Small Business Spotlight

Fostering Success

Greg Ubert has transformed a coffee roaster into a resource for other business owners.

By
From the June 2013 issue of Columbus CEO
  • Photo by Ryan M.L. Young

When Tracy Heitmeyer decided to open a coffee shop five years ago, she knew she needed help.

“I didn’t know anything,” says the owner of 5 Bean Coffee in Reynoldsburg. “I had worked for myself forever doing faux painting and hanging wallpaper. I never had a retail store.”

She found Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea, a Columbus-based coffee roaster, and was impressed by the amount of information the company was willing to share—at no cost. A key part of Crimson Cup’s business is helping individuals start coffee shops. “It’s opening a coffee shop for dummies,” Heitmeyer says. “They hold your hand through the process.”

Company founder and President Greg Ubert, who graduated from Harvard University, found his calling when he decided to pursue his passion for coffee. He traded his job in computer software to taste coffees from around the world and learn roasting techniques.

Early on, Ubert developed a service platform called the Seven Steps to Success. The program, which teaches everything from developing a business plan to choosing a location to running an efficient business, eventually was published as a book. Seven Steps for Success: A Common-Sense Guide to Succeed in Specialty Coffee is now in its second printing.

“A huge part of Crimson Cup is education, sharing knowledge and training,” says Ubert, who founded the business in 1991. “We have a passion for that.”

Helping small coffee shops succeed—it has trained more than 250 business owners—makes sense, Ubert says. When Crimson Cup’s customers thrive, so does the company. “It’s a team effort,” he says. “We’re truly long-term players or partners.”

The company does not charge for its startup plans or accompanying training, and customers don’t have to sign a contract; they are simply asked to follow the steps outlined in the book.

Crimson Cup opened its own shop in the Beechwold neighborhood near Clintonville in 2007. The store serves as a test market for new products and also provides insights for the training team. “It’s fantastic,” Ubert says. “Now we’re walking in our coffeehouse customers’ shoes.”

The company looks for partners who share the idea that good coffee shops can excite and energize an area, Ubert says. “We know that our products, when served properly in a community, create a stronger community.”

Ubert’s passion for his product and the world around him are assets to doing business with Crimson Cup, Heitmeyer says. “He’s very thoughtful. He doesn’t seem to do things that aren’t thoughtful,” she says. “He cares about where his products come from.”

Heitmeyer, who accompanied Ubert on a recent trip to Costa Rica to learn more about how coffee is grown, appreciates the company’s efforts to improve the lives of growers. Crimson Cup makes an effort to buy directly from the farmers so they can keep more of the profits. The company also works with growers in Honduras to improve their beans so they can charge more. “Me buying the coffee and serving it and informing people about it—it does have a bigger effect,” she says.

Locally, Crimson Cup works with several charities including See Kids Dream, an organization dedicated to helping children become self-determined and philanthropic citizens and leaders. It also partnered with the Cancer Support Community of Central Ohio to create a specialty coffee that raises money for the nonprofit.

When the recession made it more difficult for individuals to finance new coffee shops, Crimson Cup broadened its base by selling products to specialty grocers and colleges and universities. The diversification helped the company grow and maintain profitability during the downturn.

The quality of Crimson Cup’s coffee and the company’s commitment to fair trade appeal to many people, says Mark Agner, president of the Hills Market, which has sold Ubert’s products for more than a decade. “It makes a difference to us and our customers,” he says.

Crimson Cup also stands out because of its commitment to customer service, Agner says. The company offers help on merchandising, supports the market’s events and assists with advertising. “They’re there to help us sell coffee,” he says. “Of all of our vendors, they are one of the more conscientious when it comes to taking care of us.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.