BizTimes Bubbler Executive of the Week: Lincoln Fowler

Lincoln Fowler, Co-owner of Colectivo Coffee
Company address: 2999 N. Humboldt Blvd., Milwaukee, WI 53212
Industry: Coffee manufacturing/retail
Number of employees: 350
Family: Married with two children

How has the renaming and rebranding of your company impacted your business? And, how have you gone about communicating your new image to your customers?
“It has been a fun ride, frankly. The month following the change was one of our best ever. We’re fortunate to have perceptive customers that understand we are still exactly who we were, maybe even a bit better than before. We’ve been talking a lot over the past couple months and a ton of folks have seen the video we shot in Guatemala with our new bus…Now if we could just get the bus out of the country!”

Why is it so important to you that your Milwaukee cafes and roastery remain locally owned?
“Back in 2008 when the Mars company approached us and asked to buy our company we were flattered, but we said no. Eventually, we negotiated a deal that not only ensured our organization would stay local but simultaneously strengthened it.”

What distinct advantages does Milwaukee give your company?
“This is a town that understands the value of work and craft. This is one reason that our work and effort resonates with folks. The manufacturing heritage also provides perks when one is working on a 1960 vintage German coffee roaster. It is not everywhere that one can find a huge lathe on a weekend that you can chuck a coffee roaster’s 3-foot diameter drum into and cut a fresh leading edge on it. I love this town.”

How is Colectivo Coffee able to compete against other popular coffee chains?
“The Starbucks of the world do what they do very well, but we’re not trying to emulate that. We are knitted into the community. We create different, artisan environments. We offer craft coffee and bring locally-sourced, handmade food to your table. Plus, we’ve got the best staff around.”

What will be Colectivo Coffee’s main challenges in the next year?
“We need to carefully meter our growth. Growing is critical to creating opportunity for our staff and keeping our work interesting. However, as we approach 400 people and spread into Madison and points south, we need to work diligently to preserve and improve our culture of service and quality.”

What’s the hottest trend in your industry?
“Many roasters put coffee on a pedestal. We call it ‘Precious Coffee,’ which we do not embrace. Great coffee should be accessible to everyone, and everyone should be welcome.”

Do you have a business mantra?
“Do your best work; the rest will follow.”

From a business standpoint, who do you look up to?
“The people that enjoy what they do. If you’re not having fun, what’s the point?”

What was the best advice you ever received?
“When we were building the original Bayshore location and costs were reeling out, my brother Ward and I expressed concern to our partner, Paul, and suggested we trim the budget. Paul responded, ‘We’re not doing this thing to fail. We’re building this to be really successful! We’ve got to do our best work.’ We’ve followed that advice ever since.”

What do you like to do in your free time?
“I play ultimate frisbee, read technology books and dig tweaking my home mechanical systems. I’m a geek.”

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