Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Claudia McMullin, owner of Hugo Coffee Roasters, located in Park City, UT, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Hugo Coffee Roasters is a female-founded & certified coffee roaster whose mission is to save animals. Hugo's vision is to be the go-to coffee for animal lovers nationwide. Founded in 2015, Hugo Coffee is named after founder Claudia McMullin's handsome rescue pup, Hugo. In a former life, Claudia ran the animal rescue Nuzzles & Co. Thus, animal rescue is in Claudia's DNA and that of her brand.
What sets Hugo Coffee Roasters apart from its many competitors is four-fold: (1) Hugo Coffee is WBENC certified, (2) in addition to online sales, Hugo Coffee is nationwide in grocery chains and has a robust food service revenue stream, (3) as a former ED of an animal rescue, Claudia understands who does the real work of animal rescue and supports those organizations directly and weekly via weeklong online fundraisers benefitting a specific rescue, and (4) Hugo Coffee does not just rely on its mission - the coffee is fantastic, fair-trade and organic and can be found in many 5 star hotels, resorts, and restaurants.
In addition to being an animal lover, Claudia is also a coffee lover and thought: "What if something we consume with caffeinated vigor could be tied to true animal rescue?" Over 30 million bags of coffee are purchased each year in the US alone. . And, over 63 million households in American have a pet and drink coffee! Imagine a world where you can have your cup of organic, rich coffee . . . and drink in the satisfaction of helping animals too.
Tell us about yourself
I moved to Park City from NYC in 1999 with the goal of not practicing law anymore after ten years in a Wall Street law firm. But, since it was all I knew, I practiced law as little as possible while looking for other career options. In my career search, I tried a number of things, including running the animal rescue, Nuzzles & Co., holding public office, and buying a coffee shop. I launched Hugo Coffee Roasters in December 2015 and named it after my handsome rescue pup, Hugo. In 2018, I rebranded Hugo Coffee with an animal rescue mission. Since then, I have donated to over 50 animal rescue/sanctuary organizations and helped over 500 dogs/cats find their forever homes.
100% what motivates me is my animal welfare mission, donating to animal rescues/sanctuaries, getting to know all of these amazing organizations and the work they do, and learning of the impact our donations have! For example, this summer, we supported Tiny N Tall's rescue, and in getting to know this amazing group, I learned something new (that I should have known!). Did you know that large breed dogs do not do well in shelters? They are super sensitive creatures that deeply feel loss and abandonment and deteriorate rapidly in a shelter environment. In fact, most shelters don't even take large breeds! That is where Tiny N Tall comes in. I love that. We also did a fundraiser for Steampunk Farms. Our donation helped the sanctuary build a critical shade structure for their pig residents. Love this too! These are just two examples of why what we do at Hugo Coffee makes me so happy. I am an animal lover through and through and have always been. Helping our fellow sentient beings brings me joy every day.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
By far, my biggest accomplishment is surviving COVID. When COVID hit in March 2020, I lost 95% of my business overnight as all of my foodservice customers, including hotels, restaurants, universities, cafes, and corporate headquarters, closed. This was terrifying. My immediate job was to raise as much money as I could as fast as I could. And I did this by winning grant money (Stacy's Rise Project, Tory Burch Fellowship, Fed Ex, Main Street Preservation Fund, among others) and getting loans (PPP, EIDL, UMLF). Luckily, as a result of going through the Goldman Sachs 10000 Small Business Program in 2019, I knew that my revenue streams needed to be diversified, and when COVID hit, I was in the middle of hiring a marketing team, a brand audit, and revising my website to include a robust Shopify online store. I was also hiring brokers and seeking distributors for brick & mortar groceries. By the end of 2020, my revenue streams were equally distributed among food service, brick & mortar grocery, and online sales. Today, Hugo has not only recovered but has almost doubled in sales over 2019 and 2020.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The old adage "It's lonely at the top" is 100% true. Being a CEO is isolating and can be overwhelming. This is why I have a robust mentor network - thanks to my Stacy's Rise Grant & Mentorship, Tory Burch Fellowship, and GS 10000 Small Business community.
The second hardest thing is cash flow. Anticipating cash flow needs and raising money to meet these needs is a constant struggle - especially while rapidly growing and scaling!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Be flexible and pivot as needed. COVID drove that lesson home when I had to immediately pivot to direct to consumer online and grocery from food service!
- Ask for help. There are so many resources out there and so many smart people willing to help and share expertise.
- Don't be a control freak and delegate. Learn your strengths, and don't try to be a master of all trades. For instance, I outsource/delegate my marketing, CFO, attorney, bookkeeper, accountant, SEO, and grocery manager.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
We donate to small animal rescues and sanctuaries weekly as a result of our weekly weeklong online fundraisers benefitting a specific small, financially strapped, volunteer-based rescue or sanctuary. Hugo Coffee is sold nationwide online and in brick & mortar grocers, including Whole Foods, Harmons, Harris Teeter, and Bristol Farms. And, of course, you can also find Hugo Coffee and many of our wonderful (and five stars) hotels and restaurants, including Blue Sky Auberge, St. Regis Deer Valley, and Montage.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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