From IT to Latte: Living out his Entrepreneurial Dreams
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From IT to Latte: Living out his Entrepreneurial Dreams

From IT to Latte: Living out his Entrepreneurial Dreams

Name: Jeremy Music
Title: Franchisee
Company: Front Porch Coffee
No. of units: 16 Scooter’s Coffee, 1 Wingstop, 1 Billy Sims BBQ, 1 Jersey Mike’s (under construction)
Age: 45
Family: Wife, 3 children
Years in franchising: 7
Years in current position: 5

Jeremy Music went to college, earned a master’s degree, and knuckled down to a job in the field he’d trained for—medical IT. “It was fun for a little while,” he says. But there were things he didn’t like. Going to meetings, sitting at a desk, and staring at his computer all day was not the life he wanted. He began to devise a plan to never have to punch a time clock again.

Music had built his first home on his own, and his banker gave him an idea: invest in real estate. He started doing just that. “I’ve built spec houses and condos and owned apartment buildings,” he says. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur.”

Seven years ago, however, he took another turn—into franchising. “When I started researching franchises, I thought, ‘Well, maybe that’s a route I could take to add to what I’m already doing,’” he says. “Real estate is a long-term investment, and I wanted to get into something that was more short-term, something that would allow me to work for myself the way I’m doing now.”

He started modestly with Wingstop and Billy Sims BBQ. In 2018, he took a bigger step, signing on with Scooter’s Coffee. “I started researching a lot of different coffee concepts and visited multiple places, but I just kept coming back to Scooter’s. The brand always bubbled to the top of the list.”

Music, who now has 16 Scooter’s and a development schedule to open 45 stores, says he’d like to reach the 25 mark in a year. “Every conversation I had with the people at corporate, I was impressed,” he says. “Being part of other concepts, I had a frame of reference. They definitely impressed me a lot. They know what they’re doing.”

He’s also adding Jersey Mike’s Subs to his portfolio, with his first set to open this fall. “I was attracted to Jersey Mike’s because they give back a lot,” he says. “They remind me of Scooter’s. They know what they’re doing, they have a clear vision, and I agree with it.”

Personal

First job: I went to the University of Iowa and got a degree in management information systems. I worked for a hospital and eventually got my master’s in medical informatics.

Formative influences/events: The landlord of where I put my Wingstop and BBQ concepts owns the whole complex and really wanted a coffee concept in the front part of the complex. I got to talking to the guy who runs my other concepts and thought, “You know, if they want something new, we might as well own it since we’re already here.” At that point, I started researching a lot of different coffee concepts and visited multiple places, but I just kept coming back to Scooter’s Coffee.

Key accomplishments: Some of my biggest accomplishments as a Scooter’s franchisee include being named Franchisee of the Year a couple of years ago and also receiving their Growth Award. In 2021, we had put in the most stores that year. I believe we added seven that year.

Biggest current challenge: Finding locations is probably my biggest challenge right now. You want the A+ location, and that spot will go for a premium cost. And the cost of construction has at least doubled for me in the last two to three years—and that’s to build the same kiosk.

Next big goal: We’re hoping to have 25 stores open in about a year. Then we want to have 45 stores not too long after that.

First turning point in your career: One day I just realized that I didn’t want to sit behind a desk anymore. I didn’t want to sit in meetings all the time. It’s just not who I am anymore. I like meeting new people. I like going out and looking at locations. I like construction. I like all the parts of the process. I am exactly where I want to be. That’s for sure.

Best business decision: I hired a multi-store leader to oversee my stores early on. I was still working full-time and the stores needed more attention than I could give them. If I wanted my business to grow and be successful, I needed to be a year or two ahead in planning. So I hired a very experienced leader who has been in the coffee industry for years and worked for a franchise group for a long time. That’s probably been my best business decision yet.

Hardest lesson learned: Trusting the process. With my first store, I really questioned how well it was going to do. In the first year, it wasn’t doing as well as I wanted it to do. And so I had really candid conversations with headquarters, and it came down to, “You need to get the speed. Your team needs to get faster.” I had to just step back and trust what they said. I invested in more labor to get that speed of service where it needed to be, and we’ve grown ever since.

Work week: Almost every day is different. At least once or twice a week, I’m traveling to different areas of Iowa and Illinois—mainly Illinois because that’s where most of our growth is coming from—and I’m looking for new locations. Multiple times during the week, maybe every day, I’m talking to my banks or with my accountants to figure out where we’re going to get capital.

Exercise/workout: I really love swimming. Breaststroke is my favorite swimming style. I love being outdoors, so anything outside is what I like doing. I do a lot of landscaping. I enjoy hiking. We actually live on some acreage, so we get to go exploring a bit.

Best advice you ever got: The best advice I ever got was from a leader I worked with probably 10 to 15 years ago. She said, “You can actually learn more from a bad leader than a good one because you learn how you don’t want to be.” I now make sure I strive to be the best leader I can. I really try to listen to people. That would be my best advice to anybody else, just

Have you had a mentor or role model? I built my first house when I was 23, and my banker was about my age. I got to know him pretty well, and he owned a lot of rental properties. He’d bought one house at a time and really hustled outside of his banking job. That got me thinking, “I can do this.” We got to be good friends.

What’s your passion in business? I enjoy the challenge of trying to always improve the business. I love taking something and making it better.

How do you balance life and work? Maintaining balance is easier now because when I worked full-time and did all this stuff on the side, I worked all day, all night, weekends, all the time. At least now, sure, I do work every day, but now it’s on my schedule, on my timeline. I can take my kids to doctor’s appointments now and don’t have to worry about a meeting coming up on my calendar.

Favorite movie: “Tommy Boy” is probably my favorite movie. It’s just stupid funny. I love stupid comedies.

What do most people not know about you? Well, we’re pretty private people. Most people around here probably don’t know that I own a bunch of Scooter’s Coffee locations. They don’t know I own multiple businesses outside of Scooter’s Coffee.

Pet peeve: Probably laziness.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A police officer.

Last vacation: We just got back from our last trip! We went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s a really pretty area. We’ve been there before and really enjoyed it, so we decided to make our way back.

Person I’d most like to have lunch with: My grandpa. He passed away a few years back.

Management

Business philosophy: Treat your employees as well as you can. I try to add a new benefit for employees every year. You attract great people and retain them when you provide benefits. I truly think that if you treat your employees well, they will take care of your business.

Management method or style: It’s changed. It used to be lead by example when I was closer to the operations and really in the weeds. As the business has grown, I’ve gotten further removed. Now, I strive to be overly communicative with my employees. I want my team to be part of the decision-making. I value everyone’s input and opinions.

How do others describe you? When I was working for others, you might hear the words “intelligent” or “dependable.” Within the business I’ve created, I think most would say that I’m nice and easy to get along with.

One thing I’m looking to do better: I’d like to see my employees more and get more of a chance to interact with them. It’s harder now with stores being farther away from where I live. When I had stores only in my hometown, I was able to stop in regularly. My team knew me.

How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: We give our employees goals, and we give them the latitude to make decisions depending on their level of management. We definitely empower our employees to let us know if there’s something that we can do better.

How close are you to operations? I’m definitely a lot further removed than I ever have been. I have multiple district managers and a VP who run about 99% of the operations. Right now, I’m finding locations and working with the banks to build them.

What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Industry trends and innovation.

What do you need from your vendors? People may not know this, but Scooter’s owns it all. It’s a vertically integrated supply chain, so in a sense, it’s all the same vendor. I like that model. When your franchisor is controlling your supply chain, you know your interests are aligned.

Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? I don’t know if it’s because of the economy or just because we’re learning more, but we definitely have changed a little bit. We get out into the community more. We want our managers out in and interacting with the community. We make it a priority to give back.

How is social media affecting your business? We are affected by reviews on Google or Yelp. If someone has a bad experience, there’s a process. If they call or email, we’ll be notified. We call those people and find out how we can make it right. That’s the only way we’re going to get better. We take that very seriously.

How do you hire and fire? We take our time when we hire. We really vet the candidate to make sure we get the right person. We try not to fire too much, but if we do, we like to fire fast.

How do you train and retain? We’ve been building a training program that will be standardized for all new employees. One of my managers has transitioned to become the head of training. One of our stores has become a training store for corporate as well. We retain our employees by offering flexible schedules and benefits.

How do you deal with problem employees? Depending on the issue, the district manager or a VP will be involved. They do a good job of taking care of it.

Fastest way into your doghouse? Not being nice. I went to our district manager after I had an unpleasant experience at the Scooter’s in my hometown—an employee at the window who was unpleasant—she wasn’t even smiling.

COVID-19

How did Covid-19 affect your business? Scooter’s, as a strictly drive-thru operation, wasn’t affected like many other businesses were. In fact, it really had the opposite effect. Covid seemed to accelerate our growth. I worried that sales would slow when everything started opening up again, but they didn’t. They’re still growing.

How have you responded? Scooter’s implemented safety protocols surrounding the contact between the customer and the barista.

What changes do you think will be permanent? Staffing has changed from four people to two or three people. And the new stores are bigger.

Bottom Line

Annual revenue: Right about $13 million.

2023 and 2024 goals: We are trying to get another three or four stores open by the end of this year. I am hoping to get to 20 stores. I am buying land now for next year, and as soon as the ground here thaws, I can start building. My goal is to get a couple of Jersey Mike’s up and seven to 10 Scooter’s.

Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? The number of stores as well as year-to-year sales growth. But also, the personnel growth. I like seeing employees who have been with me for a while grow and advance in the organization.

Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? My 5-year plan is to be a $100 million company. My wife and I are both trying to retire in 10 years when we are 55. I will still be involved, but not in the same capacity as I am now. I’ll have managers in place to handle operations.

Do you have brands in different segments? I also have Wingstop and Billy Sims BBQ, and we started building our first Jersey Mike’s in September.

How is the economy in your regions affecting you, your employees, your customers? I would say employee pay is probably the biggest thing it’s affecting. Wages are going up for everyone. Trying to balance what we can afford versus what people need to survive and to do better in their lives, that’s tough.

How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? We are fortunate. We’ve realized people are going to get their cup of coffee regardless of their bank account and their debts.

What are the best sources for capital expansion? We have been selling, doing some sale-leasebacks on some of our properties to raise that capital, so we don’t have to borrow any more money. We’re trying to borrow as little as possible. Once you get to 20 or 25 stores, a lot of them will pay for themselves anyway.

Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? In my opinion, if you can work with the local bank, you work with the local bank. I feel like they get to know you. They care about you. We have used a capital group and they were fine, but you’re definitely just another number to them.

What are you doing to take care of your employees? We evaluate every quarter and award one manager a gift card. We give bonuses.

How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.? We’re in two different states: Iowa and Illinois. Iowa’s minimum wage is $7.25, and in Illinois, it’s $13 and going to $14 at the beginning of the year. It’s tough. We just have to accept that the margins are different between the two states.

What laws and regulations are affecting your business, and how are you dealing with them? The employment and labor laws are very different between the two states. So we have to be very aware of them. We’re lucky that we don’t have a lot of full-time employees. Most of our employees are part-time on purpose because we have shorter shifts. We have HR consultants we can talk to for help navigating that.

How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? We praise the employees who go above and beyond, not only by telling them, but also by offering rewards. Sometimes, we’ll have contests between the stores, and the winner gets a pizza party or the chance to go bowling. We also give out gift cards, little stuff like that.

What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? Our strategy is changing. We’ve kicked around the idea of having another group purchase the majority of the business and operate it while we keep a minor share. We also thought about keeping the real estate and selling the business. That’s changed a little bit because of the cost of building and the value of these buildings, because we are in them, is just astronomical. I’ve got people coming to me wanting to buy them. Then last year we started thinking about sale-leasebacks. I really don’t know where we’ll land.

Published: January 13th, 2024

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