Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. And it’s a great day for a married couple of almost 28 years to open their first business together.
Melissa and John McPhail will open their Biggby Coffee location 6 a.m. Tuesday at the Charlotte suburb of Pineville. This will be the first Biggby Coffee location in the Charlotte area, and the fourth franchise in North Carolina for the Michigan-based company.
Neither McPhail has ever operated their own business before. John McPhail spent six years in the Navy and has worked for more than 20 years for a small company in construction sales to commercial architects. Melissa McPhail, a published author of Bible studies and devotionals, has been a stay-at-home mom raising the couple’s four sons. She also spent the last two decades volunteering in women’s ministries.
But the couple couldn’t ignore that entrepreneurial bug. A disappointing experience at one established coffee business followed by watching people come and go at another Charlotte area coffeehouse got them thinking about coffee.
“First of all, we love coffee,” says John McPhail. “We spend every morning drinking coffee and talking about what we did the day before and what we plan to do later. It’s one of those things that builds relationships, so it’s more than just coffee.”
So John McPhail, who turns 53 on Feb. 22, looked around at possible opportunities two years ago. He promised his wife he wouldn’t make a move until they agreed they were on the same page.
He tried coffee at one business and didn’t like the taste, so he scratched it off the list.
In spring 2021, the McPhails were traveling to Raleigh together on a business trip when they stopped at the Biggby Coffee near Burlington and Elon University.
John McPhail ordered his coffee black, no fancy flavors or sugar.
“It was just a really good, straight cup of coffee,” says McPhail. “I don’t know what they do, but they do it right.”
About 18 months later, they’re ready to open. The past few days have been spent training a staff of 25 to be ready for that first customer Valentine’s Day morning. The idea of owning a company gets romanticized, says John McPhail. He admits to feeling like he and his wife have been on a roller coaster at times.
“This is hard. This is difficult. You just don’t know what you don’t know,” says McPhail. “There’s times where we think, ‘This is terrifying,’ and there’s time when this is just a fun thing to do. In the back of my head, I’ve got to keep saying, ‘We haven’t made a dime yet.’”
He believes the experience so far has brought him and his wife closer. He speaks with pride of watching her do new things and show leadership skills that she has not exhibited before.
They both plan to work in the store on a regular basis.
“This is our first venture together outside, obviously, of marriage and kids,” he says. “We may be in the back of the store crying, but we’ll be here.”
Two friends, Bob Fish and Mike McFall, opened the first store in 1995 on the Michigan State campus in East Lansing. After a couple of years, they considered opening a second store, but instead decided to create a brand and offer franchises.
They have now opened 342 Biggby Coffees in 13 states and have another 137 in development, says Tony DiPietro, a 21-year employee who now serves as vice president of emerging market development.
They’re on pace to having 1,000 stores by 2028 and being valued as a $1 billion company, says DiPietro. Biggby expects to open five more North Carolina stores by the end of the year in the cities of Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem.
Stores can be as simple as a kiosk, drive-through only or a store with a drive-through and lobby, like the McPhail’s store.
A franchisee can expect to invest between $276,000 and $439,000 before opening, which includes a $20,000 franchise fee. That money covers everything from buying equipment to leasing a location, says DiPietro.
“We want to support people who want to build a business they love,” says DiPietro.
Besides its coffee, John McPhail felt drawn to the Biggby brand after reading a 2019 book by McFall titled “Grind: A No-Bullsh*t Approach to Take Your Business from Concept to Cash Flow.”
One part of the book really made a difference, John McPhail said. “In the book, he wrote, ‘You’re going to get punched in the mouth, and you’re going to have to deal with it and figure it out,’” says McPhail. Those lines reminded him of the construction business.
He also likes the company motto: Make friends. Have fun. Be yourself and share great coffee.
McPhail believes that attitude filters down to those who work at the store and fill orders of coffees, lattes, freezes, muffins, and “bragels,” which sort of look like a bagel without the hole.
“There’s a lot of Michiganders around who know about Biggby and are excited about Biggby and there’s a lot of people who have no idea what Biggby is,” says John McPhail.
The company refers to its customers as “Biggby Nation” and uses a capital “B” against an orange background as its logo.
McPhail says he and his wife are feeling a lot of emotion as they embark on a business together. They celebrate 28 years of marriage on May 27 and like the idea of opening a business on Valentine’s Day.
McPhail finishes with an anecdote about a chicken and a pig talking about their contributions to breakfast.
“The chicken is participating, but the pig is committed,” says McPhail. “We’re committed.”
You can reach Kevin Ellis at 704-201-7016 or Kellis@BusinessNC.com.