Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ryan Sanderson, Co-Founder and CEO of Knowledge Perk, located in Rock Hill, SC, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I have the privilege of being a part-owner in several ventures, my main company being Knowledge Perk. We are a coffee roasting company that specializes in the customer experience, focusing on education through the use of technology. I would say we are most known for two things: an amazing in-store atmosphere that focuses heavily on the community and the way that we survived covid! The focus on the community is part of what sets us apart and is one of the things I am so proud of. It’s also one reason we are so known in our local area.
Knowledge Perk is one of the only places in the country where customers can pay to take a coffee roasting class, and then once that class is completed, they can come in and roast anytime they want for free! We have two small roasters dedicated for customers to use, as well as a coffee lab that customers can utilize as well.
Over the next couple of years, we will focus on new retail locations, launching our new technology offering, and doubling down on our connection to sporting events. I mention sporting events because that is one of our customer segments. Our retail shops serve your typical coffee consumer, but other customers of ours include major sports teams/brands (NFL, MLS, PGA, BMX), as well as collegiate sports and universities like Winthrop and App State.
Tell us about yourself
My entrepreneurial journey started as a kid, mowing lawns during the summer and raking leaves in the fall. I’d print flyers with my slogan of “You grow it, I’ll mow it!”, load my push mower and gas can into my mom’s station wagon, and have her drop me off in a neighborhood in the morning on a Saturday. I’d knock on doors and hand people a flyer, cutting yards for $10 each. I didn’t even do it for the money, I just enjoyed working; I loved the hustle and closing the deal. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that summer hustle was setting the stage for what would become a lifelong passion: entrepreneurship.
I graduated high school a couple of years earlier than most kids, so I just worked. My first “real” job was at Courtney’s BBQ in Clover, SC, and by the time I was 17, I was independent and working 70+ hours a week. I loved it. By 20, I had gotten married and joined the military (Air National Guard), and then started working (for a second time) at Starbucks. By 21, I was a GM; before 22, I was a store trainer, and by the time I was 23, I was running a special project for stores across the Southeast. It was about this time that I realized my work ethic would continue getting me promotions, but I didn’t love what I was doing.
I got recruited to Harris Teeter, HATED it. During this time of misery at HT, I got involved in network marketing… I realized I was good at sales, but I was better at creating relationships and connecting people. That skill played into my finally leaving HT, allowing me to take a job that changed the direction of my life. I started working with this little company called Get Spiffy (they have since shortened it to just Spiffy). Spiffy was a startup out of RDU that was expanding to CLT, and they fit the bill of what I was missing: working with a fast-paced start-up that did not yet have corporate “rules.” Long story short, I loved it. I went from ops to sales, and sales opened up a whole new world for me.
I got to start making real connections, and as long as I met sales goals, I was free to do what I wanted with the extra time. I started a little trash company, then started a coffee company, and before I knew it, I had left Spiffy to focus on entrepreneurship full-time. I stay motivated because I love building, and I enjoy being able to help others build as well!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I can think of some milestones that could certainly be considered accomplishments, but I think my favorite accomplishment to date is how we survived Covid. At the peak of Covid, we could not have customers inside our space… so first, we set up a drive-through outside. You would have to see our space to understand how wild that is. We got permission from the city (the streets were deserted), set up a tent, used signage to show people where to go, and made a drive-through. We would take people’s orders on a tablet, radio them in via walkie talky and take their cards. We would then have them pull forward, run inside to swipe their card, bring their order out, and then radio in the next one. We did this every day, rain or shine. If it rained, we would just use umbrellas. When that was not enough revenue, we started packing up the espresso machine into our cars, and we would set up mini coffee shops in people’s neighborhoods.
One person would let us use their driveway, we would run power cords to the house and invite the whole neighborhood to come through (socially distanced, of course, but all open-air), and we just brought the coffee shop to the people. That got so exhausting that my business partner had the brilliant idea of buying a school bus. We did, and we turned it into a coffee shop during covid. That became so successful that it has become a mainstay of our brand! Now the busses (we bought a second one) travel almost daily to sporting events, community events, schools, churches, and anywhere that we can impact the community and be a blessing.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Perhaps one of the hardest things to overcome is the feeling of isolation like you're on an island. You face financial troubles, family stress, and constant decision-making, with mountain after mountain to climb... and many times, it can feel as if you are all alone. That feeling can be hard to deal with at times, which is why mentors and a support group of peers can be so crucial!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Don't be alone. Find a mentor, a coach, or a peer group to be a part of because it WILL be hard, and knowing you have even just one or two people to talk to that will have your back can make all the difference in the world.
- Be ok with failing. I believe every entrepreneur should go through what I call the NFP: Necessary Fail Period. It's that period of time when nothing is working, everything is about to crash, and you're at your wits' end. It's OK! Everyone has that moment. Embrace it, deal with it, grab a beer with those mentors of yours (see tip 1), and then keep going.
- People over money. One of the things I have been blessed with is the ability to raise money for investments, some in my companies and also for others as well. Everyone always wonders how I do it so quickly, and the secret is simple... I build relationships, and the money follows. There have been many times I could have raised more money or had a higher valuation, but that was not the driving factor. I look at who I am surrounding myself with and what kind of person they are. If you are surrounded by the right people who are with you for the right reasons, you will find that finding money becomes a lot simpler.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.