Coffee has been my family’s business for three generations, and I’ve always tried to find ways to bring the business to life for my young sons.
Now, with the back-to-school scenario still in flux over the best way to resume education amid the pandemic, I’ve been getting even more creative about turning everyday occurrences into teachable moments for them.
Small business is not just business, it’s like life. After immigrating to the U.S., my dad, Henry, bought our business in 1983 and has been hand-roasting coffee since he was a kid. He’s an icon in our neighborhood shop, and now a distinctive part of our social media storytelling. You can practically smell the beans in our Instagram shots of him. But when I was a kid, he dragged me in on Saturdays to help when I’d rather have been watching Saturday morning cartoons. I love it now, not so much then. It took a turn in corporate finance and years of watching my dad nurture the shop to develop an appreciation for what a great business it is.
To get my sons excited, I look at each of them individually – their strengths and the things that they’re passionate about – and see if there’s a way that I can connect the business with what they enjoy. I don’t know that they’ll grow up and join the shop, but I have found out that honing in on what they’re already interested in is really powerful. I have a feeling that when they get older, these are going to be life lessons that will help them in whatever career they choose.
With that in mind, following is a look at some of the lessons we’ve shared about business, family, and life. My hope is that by reading about our family you’ll take something away that resonates with your own, and perhaps even help your own entrepreneurial journey as we all spend more time at home. Meet Daron, 13, the cerebral one. Sevag, 10, the born haggler. And Vaun, 7, aka #thethirdchild – confident, independent and a builder:
- There’s a story in every bean. My eldest son loves music, reading and social studies. Anytime you get him to talk about language or countries his eyes light up. We explore where our coffee is from, find it on a map and talk about our roasters and the cultures we source from. I was considering Ethiopian beans – Sidama and Yirgacheffe – and I asked him to do some research for me. In nothing flat he’d turned what he found into a five-slide presentation and displayed it on our TV for me. For employees at any decent coffee shop now, knowledge is everything and it’s a huge part of what we offer – so I use some of his research when we train someone new.
- That whole $50 doesn’t go into your pocket. My middle son, Sevag, is a very savvy negotiator who is always trying to up the ante on the quantity or quality of any gift that is coming his way. He was born a businessman. We play a game at home with an audible “ka-ching” notification on my phone whenever a $50 order comes in for our online business. “That’s fifty bucks!” all three sons holler out. To teach him about finance, I explained to Sev that it doesn’t all go in your pocket. There’s the cost of goods sold – let’s say $20 for the cost of the coffee, the bag, the sticker, employee time. He gets really excited by that. Now, when the $50 order ka-ching comes in, he hollers “thirty bucks!”
- Breaking down the grinder to get to a connection. My youngest wants to be a general contractor, he’s just a natural builder. I had a coffee grinder that had broken down and I asked him to help me take it apart so we could clean it. He got to use his screwdriver and see how the machine works. I explained to him what a burr is and what the dial is for. We talked about why you have to grind the coffee a certain way. It was a way for me to have a natural conversation with him about an aspect of the family business using a part of his life that he is really good at.
Business is Family, and Every Family has a Story
My kids and I are learning more and more every day in quarantine that education doesn’t just happen in school.
The pandemic has meant struggle for small shops everywhere and I consider myself very fortunate in that I’d already started building our online business before it hit. Everyone drinks coffee, and with so many coffee roasters out there, our key differentiator is our family and our family story.
Over the dinner table one night, the boys were curious about why I’d been getting home so much earlier. I told them we’d shortened the hours and why that’s necessary. Naturally, Sevag’s first response was, “well, if you shorten your hours you’re not gonna make as much money.”
That led to a great exchange about how when you run a business, it’s important to have different ways of making money. In our example, we have a cafe, we have wholesale customers and we have online. I explained that while one part of the business may be down, another part – in this case our online business – is doing much better and so overall, we’re doing well.
And I think part of our online success is that we treat customers like family. We went from a couple of dozen orders a month in 2014 to 1,500 now. Part of that was shelter-in-place and people stocking up, but we were ready for it. And we take it very personally.
If an online customer from North Dakota comes to Henry’s House of Coffee, they’ve spent time looking at my ads, they went to my website. If they don’t like the coffee they received, I’ll give them a different one for free. They’ve gotten to know my family and our story on Facebook and Instagram, and I want to know them. I don’t make money on the first or second bag of coffee I sell someone online, I make money when they become a customer that comes back again and again.
In this crazy time, I’ve learned a lot more about my three kids than I think I ever would have. In 10 years, I’d like to think that I will look back and think, yes, in 2020 there was COVID-19. But that was also a time when I was coming home at 2 p.m., I was spending a lot of time with my kids, we were doing things together that I might not normally have so much time for, and I learned a lot about my business too.