Recently, Franchise Business Review spoke with Amanda Bennett, the franchise owner for PJ's Coffee in Hammond, Louisiana. Amanda spoke with us about the differences between PJ's Coffee and other franchise brands, and what she finds most rewarding about owning her business.
Read the interview below, or listen to the full conversation here:
Amanda, congratulations on your exciting recognition, and thank you for taking some time for us today. That must have been a very rewarding experience for you.
Amanda: Good morning. Thank you so much for talking to me this morning. Yeah, it was absolutely one of the biggest honors I've had in my career actually.
Great. Let's start at the beginning. Why don't you tell us before you came to own your PJ's Coffee franchise, what were you doing and why were you looking for a change?
Amanda: Actually, while I was thinking about expanding my business, I had already opened my own tanning salon. I'd already been running my own business for myself, so I liked that I was sort of autonomous. I could do my own thing. I also knew that I could do my own thing, but I had to do everything.
I live in a PJ's town where PJ's Coffee is the best thing around and thought, "Wouldn't this be a great idea?" I started looking into opening a franchise of my own.
The idea of opening a franchise gave me the luxury of being autonomous, doing my own thing, but having the support of a larger corporate entity to help me with my costs and marketing and things that take up a lot of my time so I can focus on my customers and my guests.
Excellent. When you decided that that was going to be the direction you wanted to go in, was PJ's just kind of your first and only choice, or did you spend some time looking into different options either for coffee shops or for franchising in general or other business opportunities?
Amanda: To be honest with you, I have a passion for coffee so that was really what drove me to PJ's. I did look into another ice cream franchise that I ended up becoming a franchisee of as well and did not do very much research on it.
I can tell you at the end of the day I have since closed down that franchise -- the ice cream franchise -- because I could compare the two experiences, and PJ's honestly gives me so much more support than the ice cream franchise did. I know it was the right decision for me.
Great. That's obviously a very key component. If you're going to be a franchise owner, you're going to want to leverage that support that you're promised from the franchisor.
Having been in the PJ's brand for a while now, what do you find to be the most unique thing about them and their products and their culture and anything like that? What are some aspects of being in the coffee shop business that prospective franchisees might want to know about?
Amanda: I definitely love the New Orleans' culture and the New Orleans' theme behind the brand. If you've ever been to New Orleans, they are all encompassing of every person, whether you're crazy or normal or working nine to five or working nights.
That's one of the things that I love about having a coffee shop is that we can interact with every person, every walk of life, in their daily life. We get to know these people like family. That's really the most unique thing that I think about having a coffee shop business is you really develop...You have an extended family now, I do anyway.
Certainly, we all know, if we're a coffee shop regular, that we see the same people every morning or every afternoon, whenever it is we stop in. It must be great for you as a business to be able to know that those people are there and part of your extended family, as you were mentioning.
Amanda: Yeah. It's also great to know that our beans are roasted about an hour away, at least they're about an hour away from my shop. It's small batch roasted. We know exactly where our beans come from. We are a small enough franchise that I could drive up and walk into the headquarters. They would know who I was.
I could drive up and take my staff to the roasting facility and get a tour. Customers could, too. We're very hands on, and really they're very hands on and very approachable too, which is also kind of nice to have that connection, that community connection.
Absolutely. With that in mind, you've been in this business for 10 years or so. What would you say have been the most rewarding and the most challenging parts of owning your business?
Amanda: Honestly, it's kind of two-fold. It's the same thing. It's my staffing and developing a great staff. That is one of the most challenging things about running pretty much any business -- including coffee -- is finding people that represent you and your mission.
When you make a mistake and you've found the wrong person, it's the challenge of picking up the pieces and reestablishing it. It's also kind of hard to see my staff leave. A lot of my staff have been with me for three or four years, and then you know what? They grow up, and they leave the nest. It's a beautiful thing, and it's a hard thing in so many different levels.
I'm very blessed to have a lot of my staff who will come back and work a couple of days a week or I should say a couple of days a month just so that they can say hi to old customers again. It's a lovely challenge I should say, a lovely challenge.
Exactly to your point of we hear from lots of our clients here that finding that staff, like you said, to represent the brand in the right way and to be long-term employees that they can depend on is often a challenge for franchise ownership. It sounds like you do develop a great staff that you enjoy having and that the customers enjoy so that's excellent.
Amanda: When I do find really great staff, PJ's offers a lot of training opportunities and recognitions for staffers to go in and get trained by corporate members or by the vendors that sell us our pastries.
Our staff can actually go and take training classes and get certified in being a barista, in pastries, and in all other -- a lot of different kind of higher level management opportunities too. That's a great support we get from the franchise.
That's wonderful. That's a definite perk for those employees, for sure.
Kind of switching gears a little bit here, I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about any kind of social outreach or community outreach that you've been a part of with the PJ's community? What activities have you done that you've been a part of in the brand?
Amanda: I was actually really lucky that I got to go along with some of the corporate team to our coffee farm in Honduras. We teamed up. We did or they did a lot of interviewing over about five years to finally find a farm that they could trust to grow the beans and to make sure that the beans were really high quality.
It is in Copán in Honduras and not only do they make sure that the beans are really high quality, the farmer himself actually reinvests money into his community, into that farm. Honduras is a very poor country. They have poor water. They have poor housing. He has actually built dorms for his workers.
He has invested maybe $50,000 in a deep water well so that not only can we have our beans washed by this clean water, but he provides that water to his employees as well. We know that we are making a difference when we sell the higher French roast to these people in Honduras.
PJ's is really big on giving back to the community in Honduras, and they do a lot of things like Heart Association. A lot of local community events, they'll sponsor and promote in the store, as well.
That sounds like it would be a very rewarding experience for you to be able to be a part of that, and it's obviously something that a lot of your customers are probably increasingly conscious of -- just the sourcing of those beans and knowing where they come from and the people that they come from.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely.
Back to your business specifically, what do you see as your next steps going forward? It's been, like we said, 10 years or so that you've been in business. Do you have any particular goals for what comes next? Are you planning to grow into additional stores or anything like that?
Amanda: Actually, at this point, I am focused on ramping up my store since I've been there for about 10 years. I'm giving it a fresh look. Corporate has developed a new lighting package and some updates to some stores to make it really easy on us so that we can all look great. That's my first challenge.
Then I do have another friend of mine who owns a store who has had to move out of state. I am seriously considering purchasing another one, and they make it so easy for franchisees to be involved and to have a say. I do love the brand. I think it'll be really easy for me to be a multi-unit owner.
I can also tell you that having the experience of running three different businesses all at one time, I wish that I had given more thought into that. I thought diversity would've been the ticket, but it's really not the ticket because I have to do the same thing, three different...I have to cost out products. I have to do it three different times for three different stores.
Now when I do marketing or when I do a strategy, I'll be able to implement it once for both stores and have double the impact with half the work. I'm definitely looking forward to trying that out.
Right. The economy of scale benefit, definitely. That's all great information, and I think people will get a good understanding of what PJ's Coffee is all about from that.
I wanted to sum up and ask you if there's one particular piece of advice from your experience in PJ's, from the ice cream franchise that didn't work out, is there a piece of advice that you would give prospective franchise owners about that process, about trying to decide which brand is right for them?
Amanda: Absolutely, because I can definitely learn from my own mistakes. I would definitely recommend that franchisees or potential franchisees not only interview corporate, look at the numbers, look at the brand, but also go out and talk to staff, talk to franchisees one on one and see how they actually feel like they're being treated by the company.
Sometimes, honestly, it's more than just numbers. I'm a big believer in doing the right thing and having it feel right. I think that if they were to come and interview franchisees from PJ's, they would get a really better feel for the brand itself and probably be drawn right into it. Take a tour of the facility.
Definitely. Excellent advice. Thank you, Amanda, for your time, and your thoughts. Congratulations again on being the PJ's Coffee Franchisee of the Year in 2017. Best of luck going forward.
Amanda: Thanks so much. It was nice talking to you today.
180 New Camellia Blvd, Suite 100
Covington, LA 70433
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