With two thriving coffee shops under his belt, it might seem that Ross Drever has java in his blood—and that might be partially true. Drever grew up around coffee; his father became the first franchisee for Gloria Jean’s Coffees when he purchased its eighth location in Aurora, Illinois, back in 1984. Drever started working in the family business in high school and would continue to do so until the day he had his own unit.
Drever pursued law school after graduating from St. John’s University in Minnesota, but, following a disappointing internship at a law firm, he came to the realization that the quick-serve industry better suited his interests and desire to run his own business.
Over the next 12 years, Drever took on a variety of responsibilities working in the family business before owning and running his own unit. Today, Drever owns and operates Gloria Jean’s in Louis Joliet Mall in Joliet, Illinois, and Yorktown Center in Lombard, Illinois.
With a business plan built on his family’s legacy and a passion for the product, Drever shares how franchisees can draw from past experiences and let a love for their brand drive them.
1. Create an experience
Having grown up in the industry, it was easy for me to watch and learn from my family, and my father’s attitude was always so positive. I had an internship after college that was at a firm practicing family law, which is an emotional type of law to practice, and I didn’t feel that feeling I got from working in the stores.
I knew I would enjoy the coffee business more, and wanted to carry on my dad’s motto, “Be the friendliest store in the mall.” He didn’t just mean the friendliest coffee shop, either. My dad wanted us to be the friendliest store out of every single store inside the mall. It became our common goal to create an experience that a customer, regardless of what they’re out for, would get the best from us. Whether it is a conscious thought while they were inside our space, or later when they got home, our goal was to be an experience they can’t get anywhere else. That continues to drive the business and me today.
There were times when we were looking into different ways to grow our business, for example with a new location inside the mall, bigger retail space, or even as far as looking into a cobranded option. I think it’s important for franchisees to continually look into these options. It’s the only way of understanding and knowing that what you’re doing is the right thing for you. Even when looking through all those options, the idea of making sure we were creating an experience for our customers was always at the forefront.
2. Temper passion with practicality
What drives me are both passion for the business and passion for the product. Those two need to meet in the middle. I’ve come to be known for my obsession with coffee, but if that were all I had, my business would suffer. Passion gets you far, but it doesn’t necessarily enable you to survive. You still have to be smart and prudent when it comes to making business decisions.
In certain types of business—and I think coffee is one of them—the passion gives a little bit of an edge and differentiation because of the saturation of competition. The barriers to enter the coffee business are relatively inexpensive—i.e. equipment, physical space, training—which causes a lot of folks to compete in the same field. What really makes a franchisee successful is a passion and vested interest in the product. If the ROI is the only thing that’s driving you, business is going to be tough.
Being a smaller concept compared to some of the competition, we don’t have as big a budget to spend on marketing or advertising, but I almost prefer that about us. You can have the best marketing campaign in the business, but if you’re not delivering a premium product in a space that promotes an experience, customers won’t be coming back. If a coupon drives your customer, they’re not really your customers. We advertise across a variety of platforms, but it’s so much more to deliver on a product you care about.
3. Channel your experience
I was fortunate enough to grow up in this industry with my father starting before me. I was managing locations when my parents started to take a couple weeks off here and there. My sister, who acted as the district manager at the time, also had to take some time off due to her growing family. With my parents taking more and more breaks from the business and my sister out, I had no choice but to take over as many responsibilities as I could handle and make sure the business continued to grow.
This was a huge adjustment for me personally because, after college, I was only managing a single location. In retrospect, the gradual increase in responsibilities helped me a lot when it came to learning all I know about what it means to actually run a unit. The whole process of my parents slowly moving out of the brand, as well as my sister transitioning away from the business, was over a 12-year span. It was only after that amount of time that I felt comfortable running my own units.
Prospective franchisees need experience across multiple facets of the business to be successful. I imagine some business owners are able to transfer previous business practices, but if you can know your prospective unit inside and out, it can only benefit you and the brand long-term.