Kelly Spiker considers herself a second-generation coffee entrepreneur. Since 2002, Kelly and her family have grown a successful chain, Woods Coffee, by bringing quality beverages, baked goods and community to the Pacific Northwest.
Woods Coffee thrives in an exceedingly competitive region; Starbucks, the international coffee giant, has its headquarters nearby. Woods’ success, according to Kelly, is tied to their family business values: the company treats its employees like family members and considers their customers guests.
The Spiker’s put as much effort into enhancing their community as they do to into improving their bottom line. Their philanthropic work, which includes monetary and beverage donations, is changing the lives of local women and children. Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2017, Woods Coffee won the Family Business Awards for Best Practice.
Herein lies the key to their success, Woods’ emphasis on community, which sets it apart from its supranational competitors, is a deciding factor for discerning coffee drinkers in the region.
Tharawat Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Kelly Spiker about generating growth in a hyper-competitive marketplace, leveraging Woods’ commitment to quality and community and working tirelessly to improve the lives of others nearby.
“…We found ourselves gathered together over some coffee, and collectively, we had the novel idea to start a coffee shop.”
What is the story behind Woods Coffee?
Woods Coffee began when I was 17, but my family relocated to the Pacific Northwest from Southern California when I was nine. We moved to a 45-acre farm from the big city, which came as a shock. My siblings and I were homeschooled by my mother and spent much of our youth on the farm. Growing up in such a cohesive environment surrounded by the natural beauty of Washington state was extraordinarily special.
Ever since I can remember, my father, an itinerant entrepreneur, has owned businesses. Through my childhood, he ran a cabinet shop and several construction companies. Shortly before founding Woods, he found work under someone else for the first time, but that didn’t last long. Soon after, we found ourselves gathered together over some coffee, and collectively, we had the novel idea to start a coffee shop.
Coffee is an art. Woods started as a family project, much like our childhood education. We knew nothing about coffee when we started 17 years ago, but we set out to learn together. Today, we have 19 locations across the Pacific Northwest, from British Columbia to Washington.
Much our growth is thanks to the bakery we founded eight years ago. Encouraged by the positive reception we saw, we also began roasting our own beans shortly after.
Now, we have a fully integrated business model. It allows us to control all levels of our operations, which means that we can concentrate on producing quality. Streamlining our logistics allows us to deliver fresh food and coffee to every location daily. This sets Woods Coffee apart from the competition.
“We are always looking for ways to innovate. For us, operating at status quo is simply not an option.”
How were you able to expand adding, on average, more than one location per year?
From the beginning, we envisioned multiple locations. It was crucial that the business could support our whole family. After only six months, as soon as our first location was viable, we opened our second and since have kept building on that precedent.
We are always looking for ways to innovate. For us, operating at status quo is simply not an option. It is essential that we continue our growth and improve our processes to sustain momentum.
Does the family aspect give Woods a competitive advantage?
Certainly – our family dynamic is part of what makes us successful. Embedding our family values into our developing corporate structure as we expanded was a necessity. At the heart of those values is the concept of family.
I have three siblings, and two of them currently work together with me in the company. We have come and gone over the years, working different jobs before ultimately returning to the company. Woods’ family identity, however, has always remained steadfast.
When it comes to working with family, we try not to overcomplicate things. Open communication helps to alleviate any issues that arise. Impediments are resolved quickly, even if it means involving outside consultation.
How is Woods able to sustain success in such a competitive region?
We are comfortable with competition because we are confident in our product.
Woods Coffee was founded at the same time that Starbucks was rapidly expanding. Some people wonder how that affected us, given Starbucks’ corporate headquarters are so close by. The answer is: Starbucks helped our business.
Starbucks’ marketing effectively converted non-traditional coffee consumers. We benefitted because their efforts increased our sector’s market share as a whole. With more interest in coffee than ever before, we were able to leverage the quality of our product to ensure footfall.
Our baked goods are prepared daily in our dedicated bakery and delivered directly to our stores. The coffee we serve is roasted fresh every day, and none of our coffee comes from automatic machines. This means we are still pulling shots. Every one of our baristas is classically trained.
People have always been at the core of our business model. Woods Coffee is synonymous with exceptional service and community. We do not call our patrons ‘customers’; we refer to them as ‘our people’ or ‘guests’ because we want them to feel truly welcome in our spaces. They have a connection to us that they will not experience anywhere else. Our stores are a place where the community gathers.
How do you approach philanthropy as a business family?
Philanthropic work will always be a part of our mission. We often receive requests for monetary and coffee donations, and we have a mandate to give as much as possible. Defining this threshold, however, can be difficult.
Community development is a priority for our family, and one of our focuses is children. We partner with many local schools and organisations to improve the lives of children in need. Once a year, one of our partnerships for children has us provide a free drink for every donation made. Empowering Women is another area of concentration. Women and children are both in need of additional assistance, and we are happy to contribute in any way possible.
We are only part of the equation. Our community outreach involves bringing others in. By heightening community engagement, we engage contributors that are often previously unaware of the need for aid.
One of our most significant partnerships is with Western Washington University in Bellingham. A coffee in our line-up, the Viking Blend, is named after their mascot. For every bag sold, we donate one dollar towards scholarships.
We can’t contribute to every worthy cause, but will not stop short of providing as many resources as possible.
What is your vision for the future of Woods Coffee?
We will continue to expand. Right now, we still have a lot of room to grow regionally, but afterwards, we will consider the potential for more. We are also hoping to increase the rate at which we open new locations.
The structure is already in place, and the plan is to open at least two to five stores per year. That is a two-fold increase from our previous numbers. We have what we need to succeed; we are ready to match our ambition with results.