Graduating from college with a major in German and a minor in business, Matt Higgins never imagined himself owning and operating a renowned international coffee company with a thriving wholesale business and multiple retail locations, but that’s exactly the dream he is enjoying today. His passion for coffee, which started while he worked as a barista in college, never diminished. After graduation he spent a few years working in Germany as a translator and marketer for a manufacturing company. The experience left him feeling unfulfilled professionally, so he decided to shift gears and do something he really loved.
He read everything he could get his hands on to learn more about the agronomy of coffee and landed a job as a green buyer for a large company. It was during that time that he acquired the experience and knowledge he needed to go out on his own. He launched Coava in his garage in 2008, selling beans as a wholesaler to two local cafés before building and opening his own retail café location in 2010. Since then, he has established a reputation for roasting some of the best single-source coffees around, winning a number of awards and a very loyal following. Today he runs four retail cafés and a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot roasting facility.
Coava has grown steadily over the past decade, challenging Higgins to maintain a balance between expansion and preserving the initial vision of the company. He does not want to lose sight of what makes Coava unique. With an infectious enthusiasm, he describes his commitment to working with sustainable producers in a number of countries. He trains his roasters and baristas with the skills they need to ensure his very high standards are met and is open to whatever the future holds as far as opportunities in wholesale, retail or franchising.
Higgins moved his roasting operation from his garage to the back room of his first retail café. A couple years later, he opened his second café and leased a small separate space for roasting. Before long, it became clear that it was time to find a location where he could install the roasting equipment he needed and have room for future expansion.
He had been able to fund his first café with proceeds from his wholesale roasting business, but as the business grew and he needed more complex equipment and facilities, finding the right banking partner was a critical factor in sustaining Coava’s growth.
“It’s important to me that I have a relationship with my bank. I want to be able to pick up the phone and talk to someone who knows me and my business. Banking is about more than just providing funds—it’s about earning my trust by offering me the guidance I need.” – Matt Higgins, owner, Coava
Admitting that his skills are not in the banking arena, Higgins approached one local bank and started the loan process, but found support there lacking and ultimately the process fell apart. Fortunately, he had a prior relationship with someone from KeyBank, so he called to set up a meeting. He loved the personal service and has been working with KeyBank ever since.
He didn’t know what kind of loan would work best for the business, but after conferring with the KeyBank team, chose a loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The bank worked with him closely every step of the way, helping him navigate the application and documentation process and answering all of his questions. KeyBank, an SBA Preferred Lender, offers a level of expertise and personal service unmatched by most other banks. That first loan enabled him to purchase and outfit the roasting operation; he has secured several other loans for expansion from KeyBank since then.
A majority of Coava’s business today is in wholesale, and Higgins expects that to remain true in the long run. He views the café locations as supplemental to the wholesale business because they allow him to reach new customers and strengthen the following of the brand. Coava buys many tons of green coffee annually, and Higgins spends six to eight weeks a year visiting the operations of his carefully selected suppliers. The company is proud of its suppliers and pays homage to them in its strategic marketing campaigns.
Higgins is a hands-on owner, personally involved in the design and construction of each new location, often doing the actual build-out himself. It’s the attention to detail and overflowing passion that make Coava the success it is today, more than quadrupling in revenue over the past five years and employing roughly 50 people. The SBA has taken note of his success, visiting Coava to learn more about his approach and just recently naming him as the SBA’s 2018 Oregon Small Business Person of the Year.
To learn more, contact a local KeyBank Relationship Manager or visit key.com/smallbusiness.