Cool beans

With it rapidly approaching 300 stores across the United States, drive-thru coffeehouse chain Scooter’s Coffee continues to deliver amazing products, amazingly fast in what is an ultra-competitive segment

Meteoric may, to some, seem like a grandiose phrase to use when describing the success that a business has had over a particular period of time. Nevertheless, in the case of Scooter’s Coffee (Scooter’s) – one of the fastest growing coffeehouse chains in the United States – the term feels totally apropos when one examines how it has fared since it last featured within FoodChain in 2018.

“We presently find ourselves in the midst of a period of really explosive growth,” explains Tim Arpin, Scooter’s Vice President of Franchise Sales. “To give you some context to this, we opened a total of 64 new stores in 2019 alone, and have plans to open another 80-to-100 by the end of 2020. This will take our entire estate over the 300-store mark, closing in on 400 as we continue to move towards our goal of having approximately 1000 stores by the end of 2024. At the same time, our existing stores continue to achieve double digit sales growth, which is simply incredible.”

The keys to the company’s success since it was first established in 1998 – when co-founders Don and Linda Eckles opened their first drive-thru coffeehouse in Bellevue, Nebraska – have been finding great locations for its stores and having staff who are committed to high quality drinks, speed of service, and first-class customer service. But, what have been the other factors that have contributed to Scooter’s more recent prosperity?

“There are a couple of elements in play, the first being driven internally, and that is the fact that around three years ago the leadership of the business made a concerted effort to invest time and resources into building an in-house support structure that was specifically designed to support rapid growth,” Tim continues. “Scooter’s built up an incredibly robust operations support network, complete with training, construction, real estate and sales teams – the latter of which included myself – and only then did we really put our foot on the gas from an expansion perspective. That is the right way to franchise, and while it takes a great deal of vision and fortitude, it has now started to bear fruit for us with the opening of new stores that are consistently exceeding expectations.

“The second factor driving our business is two pronged. The first is the ongoing popularity of coffee and coffeehouses in the United States, which represent what was a $230 billion industry in 2019, and which continues to grow at almost five per cent per annum, and the fact that there is no other player in the market who can do what Scooter’s does so well, which is deliver such a fast, efficient service through a drive-thru window.”

The phrase that Scooter’s lives by is, ‘Amazing People, Amazing Drinks… Amazingly Fast!’ It is what Tim describes as the company’s laser like focus on these fundamentals that means it is unrivalled in this drive-thru space. “Approximately half of all cups of coffee purchased outside of the home in the United States today is done so through a drive-thru window,” he details. “In the case of our competitors, the average customer wait time at one of their windows is five minutes. Scooter’s average is 40 seconds, and we achieve that while still providing exceptional service, which – as you can imagine – our customers love.”

Core values
It is those customers whose evolving tastes and needs need to be met by Scooter’s if it is to remain their number one choice in a highly competitive market. “The fundamentals we stick too when it comes to our menu will never go away, and those are ensuring that we offer great drip coffee, amazing hot and cold beverages, and excellent baked goods,” Tim says. “Alongside that, the palate of the typical American consumer is becoming ever more sophisticated. In response to this, we have invested in the very best coffee roasters that money can buy, and are working hard to build a growing ‘Relationship Coffee’ network, where we source beans directly from passionate farmers around the world. This is a mutually beneficially partnership, one in which Scooter’s receives the top ten per cent of beans produced in major farming regions, while farmers themselves are able to make a more profitable living by not being as exposed to commodity pricing.”

With all of the signs pointing towards Scooter’s comfortably reaching its goal of between 80 and 100 new store openings in 2020 – and with plans on track to secure a further 200 store commitments in that time as well – the appetite for the brand is clearly alive and well. “More and more people in the quick-service restaurant space (QSR) are looking for 47a higher margin, lower waste franchise model to tap into, and the coffeehouse market certainly fits that criteria,” Tim confirms. “For us personally, we will also be receptive to prospective franchisees that identify Scooter’s as being their preferred route into this space, as long as they align with our core values – Integrity, Love, Humility and Courage – which will never change, not matter how much larger we become!”