Despite the emphasis of drive-thru sales at most coffee bars, as the pandemic fades in many states, many guests want their beverages consumed inside, where they can sit and relax.
But don’t tell that to rapidly expanding Biggby Coffee. A chain of 260 franchised coffee stores (none company-owned), it has a rather impressive 140 stores in development, though no firm dates on when all will go live.
Its growth stems from a shift in consumer behavior, explains Michael McFall, CEO of Biggby Coffee who is based in Lansing and Ann Arbor, Michigan. During the pandemic, “people would leave their house, do grocery shopping and drop in a local coffee shop, go through the drive-thru and have seven minutes of normalcy and love it.”
McFall says, “We saw a large increase to our drive-thru traffic during the pandemic, as many of our lobbies were closed. We’ve seen significant system wide sales growth overall since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Its revenue dipped at the beginning of the pandemic but from May 2020 until July 2021, its sales spiked from 25% to 30% over the 14-month period.
In many of its new retail shops, it has developed its BCubed Model, a 349-square foot drive-thru design that is movable and expandable. It has been introduced with new and existing franchise owners in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
McFall says it has emphasized a convivial service style, but how achieve it with drive-thru sales, which are often rapid-paced and executed via an intercom? He claims that “it doesn’t take long for the barista to know your car and your name. If you’ve driven through six times in three weeks, they’ll get to know you.”
But aren’t many consumers ready to sit inside at a coffee shop, take a deep breath, and do work on their laptops? McFall responds that “The number of people that have the luxury to sit and hang out in a coffee shop is low. People are harried and on the go.”
Yet he acknowledges that some people working remotely from home “want to get out of their house, and want to work at a local coffee place for a change of pace.”
Another factor in its growth has been selecting area representatives, who are experienced franchisees, who know the local area and help develop and support new franchisees. It has 16 of them throughout its target areas.
Though critics say expanding too fast can be a trap, McFall contends that these local experts counteract overly rapid growth.
Moreover, McFall says it has concentrated on a tight geographic area, in mostly Michigan, northern Ohio and northern Indiana. That provides “a powerful engine that allows us to make strategic investments and grow more rapidly,” he points out.
“Often times,” he says, “when you see a franchise grow too quickly, they disperse, and don’t have the resources to support a remote store.”
Given a choice between Starbucks coffee and Biggby’s, McFall responds that “Starbucks roasts their coffee too dark. It’s not a profile that the general American consumer appreciates.”
While many coffee stores emphasize third-party delivery, Biggby’s doesn’t. “We’re not working at it; it’s not something that’s important to us,” he declares.
But drive-thrus, according to McFall, are here to stay. “Relaxing is not a part of most people’s lives. So the drive-thru is a convenience model,” he notes.