Editor’s note: This article was contributed by the Small Business Administration. The content may be edited for clarity, style and length. Find more at https://www.sba.gov/offices/headquarters/ovbd.
Before the first customers through the door took a sip from their cup of fresh espresso and before the sign went up on the location in Omaha, there was a soon-to-be-retired veteran sitting in a class at Offutt Air Force Base, wondering what he was going to do with his life.
That class was Boots to Business, a collaborative effort among the Small Business Administration, the nonprofit SCORE and the Nebraska Business Development Center to introduce the basics of entrepreneurship to transitioning service members. And John Sievers, along with his wife, Angela, was about to start something about which he’d later say he “didn’t have a clue.”
Green Beans Coffee is a friend to military men and women stationed at far-off bases who are eager for a taste of home. And the founders of the Green Beans chain, a couple of expats, could relate to the service members they served in war-torn hot spots.
Sievers said he’d stopped by one at a forward operating base on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border nearly every day, and when deployed to Iraq, he made a point to drop by each Friday to treat himself.
He admitted that the first time he was facing retirement from the Air Force, he wasn’t prepared for life after a career in uniform. He got a reprieve with a promotion to senior master sergeant, hitting reset on the countdown to the day he’d return to civilian life.
“I thought about the jobs I liked most in the Air Force and made a list of them,” he said. “The best jobs I had were the ones where I was leading small teams, fixing people’s problems and making their day.”
So he checked in with Green Beans Coffee, which had begun efforts to expand from overseas bases and the occasional airport, in an attempt to introduce its brand ― already familiar to military folks ― to people in cities and suburbs across the country.
“I didn’t know about coffee, but I do enjoy cooking,” Sievers said. “And my main purpose and drive, my ‘why’ for this company is what Green Beans does for the nation, and support in the community.”
For one, a portion of its profits support families of fallen service members.
“I figured everything else, I can learn how to do,” he said. “And I said to myself, oh, what the heck, I’ll apply for a license” to launch a Green Beans Coffee shop.
That’s when Sievers turned to SBA and its resources partners for help.
It wasn’t until he was sitting in that Boots to Business classroom in July 2013 that he could say to himself: “You know, I think I can do this.”
He next dug into the Omaha SCORE chapter’s pre-business workshop and a QuickBooks class. Siever was approved in June 2014 for a loan from First National Bank of Omaha, through the SBA’s Lender Advantage program, and was ready to begin work to open the new business.
He’s learned lessons along the way, overcoming a bad deal with an advertiser that required an intervention from the Green Beans Coffee corporate management to get his money back, for example. But mostly the promotional plan is to “do some guerrilla ads, some flyers.” They’re also already members of the Millard Business Association and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
The location, expected to create upwards of 15 new jobs, including a couple for his teenagers, is Green Beans Coffee’s first independent, stand-alone store licensed to use the company’s brand and products; the other 50-some stores are all corporate-owned. And because it’s not a franchise, Sievers was free to hunt far and wide for bargains to outfit his shop, getting equipment at a fraction of the cost from online retailers, “with free shipping,” he added.
Sievers researched locations, eventually discovering a spot in an affluent area off a major crossroads in southwest Omaha through which tens of thousands of drivers pass as they go to and from work each day.
Sievers, who had overseen the work of a little more than 200 people while in uniform, “wanted something completely different and challenging when I retired from the Air Force,” he said.
“And boy, I got it. We’re excited to be serving coffee, that’s for sure.”