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Customer service is big with Biggby franchise owner

She runs the coffee shop more like a mom-and-pop operation.

November 13, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Walk into Biggby Coffee on Gezon Parkway in Wyoming, and a “Hello!” is on its way.

And it usually comes from Michelle Willis, the franchisee of the location at 1033 Gezon Parkway SW. The coffee shop had been open less than a year when Willis brought home the best customer service award at Biggby’s annual franchise meeting in August.

The award is based on reports from visiting secret shoppers and focuses on a variety of areas from speed of service to quality to friendliness of the staff.

Willis largely attributes the success to the way she and her family treat the store — more like a mom and pop set-up, and she demonstrated the service by stopping her interview with the Business Journal every time a customer walked in or out of the store. She knows many of the customers who come through the door by name or by what they always order.

Her years of sales experience prior to motherhood were put to good use when it came to customer service, she said.

“We want to take it a step further than other places,” Willis said. “Customers can choose to go to other shops, but they choose ours, and we want them to come back.”

Willis started the franchise in September 2014 after years of being a stay-at-home mom to her three children, now 19, 16 and 11. When the youngest was old enough, Willis decided it was time to realize a life-long dream of owning a business. The family began looking at franchise options because having the system already in place would help ease them into ownership. “Why reinvent the wheel?” she asked.

There was something about the Biggby Coffee concept, started by founder “Biggby Bob” Fish back in the 1990s, that appealed.

“Biggby just stuck with us; he started it to be personal,” she said. “And it’s Michigan-based. We put it all together and it just made sense.”

A Biggby franchise can be started for approximately $200,000, which made financial sense for the Willis family. Some franchises, such as McDonald’s, can run more than $700,000.

Willis makes sure her presence is felt within the store, working at least five days a week behind the counter. She said she’d like to open another location or even two, but not so many that she couldn’t at least work two days a week in each.

“That’s crucial. Otherwise, I lose the connection with the customers,” Willis said. “When you’re not there, you lose control and you lose the reason you started it all.”

Family is part of the game, too, she said. Willis’ husband, Tim, is a corporate accountant, but she said he wouldn’t mind being involved in the coffee shop more when it begins to make sense, financially. Renee, her 11-year-old, often works the counter, as well.

“She can tell you anything about profits and expenses,” Willis said, laughing. “It’s a life lesson you can’t get anywhere else.”

She said most franchises don’t recommend hiring employees under 18 because they don’t have experience. But Willis doesn’t mind hiring inexperienced employees because they offer a blank slate. There are no ingrained “bad habits” that need to be broken, she said.

Willis believes her presence makes the difference in how customers are treated by her employees when they walk in the door.

“I’m there and interacting, and the baristas understand why customer service is important,” she said. “If it’s their first job, it’s important to teach them work ethic and the importance of the client. It’s a golden opportunity to teach them.”

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