Rustic Entrepreneur Spotlight: Ross Street Roasting Co. -Turn coffee drinkers into coffee lovers.
About the founder - Brian Gumm
I'm Brian Gumm: Founder, Co-owner, & Head Roaster of Ross Street Roasting Co. Six years ago I started roasting specialty coffee in my garage which sits on Ross Street in Toledo, Iowa. My first roaster was a popcorn popper, and I was roasting coffee to give friends and family for Christmas gifts. I fell in love with the craft immediately and it wasn't long before I started daydreaming about starting a coffee roasting business. In early 2015, I wrote a crappy business plan, found some investors through my personal network, and we went into business together in April 2015.
My wife and I both grew up in rural Iowa, but moved away after high school for college and to start our family and professional lives. We lived in the Des Moines area until our late 20s and decided to move to western Virginia to attend graduate school. Between the 2 of us, we picked up 3 masters degrees upon graduation in 2012. After a job opportunity for me overseas didn't pan out, we decided to move back to my wife's home community of Tama-Toledo, Iowa - two connected small towns that when combined total about 5k people. We've been here for just over 7 years.
I was in my mid-30s when I started the Ross Street Roasting, and I had previously worked in the information technology field and in higher education. So this was kind of my "third career." I started the business as a part-time side hustle while I was still working in higher education, telecommuting for the university in Virginia where I'd attended grad school. After 2 years, my higher ed position ended and I went full-time with the business in 2017. The past 2 years have been difficult on the personal income side, as the business hasn't exactly been capable of paying me a full and consistent salary. In 2018, I worked as a park ranger at our county lake & park on nights and weekends, so that allowed me to continue working the business full-time. We tried to pay me a full salary this year, but after 6 months it was just burning too much cash, so I've just had to make peace with a very slim paycheck from the business since August, and in September I started looking for full-time work back in the IT industry I'd left at age 29. (I turned 40 this year.)
We hired our first employee earlier this year, and she's now 90% responsible for our production and order fulfillment, so that and a few other things we've outsourced have opened up the ability for me to go back and "get a real job," hehe.
The mission of Ross Street Roasting Co. and what exciting progress is on the horizon
Our mission at Ross Street Roasting Co. is to "Turn coffee drinkers into coffee lovers." We make good on that mission by focusing on 3 things: Quality, Freshness, & Relationships.
Quality - We source only Specialty-grade coffees, the top quality segment of coffees in the world. We then apply craft roasting techniques and quality control measures to ensure consistency and quality to all our customers.
Freshness - We roast and ship twice a week for all our customers. No one gets coffee that’s been sitting around for weeks.
Relationships With producers - We maintain two direct sourcing relationships to maximize our financial impact to coffee growing communities and families.With customers large and small, we work hard to deliver on our promises and listen and respond when customers have questions or concerns.
We sell direct to consumers through our website and have built up a nationwide customer base there. We also sell wholesale to other businesses: coffee shops, restaurants, corporate offices, and specialty grocery stores. Direct to consumer sales comprise about 40% of our gross sales and the rest is in our commercial channels.
As far as exciting things we've got going on, we're gearing up to have a successful and profitable 2020, now that we think we've got a "lean and mean" sales and operational plan. In January of 2019, we re-launched our branding (new logo, new product packaging, website refresh, etc.) and learned some good lessons last year when it comes to sales and marketing. So with those lessons under our belt and a firm foundation to build off of, we're set to really grow our commercial business this year as well as continue to grow out our direct-to-consumer business through the website.
I think we have a fun and engaging specialty coffee brand that brings "normal" coffee drinkers into the world of Specialty Coffee, so I'm really excited to expand on that in 2020 and beyond, and to finally hit consistent profitability.
What rural entrepreneurship means to Brian: Tips for entrepreneurial success
Rural entrepreneurship is really just plain old entrepreneurship in a rural context. So it's primarily that context that presents unique challenges to anyone with entrepreneurial ambitions living in a rural area. Resources in rural areas are often severely constrained relative to urban & suburban economies. Not only financial constraints but human resource constraints as well. Education levels are lower in rural areas, and work opportunities for educated professionals are much lower. In fact, that's part of the reason I started a business: I moved back to rural Iowa with 4 post-secondary degrees, over a decade of experience in two different industries, and had 0 job opportunities that used any of that experience and education directly. I was forced to get creative. If I had any advice or tips for other folks thinking about starting a business in rural areas...
If you're considering retail: Be realistic about the state of local brick & mortar retail in rural areas (Hint: It ain't pretty)
Leverage the internet as much as possible, to get you the largest possible customer base
Be active and engaging on social media, particularly Facebook
Network with entrepreneur communities in your nearest city (I've participated in the 1 Million Cups communities in Cedar Rapids & Des Moines, and that's a nationwide network)
Hire a bookkeeper/accountant sooner rather than later (I learned this the hard way)
Set measurable & realistic goals and hold yourself accountable to them somehow (I have investor-partners, so accountability is necessary for me).