“There’s always room at the top” in any industry, Claire Teasdale ’06 told the entrepreneurial business class on Friday – even if it is another coffee shop in the crowded field of Portland, Ore.
“There are 2,572 coffee shops in Portland,” she said, “and 2.3 million people. That’s one shop for every 900 people. There are 26 other coffee shops within a two-mile radius of Rain OR Shine.”
Still, the Rain OR Shine Coffee House has been able to carve out a special niche over the past five years. It is to the point where Teasdale and her partner, Molly Boyl, are able to work normal 40-hour weeks and still pay the bills at work and home.
Teasdale, who was back at Culver for her 10-year class reunion, said Rain OR Shine actually happened by accident. When another coffee shop closed at the same location, Teasdale’s parents said she and Boyl should consider opening their own. They had recently graduated from the University of Oregon and were still looking for work. They decided to give it a try, believing that even if the business flopped, it would be “a great resume builder.”
But after a year, the two realized they had the opportunity to make the business sustainable. But starting up was not easy. It included 17-hour days, living off tips, and eating day-old pastries. Then add that she and Boyl were living together in an apartment only 100 feet from their business. That is why their first rule has always been “friendship first,” Teasdale said.
The neighborhood where the coffee house is located includes two colleges, a high school and elementary schools. The clientele ranges from students to mothers stopping after dropping off their children at school to business people on their way to work. The weekend customers include people stopping before heading off for the mountains or finishing their morning runs.
Teasdale and Boyl wanted to make sure the business ‘represented what we wanted.’
Teasdale and Boyl wanted to make sure the business “represented what we wanted.” That included “consistent, friendly service,” big tables for larger groups, and having a small library that includes children’s books. They are active in the community on several levels, Teasdale said, because they understand that if they care about the community, their customers “will care for us in return.”
Rain OR Shine has tried several different ideas over the years, with varying degrees of success. They added vanilla to their whipped cream and cardamom in the coffee with great success. But the wine and cheese evenings on the weekend turned out to be “so, so expensive.” But they are open to trying new ideas, even if they aren’t fully worked out, and then assessing the suggestions of their customers and employees on how to improve. “We are willing to evolve and adapt.”
The biggest challenges have been learning to handle the financials and the human resources. Learning Quickbooks was a big step, Teasdale said, because it allowed them to talk the same language as the bankers when they asked for loans. They also took a 10-month long business class that was suggested to them by their CPA.
Teasdale also explained it was little awkward when she and Boyl, at just 23 years old, first started hiring people. It was hard to consider themselves as employers. Somehow, she joked, the employees seem have gotten younger as they have gotten older. There is a mix of younger and older workers, with the average age ranging from 18 to 25 years old.
Also, by allocating more of its gross sales to payroll than similar businesses, Teasdale said, Rain OR Shine has been rewarded with lower turnover and better customer service. Their current manager has been with them for three years.
Teasdale said they also are open about “why we do things,” maintain flexibility with work schedules, and reward employees when they have big days. “We want them to own their work experience.”