The Secret of the Success of Biggby Coffee


Biggby Coffee just celebrated its 15th year in business and is the fastest growing coffee franchise in the Midwest. There are two Biggby cafés nearby my office, and I love going there – for the coffee and (more importantly), for the conversations the employees engage me (and all the customers)in. I can’t think of another retail restaurant where the interaction is so positive.

I met the Biggby CEO Bob Fish, aka “Biggby Bob” (@BiggbyBob) through Twitter recently when he “retweeted” (re-sent) a complaint he’d received from a customer. What this means is that his retweet had the potential to be viewed by a lot more people (including me) than it might have if Bob hadn’t re-sent it.

I was fascinated – why would he let more people know about a customer complaint? With what I already knew about how Biggby employees interacted with customers in the stores, I figured there must be a story that connected the “Biggby Way” and the success of the company. So I asked Bob if he would be willing to be interviewed for my blog. He agreed and this post is the result.

P.S. interestingly, the first thing Bob asked was about me and my business, even though our call was set up to interview him. Hmm….he caught me off guard (in a good way) and this added to my thought that he is a leader who models the behaviors he wants to be demonstrated in Biggby cafés.

What would I experience at Biggby Coffee that I wouldn’t experience at one of your competitor’s places?

When we opened in 1995, we wanted to make it more of a positive experience than the other café’s. We see coffee houses as the “fence we lean over” at a time when many of us don’t know the people who live next door. Even our coffee drink names take some of snobbery away from the way most people view  “coffee houses” – names like Caramel Marvel and Butter Bear have a sense of fun to them.

Our stores are highly socially engaged with customers and we invest in training our people about how to engage customers in conversations. We teach them the things that they can’t learn anywhere else, like the importance of maintaining eye contact and asking open ended questions.  

I noticed on Twitter that you retweeted a customer complaint so that even more people could see the complaint. Most CEO’s wouldn’t do that. What were you thinking?

I was thinking it was the right thing to do. Social media is without filters – if I just retweet the stuff that is complimentary, I’d get called out on it. If we fail for a customer in some way, it’s okay – it shows we’re human.

Relationships, whether on Twitter, through other social media sites, or in person, are paramount. And I’ve found that if you “get naked” and let your guard down, you can accomplish almost anything because it makes you believable and fallible like any human being.

What is your biggest challenge as the leader of Biggby Coffee?

My challenge has been learning how to herd chickens – my description of the difficulty of communicating in a way to get all franchises moving in the same direction. Since our franchises are all individually owned, this is a unique challenge. I’ve learned that communication is a huge thing, and that even when the message is consistent, recipients will hear it in their own ways. So it means that we have to be ever cognizant of how we frame the message and how it’s received.

Your blog chronicles your travels to all 100+ franchises. What are you learning on these visits?

Spending time in the stores allows me to get close to the customers. It’s like a focus group on steroids; when I am there in person, they tell me what they like and what they don’t like. It allows me to undo the “Ivory Tower Syndrome” and watch how The Biggby Way and our cultural values play out.

MJA note: Bob told me that “The Biggby Way” isn’t explicitly articulated but it always comes down to the experience of fun. The cultural values, communicated within the organization, are:

Be Happy

Have Fun

Make Friends

Love people

Drink Great Coffee

Doesn’t Biggby sound like a great place to visit? Oh, and the coffee is good, too!


I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

9 comments on “The Secret of the Success of Biggby Coffee

  1. Great job catching the essence of the BIGGBY way! It isn’t just one thing it is many things and it is just a mindset.
    Great interview and well written! Thank you for talking to Bob and for your patronage. Have a great rest of the week.

    Tom (@T_C-B)
    VP of Operations, BIGGBY COFFEE

  2. “Biggby Bob” what a great name! And kudos to Bob for for “getting naked” and “being human”. A nice afternoon read! We certainly all do need more places that we can lean over the fence and chat.

  3. I think Bob really sets a good example by practicing transparency of information even when its a complaint about the business. It shows that he has nothing to hide. Biggby Coffee sounds like a wonderful place to visit. Engaging conversations go well with great coffee. Unfortunately there are no Biggby Coffee franchises in Reno.

  4. Yun Hua, Maybe….just maybe….at some point there will be a franchise in Reno. In the meantime, if you are traveling to the Midwest, stop into one for a great experience!

  5. Mary Jo: This may not surprise you but here in the northwest, home of the big guns in coffee some of us know Biggby Coffee very well. I grew up in Lansing and for the past five years anytime I am in town one of the first things I do is head for a Biggby. Most recently I have been hanging my hat and plugging in my laptop on West Saginaw highway near Grand Ledge. The experience I have had with Biggby caused me to search out a similar environment here in my home of Anacortes,WA. Owner operated by a local resident, our Tully’s offer much the same environment as I have found at Biggby’s. I truly enjoy a coffee shop that is set up to welcome the socializing that coffee represents.

  6. Hi Mike, thanks for stopping by – this just shows the power of social networking. I agree that socializing in such environments is so important! Glad you found a place to hang your hat in WA. When you get back to Michigan, I’m sure you’ll want to stop over at Biggby!

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