Matt Lockhart was nominated for a 2022 Rock Star Award by The Human Bean leadership team under the Freshman category. He was chosen by Franchise Business Review from among 200+ nominations for his outstanding achievements as a Human Bean franchise owner in Laramie, WY.
What advice do you have for someone considering investing in a franchise?
A major reason we chose a franchise is the proven business model. I literally knew nothing about the coffee business but saw the Human Bean's success on paper and at a few of their stands. We had actually frequented a few of them in Colorado and reasoned that with their business model, philosophy, and guidance we could realize success that we wouldn't have if we chose to try to do it on our own.
If you could start all over again, which mistake(s) would you avoid? What were your best decisions?
Our biggest mistake was that we should have hired more baristas when we started. Our business plan was what I considered to be very conservative, and fortunately, I was correct in that sense. Our quick success is so appreciated, but we were understaffed from the get-go, so we had to hire quite a few after we opened and already trained our initial staff. Now we have a good grasp on the proper number of employees to staff.
Our best decision was the selecting our location. I worked for five months with the landowner on lease negotiations and it was quite an up and down ride putting together the land lease. Our attorney kept saying that most people would've just found another location with all the hoops we went through. But I knew in my heart the location I had found was the best available in our city, and I was correct. I'm glad we were resilient in this aspect.
What is the biggest challenge you've had to overcome as a business owner?
Our biggest challenge is Culture. We strive for a culture based on teamwork and a hard work ethic. Most people interview well, and it usually comes down to having them work for us for a month or so to see how well they interact with their coworkers and also how hard they want to work. Each employee is held accountable and knows what we expect of them, but it is also a daily effort to keep the plan moving forward. Also, teaching my leaders that they need to adopt a 'Servant Leader' mentality. You don't push people, you pull people. Show them what a good job looks like.
Is there a book or podcast that has helped you in starting or building your business?
I've enjoyed the podcast How I Built This by Guy Raz for years. He interviews successful business owners that you'd recognize, and goes through their trials and tribulations of building their business from scratch up to current day. The main point each person has always put across is that you just can't ever give up. If you get knocked down eight times, you get up nine times. Giving up isn't a strategy that I endorse. I read once that if you quit something, you'll never accomplish anything more difficult than what you just quit… so I've taken that to heart. Never ever give up.
What is your proudest achievement in your franchising career so far?
Well, teamwork makes the drink work, which makes the dream work. Helping our employees, most of which are college-aged kids, learn work ethic, responsibility and team-building. My success is predicated upon their success. We earned our local Chamber Alliance's Large Business of the Year Award a few months back and it was very humbling. The top four in the category we were nominated with were all very big community supporters and great businesses, so to have won the award really makes us proud to do what we do.
What was your work history before you entered franchising? How did you apply prior skills to your franchise?
I had spent 25 years in the automobile business, 21 of which were here in Laramie. I started out selling, and moved my way up through the ranks to ultimately being a general manager of a couple of dealerships. Serving people, taking care of them, and building long-term relationships were all my goals when I was in the automobile business. I truly believe if I hadn't worked so hard to do those things our current business wouldn't be nearly as successful as it is. People love to support businesses that are owned by people that treat them well, and I've worked hard over the years to do just that.
Did the pandemic and recession impact your business and, if so, what were the lessons learned from the experience?
The pandemic hit one month after we signed our Franchise Agreement, so there was a lot of concern about how we could survive once we opened. What we found is when people come to us, it's because they want that personal interaction at the window, they want to treat themselves. I tell my staff that people don't have to come to us, but they want to come to us. So we need to make their experience better than any other place in town, so they will keep coming back, and refer their friends, families, and coworkers to us!
What do you like most about your franchise organization today?
I can pick up my phone and contact my Human Bean team on their cell phones 24/7. I've had to contact many of them on weekends and after hours, and I've never had any one on the team upset that I did. Without teamwork on their end, our team on my end wouldn't have the success we have had. I owe a ton to their responsiveness, guidance and willingness to help me. The staff never pressured us into signing the franchise agreement. They helped me many times when I'd identify a prospective location, and they'd put together a schematic to see if it would fit or not. We spoke with a few other franchises when we were researching franchises and Human Bean was by far the most patient and helpful of all of them. Plus I've been able to receive guidance and mentorship from a fellow franchisee in Colorado who was very instrumental in helping me decide if this was the right franchise, and once we opened he's been fantastic in providing advice to help us grow our business.
What was the turning point in your life or career that led you to franchising?
The day before my youngest daughter was born I told myself I was done with my current career, so I quit. I wanted to own a business that I had control of, not work in a business that controlled me. I have no regrets about my previous career, as it treated me very well personally and financially. But it was time for me to take care of me. It took us two years from the time we inquired with Human Bean about becoming a franchisee to actually opening the doors. We did our research to make sure it was right for us and our community first and foremost, and the staff at Human Bean accommodated us.
What unexpected opportunities or challenges have you encountered since starting your business?
We are approached often for donations and sponsorships for various local non-profits, academic, sport teams, etc. We do our very best to support the people that support us. I tell my staff that I only sign their paychecks, and the people in our drive-thru actually pay their paychecks. I am very cognizant of this and work very hard to support my community and give back. This has opened doors for new relationships. Meeting new people in different organizations is probably one of the best things that have happened to us since we opened.
We don't have a challenge with staffing, as many in the country do today. We receive applications almost daily. Being a barista is a lot more fun than many food-service jobs, so we have that going for us. I think, with any business, that filling the seats on the bus with the right people is always a challenge. We give everyone the benefit of doubt when they have challenges, and work with them to improve and better their work efforts. Sometimes the job is just too much for people. It is very fast-paced. I tell them that just because this job didn't work out it doesn't make them a bad person, it just means it doesn't fit their skills. They appreciate that.
How has becoming your own boss changed your life?
I can actually spend time with my family. I can take my girls to school and pick them up from school. My wife is actually involved in our business and we can share ideas, and challenges, which is hard to do if both of you have separate careers. This business allows us to bounce ideas off each other, seek advice, and just listen.
For more information on The Human Bean franchise opportunities, visit https://thehumanbean.com/coffee-franchise/.
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