Love and Coffee Conquer All for First-Time Owner
The Library Coffeehouse of Hillsborough County
Marie Cullinan walked into the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County office a little over a year ago around Christmas. She sat down, a little nervous, and began to tell her consultant why she was here, and like most clients – she was ready to share her entrepreneurial venture story.
“I purchased a coffee house yesterday and I don’t know where to begin. I’ve never owned a business, but the opportunity arose and I took it,” she said.
Consultant Jennifer Whelihan, said, “Ok, let’s start with licensing.”
They sat together for a few hours that day as they worked through the process of licensing, discussing the business plan, the need for marketing and the assistance that FSBDC workshops and continued consultations can have for her business. As they talked about the process, she became more calm with the affirmation of knowing she was not alone, and she had help.
“I don’t know what I would have done without your team, from the first person I spoke to, Renee, who calmed my fears of buyers’ remorse and gave me encouragement with her professionalism.”
Cullinan got the initial help she needed to get started with her business to open her doors to the public. She says she was anxious to open because she didn’t want too much time to go by and potentially lose customers that come with purchasing an established business.
She and her business partner, Dawn, moved forward and opened their doors the day after New Year’s in 2012. They successfully turned a profit their first year in business. The Library Coffeehouse was also featured this year in a national industry publication, Barista Magazine.
The First Chapter
So how did it begin, this dream turn reality of owning her own business – a coffee shop.
“We want to ensure our customers have a great experience,” Cullinan said. And they do. Well after closing, a client of theirs stays to finish his coffee and wrap-up his reading as they clean up shop for the day.
Cullinan is a coffee historian. She says she goes to other coffee shops all the time and doesn’t see them as competitors because she loves learning about coffee.
The Organic Timeline
Marie and Dawn met in L.A. eight years ago. Both worked for an art exhibit. Marie had lived in San Francisco and fell in love with the independent neighborhood coffee shops. She went to coffee school for five days in Oregon to some day buy a business.
“I told her to start writing a list of what she wanted in order to pursue her dream and to picture her reality of having a coffee shop. She’s so impatient,” Dawn laughs and remembers the day Marie told her that she bought The Library Coffeehouse.
After the art exhibit tour was over, Marie and Dawn moved to Florida closer to family. Marie says she tried getting hired at local coffee shops and couldn’t, except one, Barney’s in Orlando.
“I knew I was going to work in coffee, just didn’t know my first job would be as a manager.” Marie came to Tampa later that year to pursue her entrepreneur business dream and it happened on Christmas Eve. She opened her doors January 2 to her first business venture.
“When I met with Marie we talked about waiting to open to market her business. We weighed the different options and walked through the steps of opportunities and threats, and Marie successfully decided to open,” certified business consultant, Jennifer Whelihan, said.
Marie says she lived on her parents couch for a few weeks, all for the chance to have this business, and soaked up as much information and resources as she could.
“I’m so supportive of what you do for businesses, the classes, the consultations, the resources, the direction – all are needed for new and growing businesses. I tell everyone I can about you.”
She adds the business services offered are valuable, especially for new business owners. “The first couple of months were scary with the permits and the process. I know I couldn’t have figured it out on my own. That phone call saved my business.”
Coffee shops are growing in popularity. “Sometimes we’re our biggest threat. I wanted just a coffee shop, but you have to provide other commodities if you want to sustain your business and grow. Dawn rocks the food part of our business. We’re a good balance for each other.”
Success and building the business takes time and involves a business mind approach. Dawn adds, “When you’re buying a business are you going to be the risk-taker or the conservative type? Are you going to go in debt or be conservative? We’re happy not going into debt.”
Marie says she used her savings to open the business and paid cash for it. “We can’t be in debt because of the business, it’s our choice,” Dawn said.
Looking back, Marie knows she made the right choice. “I know better now what it takes and yes I would still have bought the business.” She added, “The best part of buying an existing business is that you already have customers and yet the expectations can still be difficult because of inevitable change with new ownership, new ideas, new opportunities.”
The goal this year is to get a paycheck each month for both Marie and Dawn. They also planned to take a short vacation in July.
Creatively they plan to expand the products they offer with grab-and-go coffee and food, as well as bring in more coffee and chocolate products.