Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:24 pm
Alterra Coffee Roasters established itself as an iconic Milwaukee brand. But last summer, the company surprised the community and its customers with a name change to Colectivo Coffee Roasters.
Concluding a three-year relationship with Mars Drinks, Alterra’s three founders and owners – Lincoln Fowler, Ward Fowler and Paul Miller – decided to sell the Alterra Coffee Roasters name – but not the company – to Mars Drinks, a subsidiary of Mars Inc.
The Fowlers and Miller maintained full control of the business as newly-branded Colectivo, opting to “stay local” instead of selling the company outright.
In recognition of the name change and commitment to remain a locally based business, Colectivo Coffee Roasters is the BizTimes Best in Business Small Business of the Year for 2013.
“Although it was a huge deal to change the name, the story in the aftermath is that we’ve been lucky to have a super loyal customer base who knows that who we are is not just the seven letters of Alterra,” said Lincoln Fowler. “We love the name Alterra too, but the fact is that Alterra has meant something over the years because of how the organization works. How it works and who we are has not changed.”
Fowler said keeping the now 20-year-old company local “was at the epicenter of the whole conversation” with Mars.
“Not everybody knows this, but the original ask from Mars was that they wanted to buy the company,” he said. “We knew that was not our vision and we had to say no.”
Once the announcement came –at the Pabst Theater with all 350 of their employees in attendance – the company moved swiftly over the next month to execute its rebranding, and new Colectivo signs were up at its stores in a matter of weeks.
The core of the growing local business – which saw a double-digit percentage point increase in revenue in 2013 – remained unchanged.
“There was really no effect on our local operations,” said Fowler of the name change. “Nobody’s employment changed here. We’ve added people. None of the aspects of how we run our business changed in any substantive way.”
The new name wasn’t the only thing making news in 2013 for Colectivo. A new facility was opened this year in Wauwatosa, and its first location outside of southeastern Wisconsin was opened on the Capitol Square in Madison. Additional locations are in the works for the Third Ward and at The Corners development in the Town of Brookfield.
Also added was a new artisan bread program based out of its location in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, and Fowler said, “There’s also some innovation on the coffee and brewing side of the equation that we’re working on…that will impact how people get their coffee” that will be unveiled in the coming months.
The company also is looking to expand its footprint in the state capitol.
“We’re going to continue our growth trajectory in the Madison market (in 2014),” said Fowler. “We love the location on the Capitol Square, but having a single store in a city is not our vision of success. We want to see two, three, four locations in the Madison market.”