The recipe for small business success this year was harder to crack than the New York Times Sunday crossword. Many businesses — roughly 60 percent according to an August Economic Impact Report by Yelp — closed down for 14 days, never to reopen. The restaurant industry was on the front lines of the economic battle against COVID-19; arguably, it still is even months after the first stay-at-home-order. So, hearing small coffee franchise owner, Carl Churchill of Alpha Coffee report that his business is “stronger than ever,” is not only unexpected at this point in 2020, but it likely has you leaning in for that Phoenix rising from the ashes, feel-good story you’ve been craving this year, and it pairs well with a hot cup of their Warrior Select brew.
To be clear, Alpha Coffee was hit by COVID — hard. They had just opened a second coffee shop in Utah when the state essentially closed for business. In-store ordering and in-store pickup were axed, only leaving the option for curbside pickup. Churchill and his wife, Lori, needed to adapt to the changing situation, and they needed to move quickly.
Immediately, “[we gathered our] small leadership team and came up with a plan of attack,” Churchill said.
If all of this sounds a bit like the plot of a war movie based on a true story, there’s a reason for that. Churchill joined the Army at the age of 17, eventually commissioning and reaching the rank of colonel before retiring after 21 years. His background, accompanied by Lori, who was no stranger to resilience and adaptability as a veteran military spouse, proved that Alpha Coffee was prepared to stand its ground and fight the changing economic climate.
Loyalty is something of a gospel in the military. You take care of your own. For that reason, Churchill and Lori opted to stay operational during the pandemic, and they promised hours to any employees who needed them. Behind the scenes, they launched an employee emergency fund on the GoFundMe platform, raising $10,000 in a week. Their unwavering commitment to the Alpha Coffee team and the customer loyalty and generosity saw them through what Churchill calls “that first dicey six weeks.”
All factors combined, Alpha Coffee survived a $40,000 loss in in-store revenue in April 2020. But thanks to their overnight changes to their point-of-sale system that made online ordering possible and their quick outreach to their loyal patrons, online sales increased by $12,000 in a month. And, despite the darkness of “the COVID hole,” Alpha Coffee never stopped their give-back program that provides Coffee for Troops donations. In fact, those have increased, and they expect to soon surpass 19,000 donated bags of coffee.
“COVID was a test of our ability to rapidly react to constantly changing requirements, keep our team and customers safe, and maintain profitability in a very challenging environment. We came through with flying colors due to formulating a battle plan, a lot of hard work, and our team pulling together,” Churchill said.
The future looks bright for Alpha Coffee. If you need further proof of that, just ask their newly hired baristas, new sales and marketing manager, or the military spouses they have hired for remote positions. The two brick-and-mortar locations in Utah are still rocking and rolling (or is it grinding and roasting), and plans for additional locations are already in motion. But, the beauty of their online functionality is that you can get their coffee (whole bean, ground or K-Cup) anywhere by ordering on their website or Amazon.
When talking about the plans for Alpha Coffee in 2021, Churchill noted that COVID not only taught them how to function in a crisis, but what changes they may want to keep with their new stores.
“One thing we will continue is curbside delivery and we will focus on adding drive-through options to future shops as well. And we will increase the outside dining options as well,” Churchill said.
This year hasn’t been easy, but thanks to Alpha Coffee, acquiring a big cup of resilience and teamwork is.
“COVID…taught us that we have incredibly loyal customers who not only love our products and our service but our mission and our commitment to our mission and employees. We do it because it is the right way to run a company, but a side benefit is that customers recognize it and want to support a company that reflects their values.”