[wpg width=”400″ height=”300″ align=”right”]Today we have the pleasure to speak with Kevin Brennan, owner of Rockn’ Joe, an awesome and successful coffee chain in New Jersey. Let’s get right to it:
V. Hi Kevin, thanks for being with us here today. Please tell us, “How did it all start for you?”
B. Hi Max! We are actually in our 20th year of business now. Before I started this, I used to manage a big supermarket, and it was a fantastic retail experience to prepare me for this business. However, at the same time, it was tremendously stressful and I had to work a lot of hours. I decided I needed to think of doing something on my own, and I had a real passion to be an entrepreneur. I was on vacation in San Diego back in 1989 and that is probably when the whole West Coast coffee scene really started to take off and there were a bunch of coffee houses around. There was one particular coffeehouse there that I went in everyday and just thought “Wow! How great it would be to have a place like this back on the East Coast.”
To put it into perspective Starbucks didn’t come to the East Coast until ‘96, so there really weren’t any coffeehouses. So I decided ok, it is novel enough, it looks simple enough and coffee is something I really do love. Then 1992 came and one morning I’m in the shower and I had that knot in my stomach that I always had before going to work, knowing there was more work than there was time in the day and I decided, “I cannot do this a year from now. I have to change; I have to do something different.” I went back to the West Coast to do some research, came back here and started looking for a location which I found in the early summer of ‘93 and by the end of that same year we were open for business.
V. Why is your business called Rockn’ Joe?
B. Well, first of all, I am a huge music fan and amateur musician. As the East Coast coffee scene was gaining momentum, I knew that I would have to be unique in order to stand out from everybody else. The music theme here is about giving our business a personality; it is really more of a background kind of thing secondary to the coffee and the coffeehouse experience. We don’t do any live shows here – we have tried, but it doesn’t really work. There are people that drink coffee and there are people that go out to listen to live music, and it actually is kind of rare that those are the same kind of people. Since coffee is the economic driver of the business, that is who we need to cater to. At the same we have a great mix of music playing all the time and the walls are covered with Rock’n Roll memorabilia, so that is kind of fun to look at. And then we really play that whole rock theme into the coffee and all of our coffee blends have a relationship with music; for example, our espresso is called Black Dog espresso, so it is a little play on a Led Zeppelin song, and so on.
V. It seems like younger kids are into a different type of music nowadays. Does your concentrating on classical rock hurt your business in any way as far as your younger customers?
B. I still am a huge music fan, so I go to way too many shows and try to stay very current on the music scene. So the music that we are playing is a music that they are listening to, but we are mixing it with a lot of classic stuff too. You know what is really funny is that kids nowadays are really digging into classic rock. A lot of high school kids all of a sudden are into Jimi, the Doors and the Beatles, for example. However, our playlist is very up-to-date, so whatever else they are listening to, we got it.
V. Do you roast your own coffee and if not, who is your supplier?
B. We have a partnership with Dillanos in Seattle. I’m so happy with them; they are really an awesome company! They work with us closely to come up with the blends and the whole approach to us is fantastic.
V. You are coffee business veteran. Dare to share your secrets on how to be successful?
B. Sure, first you start by being really passionate about the product that you selling. It has got to start there. Then second is something that took me a while to learn – you have to run the business by the numbers and not just your passion – maintain good bookkeeping, control your labor, and control food costs. The passion has to coexist with the logical side of the business. Ever since the crash of the economy in 2008, average is over. You really have to be great at what you are doing. You really have to do a good amount of volume in order to make this a worthwhile business and the only way you can do this is to be efficient. Keep moving people in and out fast because a person in the morning is not going to wait 5 minutes for a cup of coffee. I still see that in a lot of independent shops where they don’t pay a lot of attention to operations. They just can’t get the volume that they need. That is a big thing.
And last, just follow the basics of good old school business practices. Saying hello to your customers and engaging with them on a personal level goes a long way toward making sure that they are going to come back day after day after day. I focus all my energy on what is going on within the walls of this store. Whenever I hear a business owner getting into a lot of marketing and internet stuff, I just say “They don’t get it.” Just put these old business practices to work. They used to work before and they still work now.