core values, speak about them regularly and celebrate when we see someone living out those values. With this, we will meet our goals and maintain the culture I fell in love with when I came on board.”