The Finding That Next Gear Podcast

Beau Billington with Ben Vollmar

Ben Vollmar
Executive Leader and Founder of Flatlands and Business Consultant and Life Coach of DMB Coaching

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Episode Summary

Here is another episode of “Finding that Next Gear” with Beau Billington. In this podcast, we interview Ben Vollmar, the Executive Leader and Founder of Flatlands coffee.

Every organization needs at least one person who just stays up at night, obsessing about the consumer, obsessing about the person you are serving.  Let’s hear how important this obsession is to customer service.

Transcription

Interview with Ben Vollmar
Host: Beau Billington

Beau 0:07
Hello everybody Beau Billington with another episode of finding that next year sitting here with Ben Vollmar. Thanks so much for joining, Ben.

Ben 0:15
Yes, thanks for having me, Beau.

Beau 0:18
So I think you’ve got a pretty cool business here. Flatlands Coffee, based in Ohio started off as kind of a Brick and Mortar which I want to get to the backstory there. And now you’re kind of going for E-commerce, with the ability to really kind of expand your presence, your reach, and get good coffee out there. Prior to jumping into everything that’s kind of a little bit more about who you are and why you’re so passionate about coffee. Where does that come from?

Ben 0:42
Yeah, sure.

So for a lot of entrepreneurs who start something, it’s because we have this extreme obligation, this inherent desire to make something great to fill a void, or we’re really passionate about something. And so finding that North Star is key, right? Whatever your driving factor there is, so maybe, like coffee was such a part of that. I mean, at first, it’s like a romantic thing. There’s so many people that dream of opening a coffee shop someday because it’s like a romantic thing to do.

So working in the industry, just seeing how much we’re able to influence so many people in the community, turned their day around, that was a big component and then fell in love with the product. Realizing in our area in my town, there was no idea that this population doesn’t even know of the kind of quality coffees that are out there that they invested in.

Beau 1:37
Folgers.

Ben 1:42
A lot of the darker roast coffee, nothing against darker roast coffee, right. But the higher end coffees generally want to taste the bean rather than the roaster. So if you’re resisting it more delicately, like a coffee should have a natural sweetness, coffees or fruit.

And so if you have a really great quality coffee roasted properly, you’re going to taste a natural sweetness, the smoothies can be great. So it’s your same great roasted coffee that you’re enjoying at home just done unforgettably.

Beau 2:13
Like that.

Ben 2:15
So that’s where the passion started for me.

Beau 2:18
Awesome. And so were you always planning on opening up a Brick and Mortar store? Was that the goal? Were you always in the back of your mind when you thought about E-commerce as well? Or did you start with Brick and Mortar and then think, Hey, how can I express beyond our reach? Get our coffee and go to homes that maybe aren’t in Bowling Green Ohio?

Ben 2:36
Yeah, Brick and Mortar can be scary for a lot of people.

Beau 2:40
The hard assets. And it’s the cost associated?

Ben 2:44
Absolutely. And I mean, right now, there’s a huge surge in E-commerce. It is safer, it is kind of smart, you can test your product, you could test it in the market, I do recommend you can start online, because that’s like a really good way to go and get guests feedback ahead of time.

For me, I have been extremely passionate about a cafe setting, and passionate about the guest service element, the face to face interaction, which was completely stripped away from us and 2021 and 2020 with COVID. So I wanted to open the shop, we were doing the best we can like as a young 21 year old, just a young college business student telling, the Chamber of Commerce, I want to open a coffee shop in town and they just roll their eyes at me, you know, and like, oh, no, we already have one coffee shop like we don’t need another one.

So, but I just knew the vision, I knew the passion. I had this burning desire to make this happen in a server community and I knew that people would enjoy another space to hang out and enjoy the community that we have here in town because as a college town, small college town, we have a lot of bars. And that was like the only hangout scene I mean, other than this other coffee shop

Beau 4:06
So if you want your work done you don’t necessarily want to be drinking. At least I don’t go to coffee shops. I have local cafes around here that I go to different ones, weekly and that’s where I get our two hours with the work, I get my espresso and life’s good.

Ben 4:20
Yes and the burgers don’t even open until like four. For me I’m a morning person like all my productive times already gone by the time like all these places are open anyway.
So, just with burning the values and knowing we want to start for the best quality or for the best service, and we want to be able to do that and not have to tell people we want people to be able to be perceptionist is reality.

In business, if I have to tell you what our core values are, I’m not doing it. So I wanted to do this, Brick and Mortar and we made it happen. That was a long process. We made it through a ton of challenges to get there. And now I mean, that’s kind of I think, why you found me Beau is because we do live and breathe our value so much that we don’t have to tell anybody what our values are. People know it. People start asking us, how is Flatlands so magical? Like they want to be consulted, they want to hear how we do guest service, they want to hear our approach. And you know, that’s why we’ve gotten the kind of attention that we have. And now we’re trying to bring it to E-commerce.

Beau 5:31
So how long have you been in business now? 10 years?

Ben 5:37
Oh, dear. We’ve been in business for six, our Bricks and Mortars move in six. And since then, we’ve expanded into a bakery. So we have a separate location for the bakery, and the bakery supplies the cafe. And then we have a third location where we do over coffee roasting, and distribute to the cafe and around the globe through E commerce, but always pivoting because I think leaders of any organization, as a leader, you need to be able to pivot you need to be able to adapt, even though it’s not as a leader.

So as a work, we need people that don’t/aren’t always changing. Because once we find a way that works, we need the people that like the same, that find life and doing the same thing over and over again, and just like doing the craft really well, and actually getting it done. Otherwise, if we were all just Oh, change it today, change tomorrow, you’re never gonna get anywhere to complete any project.

Beau 6:37
Totally agreed. So let’s talk a little about the kind of Brick and Mortar. So you’ve had that location for six years, I don’t know where I got 10 from sorry, but I’ve had it for six years. And when we initially spoke, you mentioned that you got a quote for 50 grand. And I think nobody really took you seriously, because you’re 21 year old, kid, there’s gonna be a coffee shop.

And then once you actually got the money to create the coffee shop, you got a different quote. And so how did you feel? And how were you able to kind of jump that hurdle and actually get your coffee shop open and launched?

Ben 7:33
Want to bridge that gap really quickly. I’m excited to answer your question, but it’s a fantastic question. For 10 years, the reason we were thinking of 10 years is we have been doing business under the name Flatlands Coffee for 10 years.
So initially, we earlier talked about starting a lower investment startup, like maybe doing online now because that’s the new thing. For us, we operated under the name Flatlands Coffee, and then friends and family knew that Ben is on a mission of finding great coffee. So I just ordered a coffee for myself, threw in some extra and then distributed it to friends and family.

So in a way, I’ve been operating under Flatlands for 10 years, and it’s been an ongoing planning process that took a long time to open the cafe. Because I am a recovering perfectionist and workaholic.

Beau 8:00
The big problem in entrepreneurship I’m saying as it pertains to certain things. And the further I get in my career, which has been four and a half years, as a business owner, I’ve learned you have to kind of let go a little bit, nothing’s ever going to be perfect, get as good as you can get it out and then continue to kind of enhance.

Ben 8:16
Absolutely, that’s what I love that you’re doing this Finding That Next Gear Podcast, just get it done. And you know, you can build upon it, grow it to that minimum viable product, we have to fail faster. So we can figure out what works.

Beau 8:31
That’s tough though, because ego is involved. So when you feel it’s like oh, man, it’s me or market dynamics were not correct. And maybe it could be either one of those scenarios, but it can be a tough blow. And so sometimes it’s a lot easier to keep it locked up and not put it out there. And that’s something I’m working through myself as well.

So back to you, Ben. So anyone had this grandiose idea to open a coffee shop, 50 grand is the quote, you finally get the money and then all of a sudden, what?

Ben 9:03
Yep, exactly. So this young 20 year old, I was given that 50 grand quote because the contractor came in. I don’t know how to do construction, I know how to do copy. I have theories and beliefs on management, but never had any real life experience at that point, I’m doing that.

And then it is 50 grand so we go to Kickstarter, right, which is where you crowdfund you have people buy into your dream, and you give them rewards for buying it like Okay, so we’re going to give you this added discount. If you pledge this amount of money. We’re going to give you this amazing deal.

Beau 9:38
Scotchies or a hat or shirt or maybe part of the company?

Ben 9:44
Yeah, exactly. And then for us, like we had tables named after people too, for instance. So there’s like plaques on every table with a name on it. So it’s just kind of like an homage, paying homage to, they’re the founders of people that helped get us started.

But we failed the first time on our Kickstarter. And then we went at it again, this time with some investors as well. So our total goal wasn’t as high. So when we feel nobody was charged anything, there’s no skin in the game, you don’t lose anything. But then when we succeeded in the race, the total we needed, we had the gap we needed.

The second time was only $10,000. So we fundraised $20,000 right meeting 10 grand, and then we were able to go back to the contractor. Guess what, this 21 year old college student got $50,000, did you just see his jaw drop? his eyes?

Beau 10:38
Crap, what have I done?

Ben 10:41
Yes, exactly. He was trying to determine, say like, 50 grand, there’s no way he’s gonna keep this up. But when you have that burning passion you know that there’s a void, you know that you just believe in it.

Beau 10:52
Well, I want to highlight real quick before you kind of finish the story. The reason you’re probably successful on Kickstarter is because of your passion. The reason I wanted to talk to you is because of your passion, and I feel entrepreneurs don’t have that passion, dead in the water. But anyways, keep going.

Ben 11:05
And I want to build upon that boat too. And this is why hiring that free agent, or DMV coaching wherever, we find mentors to encourage and still these tidbits to the listener. So I love your advice, what you just said about.

So I mean, with that being said, we always need somebody. And this was explained by Donald Miller actually, too. I love how he articulated every organization needs at least one person who just stays up at night, obsessing about the consumer, obsessing about the customers, obsessing about the person you are serving in your organization.

If you don’t have that one person that has the extreme passion, extreme fire, then you’re not going to be able to weather the storms when you know challenges come in, or be able to identify when you need to pivot when you need to change and when you need to buckle down.

So for us that that was that time for me, like needing to buckle down because the contractor came back looked around, it was like, Oh, actually Ben this is going to be at least $100,000 Not including your equipment, not including your fixtures, it’s just to get this base, like the way you have it mapped out.

And being a perfectionist as it is, not willing to cut many corners either. So at that point, it just became like a leap of faith. It’s like, alright, shrug my shoulders, I don’t know what to do other than to buy a hammer, YouTube, and ask friends and family, how to do the contractor stuff, have people show me, have people help, that knew how to do this and kind of became an apprentice or an apprentice to some, and like, learn and do this real life.

And it was just miraculous the kind of community support that we had from those around us that bought into the vision because the reality is all of us as human beings were drawn to passion, right? Like, even if someone’s listening to this, and maybe they don’t even like coffee, if you sense that passion for a minute, you do experience excitement because when you’re around other people that are passionate, there’s a sense of like, there’s something bigger than ourselves happening here.

And as human beings, we always want that, we want to be around that, we’ll spend money for it. And if you don’t have that passion, that desire and your ability to share that like that’s kind of this secret sauce is I would say.

Beau 13:34
I agree. I want to buy your coffee. I mentioned to you I think we had an initial call a week or week and a half ago like I’m gonna be Flatlands Coffee Subscriber.

But so are you telling me that you actually built out your Brick and Mortar yourself?

Ben 13:50
With friends and family, yep. So did everything ourselves had to go through all the, you know,

Beau 13:54
Within the budget? Within the 50 grand budget?

Ben 13:57
We did. It was just flying blind in faith, just like hoping and praying and just working and then working with the county working with certified plumbers, like it’s amazing the kind of things that people did to step up and really help this thing happen like a certified plumber taught me how to do the basics.

And then let me use his license. So I did all the work. He came in and he inspected before the county inspector because his name’s on it, right? You’re in school. The county didn’t really like that. So I mean, they picked out every little thing.

Like the tool that was One inch too close to the wall. So I went back onto the crawlspace, tore up the plumbing and had to move it all, just one inch.

Beau 14:45
How long does it take you?

Ben 14:48
It was months and months of construction, because I’m not, I didn’t know how to do anything ahead before. Now I only know commercial code, I can do plumbing, electrical, general construction. But when you have that Northstar, your eye is just still on the price. And then the issue then eventually becomes like, just comfort set in your ways. Because there’s like a lot of comfort that we find in sameness.

So when you’re like you’re in control of your space, I understand the context, I understand construction and what I’m doing here. And then it’s always helpful to have those people in your life that’s like, alright, this is good enough. We’re gonna open, we’re gonna get this. And this is the deadline and things.

Beau 15:35
So take me there. So it took you months to get to this position. You basically bootstrap the business, which is fantastic. You’ve literally built out your space, which is insane. Finally open and then how was that? Was it like, it was confetti falling from the skies and people around the corner? Or was it a real slow burn?

Ben 15:55
Both. To answer your question, I guess there was a ton of magic in it to me, because what we did too, is we didn’t even have all the equipment installed the day before we were scheduled to have a soft opening. So we worked literally all night long. And I had some friends who were willing to do that, too. And let me sleep a little bit because I had work before.

Beau 16:17
Gave them some beer and gave them free coffee for life.

Ben 16:21
Oh, my goodness, actually, I shipped some out to one of them this week. So I mean, it was an overnight thing to see something so grand, because we did our best to hold your vision of the space and the design.

Like the space that we have built out really looks like it belongs in Chicago. And we’re in a tiny town of Bowling Green, and our downtown consists of four blocks like that. And so it’s in a much lower average household income area. So it just became like this magical thing. Wow, the space with all this window and modern, minimalist interior design. My wife is an interior designer, just so different from her.
So it was magical. And though at the same time, it’s a new business, right? So the start of any business. I mean, if you have any entrepreneurs listening in, like, I wouldn’t be hard on yourself, if it starts chaotic, because every business starts in that phase of chaos. It was absolute chaos.

Beau 17:24
I think chaos almost means that, hey, people have heard about me, like I’ve arrived, there’s not chaos. That’s when it’s quiet.

Ben 17:34
So you have that too. You have like that initial, huge wave of guests. That initial buy in of, oh, I want this is new. So everyone that does love changing things up, you’re going to get that huge wave at first, then it falls down. And then you should a good business have that steady incline for us to, we didn’t have shelves for stuff, everything was just in boxes, like where are the cups, oh, maybe that box over there, maybe this so we’re just slow and not as efficient, right? And we’re doing our best.

And our guests saw that we’re doing our best like that we were trying, we were thanking them, we were not just on our phone, like sitting back, just like chilling out, we were showing with our nonverbal body language that we are out to serve them, you’re out to their day.

Beau 18:23
Well, you know how simplistic business can be sometimes that if you literally just show somebody you care or act like you care, how comes full circle, like my business, I’ve gotten a lot of compliments as of recent about communication, and how my company communicates better, clearer, quicker, and we’re very responsive as compared to some of our competitors.

And like, to me, that’s just table stakes. That’s just what you do, I’m in business, I need to return your call, I need to be proactive. And it’s funny how that can be a competitive edge, by just keeping the customer in mind. And that turns into referrals. People have good experiences. They’re like, hey, they hear about a need, like, hey try out Beau, try out Ben, go to Ben’s coffee shop. So it’s pretty interesting how if you have a customer first approach, it does pay dividends.

Ben 19:06
And that’s where the purpose comes from. I always encourage everyone I talk to realize what you’re doing, how it impacts other human beings. Sure isn’t anything more valuable than another human being like an individual, smart. Think like an independent thinker and unique individual.

And we’re able to actually serve other people, can make their day turn their mindset around, show them that they’re cared for, and there’s nothing more valuable than that. I mean, there’s so much if you’re just looking down, building a widget And that’s all you’re thinking of in your head. That’s, for me, and I really would argue for anyone, there’s no real value. That’s just like being a robot. But there’s something special that happens with two unique, intelligent human beings bonding over connection sharing care for one another.

And everything will be tied to that. So coffees, maybe perhaps those listening might say, well, that’s more obvious, right? Maybe, but at the same time, everything we do, you’re doing it for a reason. Like, ultimately you’re selling to somebody and how you, I would say, better be making their life better. Otherwise, maybe you should consider where you’re at.

Beau 20:23
No, I agree. So a bit of six years, had your soft opening, and I’m sure it opened after that. This was probably great. And then all of a sudden, COVID happened? What do you do? I mean, I went through COVID as well, life was humming along. Business was great. And it’s like the apocalypse. Like, what is going to happen? And yeah, so how did you weather the storm?

Ben 20:49
So there’s two types of people. One is the type of person that buries their head in the ground in hopes that it just blows over. And then this is the other type of person that takes charge and takes control of their life and recognizes that you can increase the odds and probabilities in your favor to weather the storm. Maybe it won’t, it was very long.

Beau 21:13
You have to be active to your point, you’ve got to be active. And I think that’s the key characteristic, and perseverance as well. So keep going.

Ben 21:19
So I have another friend who kind of did that. I kept encouraging them, like, Hey, I’d love to talk, I’d love to give you some thoughts to keep your restaurant open, and so on and so forth.

And they were just wanting to wait. And you can’t change that. And all you can do is offer that kind of fascism. For us, I do strongly believe in pivoting and adapting. And we’re almost notorious for that at Flatlands coffee, in our cafe here.

So during that time, and we again, recognize what we do for our purpose, it’s so meaningful . We say our mission statement is to provide a glimpse of the good life. And you’ve asked anyone on our team, what our mission statement is, everybody knows it.

A lot of places, people, you ask the workers, they have no clue what the mission statements are, and a glimpse of the good life might be a little vague. But we have a full day of training explaining what that means in our orientation. So they understand what it means. But a glimpse of the good life is easy to remember. And if so many people are struggling. I mean, it was dark, it’s still a dark period. I mean, we’re talking about this new variant and people are panicking. People are scared.

We’re seeing a lot more depression appearing throughout society in this uncertainty in this huge weight. It feels like there’s a huge cloud over the entire globe.

Beau 22:45
That’s why I’ve stopped watching the news for a little while just because of that negativity, it’s all around I’m trying to escape from it. And it’s helped my psyche, completely. Believe me, a couple of months ago, my wife and I were just tuning into the news, like what’s going on? And when they woke up, we’re like, this is not healthy, this is not good.

Ben 23:07
It used to be easier to separate. And now the funny thing is, we’re almost all and that’s why I think the cloud is a little more prevalent, because the News knows that our brains react to fear, and it becomes addictive and what news, so they always focus on the negative, because they’re smart, right?

But the thing is, this time, it’s actually infiltrated all of our personal individual lives. COVID has, so it’s made it almost impossible for us to ignore. So that’s why we have this huge, I would argue this huge like Cloud, generally speaking, this is the generality.

This is not for everybody, but generally speaking. And so as a team, we sat down, we discussed, wow, people need our mission statement, what we’re out to actually do, people need what we are actually selling now more than ever before. So we’re not going to close our doors like all of our other fellow restaurant friends in town that are just tired and scared and I checked with the team, like what are you comfortable with?

So we built little coffee bars that fold up, and we started offering delivery, and we brought the coffee shop to you. So people would text us, call us and we get to learn new guest services like frameworks for communication through written word. People had so much fun with that, and then they would order their drinks and then we would show up to the front door, set up the coffee bar and then ring. So then you open your door and there’s a whole coffee bar right outside your front door.

Beau 24:42
This was not necessarily just for businesses. This is for consumers as well.

Ben 24:47
It was direct to the consumer.Yeah.

Beau 24:52
Oh, that’s awesome. I think scratch ECommerce. Like you guys like Uber for coffee.

Ben 24:57
But we brought the whole, like, we wanted to bring the aesthetic, we wanted people to feel like that sense of comfort, that sense of value. And some, because everyone’s grasping for some sort of normality, right? So they open their door and there’s a coffee bar right there for you in a barista on the other side.

So there’s a six foot distance, there’s no contact in the barista’s motions, their hand, there’s your coffee, and you go to the bar, you grab it, the barista folds up the bar, puts it in the car, and we take off. So we brought the coffee shop to our guests. And then, E-commerce, I know you’re excited to get there.

Beau 25:35
But I think what’s interesting about bringing the coffee shop to the consumer is that you again, you’re connecting on a one to one level with the consumer, your brand is getting out there. And I guarantee you create a tremendous amount of loyalty from that situation. And the people who you guys visited are now more inclined to kind of continue to be a Flatlands customer than maybe before. So I think that’s really, really cool.

Ben 26:00
Thank you, Beau. And to further help with that, like that connection. And with our mission statement, we did this thing for that whole period of delivery called positive pastries. So we had these giant heart shaped cookies, and we would say, positive messages on them, and then became this thing where people would buy it for other people.

So then all of a sudden, someone shows up at your door, you’re not even expecting it. And there’s like a little message on a little cookie with your drink, and just so much connectedness that was happening indirectly, because we can’t actually give people hugs, but we can hug each other with.

Beau 26:39
I think your next step is the Shark Tank, I think you need to go to Shark Tank. Yeah, the consumer, coffee delivered to your house, and the heartbeat pastries. I think that’s phenomenal. That’s really cool, man.

This kind of did COVID spawned the idea of the E-commerce Store that you can’t rely strictly on Brick and Mortar, because there’s elements that are outside of our control.

Ben 27:04
Thankfully, I was very slightly ahead of the game. So E-commerce was very helpful to lean in during that time. We started like, just before COVID happened, timeline wise with our E-commerce. So the E-commerce world is very different. It is very difficult because everyone,

 

Beau 27:27
Everybody doesn’t know something and trust me I’m there as well. And almost like who spends the most on marketing dollars and advertisement, when.

Ben 27:38
Or like you said, you find your differentiating marketing is maybe just clarity, knowing that all of your other competitors or maybe even your competitors are talking about them. This is what I see the most, everyone talks about, well we do this, and we’re award winning, and we’re doing this and that doesn’t make me like that maybe builds a tiny bit of credibility.

But I actually get more excited. And I actually will click that buy button more often when you can experience this, you will get this partnering with us. And here’s how it will be delivered. It’s just a lot more.

Beau 28:17
I just did a podcast recently about storytelling about a future state, and how people want to learn about if you partner with us, this is what you will experience and so totally agreed. And that’s in line with the recent podcast that I did. Yeah, it’s a great point. I like that.

Ben 28:34
Everybody. Go back. Listen to that now.

Beau 28:37
Yeah, that shameless plug in there somewhere. So what’s your goal with an E-commerce site now? I mean, do you plan on doing more Brick and Mortar? Or do you see that E-commerce is the future of Flatlands? And I think then the name could lend itself to either a Brick and Mortar or an E-commerce store.

Ben 28:55
So for me, personally, I am pivoting more towards the E-commerce realm. And thankfully that I can do that because most small business owners become enslaved that Brick and Mortar business owners become enslaved to their own like shop weather app. They’ll say, I can’t train anybody to do this because I can do it better.

And I understand the big picture as well. So I have both of those going for me. So they don’t instead of teaching them it takes more energy up front, but only for a moment, but then it pays dividends over and over.

Beau 29:32
Most entrepreneurs, especially small companies, and the reason they don’t grow, see, they’re so busy working in the business and not on the business. And I’ve experienced that myself where it’s like, yeah, I can do this better, I’m shooting myself. But no, that’s wrong. That’s a small time thinking, that’s gonna keep you small. Right? So anyways, keep going.

Ben 29:49
That’s smart Beau, I love it. So that’s kind of where we’re at with our cafe. It’s all these systems, all these policies, procedures, and helpful tools and layouts and very thorough training, as well.

And now that freed me to be able to focus and they also understand what I’m doing. So they still get the sense of the big picture is we’re doing this to serve our guests to offer them value in we’re free then, so that Ben can extend this mission beyond these four walls at this cafe.

And so, for me, E-commerce has a ton more potential because there’s probably few industries with such a competitive, so much competition, right? Like there’s so much of a huge market. So to get like a slice of the pie is quite a challenge in the coffee industry more than most. But it’s so fun, because again I’m just driven by the ultimate mission and our maintaining our values and offering better service than anyone has ever seen with E-commerce or greater quality, improving that and just serving people a memorable cup so they can start their day out with a lot of joy and excitement.

Coffee gets you fueled and it can provide a lot of enjoyment and taste and flavor just from a really well done coffee. So it does affect my day to like, if I drink a coffee like Oh, this one was even more successful. And it just alters my entire day with confidence and enthusiasm.

Beau 31:29
I think if you can figure out a way to let your passion shine through as it pertains to the E-commerce Store because the brand mortar people get to see you, get to meet you, get to experience kind of being in his passion and love for coffee.

But you need to figure out a way to bottle that and bring that to E-commerce and if you can do that I think you guys will go nuts and be able to get a small sliver of that huge commoditized market.

So that’s super exciting. been glad to hear that. So real quick, we’re gonna go to a lightning round quick responses, quick questions. What’s your favorite aspect of being your own boss?

Ben 32:02
I love being able to help other people come alive. A lot of times when we work for other places, it’s if this were my place or I would do this differently or this is my philosophy. I love being able to steer the ship and equip everyone to be leaders.

That’s why I say when I introduce myself, my title is an Executive Leader. At Flatlands, everyone leads so actually have the ability to do some kind of radically different setups within management at Flatlands.

I also love the ability to be flexible and to pivot. Knowing the ultimate vision and having that initial enjoyment of coffee and being the one that kind of pioneered, I guess this whole thing although everyone’s just as important as I am, that’s a part of the team. Being able to keep that in mind and that kind of whole history that I’ve lived through and be able to take the future path, there’ll be flexibility. Yeah, it’s great.

Beau 33:07
Got a story at least favorite part about being your own boss?

Ben 33:10
Oh, wow. I think for me, at least, it’s not having others, that’s a good question, Beau. I wish I came forward more prepared.

Beau 33:29
That’s awful, I’m trying to keep you off guard.

Ben 33:32
No, that’s okay. I guess I could say like, sometimes I’ll even say like, I wish I had a partner, I guess.

Beau 33:40
You’re very isolating, I’m there as well. It can be tough. You’re making the decisions, you’re in charge of the direction.

Ben 33:50
It’s always nice to like the process with other people. And then if you have someone that has the equal sense of buy in, which is also I mean, why I’m looking to change the entire way, we’re set up with like open book management and profit sharing, like, that’s what I’m working on building systems to make that happen, where I think I could kind of have those conversations that I’m looking for, and a partnership.

But you know, it just, if we were like a larger team with more partners, then maybe we can move faster. Because I love to, I have a growth mindset. So if you have a growth mindset, you’re always looking for how we can serve better? How can we have a better organization? How can we provide? And then when you’re just yourself, then that can be, it’s limiting. I’m only capable, I have the same amount of hours in the day as you do Beau.

Beau 34:48
Yeah, so what’s your biggest success?

Ben 34:50
The biggest success was opening the cafe, I think just the initial thing, because that was such a huge thing. There was so much opposition or people that just didn’t believe in us as well. I mean, I know we talked a lot about the people that did, and that group was very crucial and important.

We also had so many people who didn’t. And so to actually do this thing, and so many people would say we’ll never make it, you’ll never open it. And already businesses have opened and closed in our downtown next to us.

Beau 35:23
It’s not for them. But congrats on the staying power. For the naysayers wrong. The flip side of that question, what’s been your biggest failure?

Ben 35:31
I think, ironically, to be completely vulnerable, with you on this, the lack of understanding of what to look for the strongest marketplace. So we have weathered the storms, we have made it through insane things that have happened in our town, only to be followed with COVID.

And we’ve been able to weather so much. At the same time, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have opened in a different town, frankly, where there were more complementary businesses to what we do. And I did not think about that aspect. And I didn’t realize that so there’s always going to be a hindsight.

And I’m still grateful and privileged that we get to serve the people here, I think we could have done more, we could have been less limited, because we all need to help the bottom line, the whole, all of our operations run off cash flow, you have to have healthy cash to be able to better serve your guests better serve your teammates to better serve, we all need, we have to focus on dollars.

And that’s not a bad thing. There’s a wave of young people that are anti-business, they might say. And so we actually have a full orientation when we train on business and how businesses can be used to do great things. And it’s actually the person behind it in the mentality, like, what are we actually on mission to do? What are we actually achieving? Who are we actually serving and making their lives better?

And this is how we do it, we just have to have a healthy bottom line to make these things happen. So I probably would say that the biggest failure was actually location. So it’s just constrained our ability by being in such a small town.

Beau 37:18
It’s the marketplace. It’s the same issue that you have at the Brick and Mortar coffee shop that maybe somebody has in the software industry. Same thing I totally get, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to succeed. But maybe you could have succeeded quicker, better, faster, bigger if maybe there’s a better fit, so totally get it.

Last question. What’s the hardest part about having your own business?

Ben 37:38
The hardest part I would say is juggling. Work for me anyway, working from home. I think we talked about this too, Beau, and that’s you have your family going on and you have just interruptions.

Actually, that might be the most translatable for anyone listening in or interruptions. So you really just need to plan for interruptions and that’s kind of my way around it. So in the day planner, I always tried to focus on just two things and really try to get those two most important things of the day done before 11am.

That’s early, it’s so early. And then if you get to your next priorities beyond that, then you’re just doing great or you have room for interruption. And then you just find rest in knowing that you did achieve, the more important news or there’s always tomorrow, but the reality is, we all have 24 hours in our day, I have no more time than a “more successful person next door”, and, or less this person, successful person next door, it’s just what you do with your time.

So planning for interruptions can be a challenge. And so now working at home is kind of its own set of interruptions. So I go upstairs now so that I could be here and have no background crying for our listeners.

Beau 39:01
I know as I’ve gone further into this journey, I’ve been more unapologetic about situations. If somebody gives me a call, and I’m walking my dog, I’m walking my dog. You don’t mean like, kids are home, but kids are home.

So it’s kind of where we are. And also why I decided to get on this path as well. So I could be who I am and not have to worry so much. I think too, the lines between work and home are so blended, it’s important to kind of block off time to get work done.

But also make sure that you’re there with the family. And like for me, kind of that was non negotiable, but I try to have my phone off for like five, like 6:30 or seven, work up to that point.

And then afterwards, I’ll catch up with other stuff. But I try to be home and engaged as best I can. But sometimes you gotta take care of crap.

So Ben, how can people reach you and how can they get a hold of your coffee?

Ben 39:52
Yeah, so I am on LinkedIn, Ben Vollmer. That’s one good way also on Instagram, Ben Vollmer and Flatlands Coffee we have, we’re on all the social media, socials are on Facebook. We’re on Instagram, and then our website is flatlandscoffee.com.

Beau 40:10
Nice. Cool, man, we really appreciate you coming on, sincerely. Thanks for taking the time. Love the passion. Love the mission. I wish you a boatload of money and success. I’m sure you’ll do great. And I’m not kidding when I mentioned Shark Tank, you should really consider getting on Shark Tank because honestly, your passion is infectious. And you can be a great man. So thanks so much for being on. Really appreciate it. And we’ll talk soon.

Ben 40:35
Thank you, Beau. It’s been an honor to have this conversation.

Beau 40:40
Thank you, sir. Take care.

Ben Vollmar

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About Beau

FOUNDER, THE FREE AGENT

Beau spent over 14 years in enterprise-level software sales and was exposed to high-level talent by working alongside companies such as Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and more. 

In this podcast, Beau aims to interview high performing business leaders in the hope that their insights will bring about real change positive change the businesses of his listeners.

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