Why I Franchised My Business: BIGGBY® COFFEE Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Bob Fish and Mike McFall

Category: Company News


The masterminds behind the specialty coffee franchise spoke with 1851 Franchise to tell us more about their thought process during the early days, as well as the franchising lessons they’ve learned along the way.


BIGGBY® COFFEE, the Michigan-based specialty coffee shop franchise with over 280 units nationwide, has become a beloved institution for customers and franchisees alike since its founding just three decades ago. This is thanks in large part to the franchise’s “commitment to genuine care” — a philosophy that guides every facet of the brand’s customer- and franchisee-facing operations.


The BIGGBY® COFFEE leadership team, which includes co-founders and co-CEOs Bob Fish and Mike McFall, prides itself on its dedication to providing franchisees and employees a unique opportunity to build lives that they love. 1851 Franchise spoke with Fish and McFall to learn more about the brand’s story and how this love-centric approach to franchising took shape.



1851 Franchise: How did the BIGGBY® COFFEE Brand start?


Bob Fish: Another partner and I opened the first cafe in 1995, and a year later we hired Mike McFall as a barista. Essentially, we were looking to open a second location, and my partner had recommended that I talk to Michael about a manager position. Michael and I got together at the cafe and had a chat. I had never really met him because we worked different shifts, and we ended up going for a walk, and after a few hours, it was clear we shared the same values and ambitions. We shook hands that day with plans to grow the brand.


Mike McFall: But we didn’t know we were going to franchise at first. We just knew we wanted to form an entity we could utilize to grow the brand, whether that meant seeking investors to grow more corporate locations, and so on. We ended up in franchising because a whole bunch of people kept calling us asking to franchise! It was really a demand-led decision, and it wasn’t rocket science to figure out franchising could be a strong path. We started looking deeper into the business model and teamed up with Mary Ellen Sheets, a franchise expert at TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, who spent a lot of time with us and gave us insight into what we needed to do to prepare for franchising.



1851 Franchise: Why did you decide to franchise the business over corporate growth only?


McFall: Mary was really a huge advocate of the franchising business model, which really helped sway our decision. TWO MEN AND A TRUCK had been very successful, and we learned all about the dynamic between the franchisee and franchisor, as well as the value of the entrepreneurial spirit and outside energy that franchisees bring to the table. They come in fired up and ready to build a business. To this day, that drive is one of the most beneficial components to franchising. They also bring a sophisticated, diverse background to the brand.


Fish: We knew we wanted to grow the concept — there was no doubt about that. But in terms of taking the organic corporate growth route, we knew it would be a lot slower. Franchising can really accelerate your growth, and that appealed to Michael and I for different reasons. But the main conclusion we’ve come to retrospectively is that we just love teaching people. It is a quid-pro-quo relationship, yes, but we like coaching and helping others build a business. Franchising allows you to do all those things, while also growing the brand faster. It allows you to be a coach, and we found that to be very rewarding. We never looked back and said: “Why did we franchise?” It has been a very happy journey for us all-around.


Another reason we franchised was because we knew specialty coffee and franchising go hand-in-hand. We are really in two industries — franchising and specialty coffee — and those two fit together well. In comparison to other retail concepts, for example, a coffee shop really thrives if it is owned locally. Franchising allows you to have that local ownership, while also benefiting from the proven systems and procedures in place.



1851 Franchise: What have you learned about franchising, and what advice do you have for other business owners thinking of franchising?


McFall: I would say the biggest thing is making sure you are ready to take full responsibility. If you are willing to take responsibility as a franchisor for the capital investment that the franchisees are going to make and own that yourself, then go ahead and start a franchise. The franchisees are looking to you to be a leader and ensure that their investment is safe, so you have to work hard to make that a reality.




About The BIGGBY® COFFEE Franchise


The BIGGBY® COFFEE brand, based in East Lansing, Mich., was started with a single store on March 15, 1995. One year later, and on the cusp of opening a second location, Bob Fish and Michael McFall, on a handshake and $4,000, decided to franchise the concept. The brand’s cultural values of Make Friends, Have Fun, B Yourself and Share Great Coffee help coffee-lovers and the coffee-curious alike benefit from a less pretentious and fun approach to the standard gourmet cafe paradigm. Besides connoisseur-worthy drinks with names like Teddy Bear® and Caramel Marvel®, baristas with the BIGGBY® COFFEE brand provide a unique experience focused on brightening their customers’ day and supporting them in building a life they love. The “Big ‘B’” on the orange background caught on, and today the BIGGBY® COFFEE brand has more than 280 cafes across many states including Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Florida. In 2018 the BIGGBY® COFFEE brand launched an Area Representative Program and currently has 17 Area Representatives in 8 states.




Cassidy McAloon