By Scott MacMillan
A typical day starts early for Michael Johnson, owner of Revocup South Coffee. People need their morning coffee, and Michael is going to make sure he is there to help them out. The idea of helping people started early in life for Michael, when he joined the boy scouts as a young boy. He continued to craft this life view by attending church and growing in his faith. He has carried that view through his adult life and has always found a way to use his interests and skills to help other people.
As he was approaching his 50’s he started to wonder where he wanted to spend the second half of his career. He had spent the first half of his career working as a bank vice-president and owning an employee benefits company, before moving to non-profits as Development Director for KU Cancer Center, working with the Cerner foundation, and Director of Development for Children’s Mercy Hospital. He and his wife started thinking about something other than non-profit but still included helping people.
Over the years Michael had been working with a local coffee roaster, Habte Mesfin, who is the founder of the original Revocup and creator of the Revocup Coffee Foundation. He could see Habte’s heart and passion for helping coffee farmers. Michael soon took on the role of president of the foundation, and started working with Habte to help support the foundation’s three pillar mission. The educational mission has opened 28 libraries in villages around Ethiopia. Their health mission has partnered with various non-profit organization like Holy Cross, a local Lutheran church, to build wells in villages. The fair trade mission works with Ethiopian co-ops so they know which farmer they are buying their beans from and can make sure they get a fair value for their beans. “I got sucked into this little tornado of a man who has a huge passion, and I said, wow, this is something I want to get engaged with.” So in 2015, Michael decided to invest in a Revocup coffee franchise.
Habte and Michael have plans to expand the Revocup brand, which is a win-win, because they can have a bigger and bigger impact on coffee growers throughout the world. He loves being a social entrepreneur which he sees as any business that gives back through their proceeds. And he knows he’s in good company with many other local Kansas City businesses that also give back.
Customer Interactions—”Life is good.”
One of the byproducts of owning a coffee shop is that you get to interact with a lot of people. “You end up becoming the “Cheers” mentality or the bartender confidant at times, and you’re able to hear their joys or their woes. The job has morphed into something more than selling a cup of coffee. It’s provided a means for me to give back through the foundation, and also giving back through me as a person.”
This interaction is important to Michael. “I really do love it. At the end of the day, you start to gravitate to things that you enjoy and things that you love. And if you do that you tend to become successful. So for me, having a job and having a career where I can be that ear to someone is part of something who I am anyway. Part of it relates to where I am with my faith, so I try to listen to people where they are. I listen to some of the struggles they may have and because I am a fairly calm person, they come to me and ask questions. It’s something that rejuvenates me daily because I get my energy from the people around me. If someone says how are you, my answer typically is marvelous, because I love life and I love being here and I love what we are able to do and I love the people that work here.”
As a patron of Revocup, I frequently notice that Michael wears a tee-shirt that says “Life Is Good.” “and it is,” says Michael. He goes on, “and that came about in part because I’m a cancer survivor and my girls gave that [shirt] to me after my cancer. And life IS good. It is what you make out of it. That’s sort of cliche-ish, but it’s the reality, and for me, life is good no matter what. And I try to live it that way every single day.”
When I asked Michael about the key components of starting and running a business, he said, “try to understand exactly how much time it will take to get up and running.” When opening the coffee shop, he thought he went into it eyes wide open and it still took more time than he thought. Also related is, “getting a good estimate of what it’s going to cost and when you can break even and pay yourself.” A lot of small business owners, including Michael, don’t pay themselves at first. “So you have to have to plan to live off, either through a spouse or assets in the bank to sustain you until you can become profitable.” He also said, “it’s helpful to know the direct costs of the business on an ongoing basis and know what to expect through a pro-forma statement. Not only today and tomorrow but also a year from now. You want to know if you are trending where you thought you were.” He also believes it’s important to know what you need to know. For Michael that was knowing what permits he needed to get pulled and what legal documents needed drafting. “There’s a lot of detail on the front end that took over a year to just get going.” He also thinks having good mentors has helped him. “Having Hapte around and other people in the community that I can talk to has been important.”
I asked him what kind of culture he advocated at Revocup and he had a lot to say about this. “As an owner/operator, your employees take on a bit of you. I’m pretty laid-back anyway, so for my employees, they know if we have a challenging issue that we have to talk about, I will come at it in a real positive way. We also look for employees that share our vision and don’t want just to be a barista. Anyone can push a button, and serve a cup of coffee, but we want someone who wants to know more about coffee. We want them to know the names of our customers and what drinks they like and be willing to have conversations with them. I also like it when they take ownership. We have some drinks that are monthly specials, and I encourage them to come up with what those are going to be. I also like to give them credit for those drinks when customers ask. I want them to feel valued, and if you add all of that together, I think that is how the culture starts to build.”
When I asked him about the challenges and fears that a small business owner has, he immediately said, paying the bills, but also: “There has to be an element within you of fear of failure to be successful. You have to make failure, not an option. I don’t want to fail, so my goal is to continue to get better; To find out what my customers want. I want to grow and become a welcoming, relevant place for them. So that means that I have to accept the fact there will be times that I’ll take missteps in order to be successful. It’s important to learn, from your missteps, though. The first job I ever had was working for a Wendy’s, and I got fired because I made a stupid mistake, but learning from those mistakes is important. Over the course of my life, I’ve stumbled many times, but it’s helped me become who I am today.”
I asked him what comes to mind when I say the word success. “Success for me is individual, it’s more about happiness and contentment as opposed to money. It’s about making a difference in someone’s life. Success comes from who you are as an individual, and as a byproduct, you have a wonderful marriage, like I have today, and wonderful kids, like I have today, a wonderful set of employees, like I have today. A great group of friends, like I have today. So at the end of the day, it’s being happy and content and knowing I’m making a difference in someone’s life.”
I asked him where he saw this business in 5 or 10 years? “The goal was to get this thing up and running and see what our challenges were and to tweak them. We’ve done that now and in the next 4 or 5 years, we’ll focus on how can we grow and make it sustainable. We’ll also look where we can add more value to the community and where we can continue to help the coffee growers. So that means other stores and other franchises. My goal is to be able to help Habte start to grow and find other investors who want to set up a coffee shop.”
“In 10 years, hopefully, I’ll have someone who is running this shop for me, and I can go out to the other stores and keep them engaged and make them feel valued. Making sure they understand what we’re doing and the message we’re trying to relay, not only to the store owners but also their patrons, so they understand what we’re trying to do as an organization and how we’re trying to make a difference in the world.”
A busy man like Michael must have to blow off some steam somewhere, so I asked him if he had any hobbies or liked to travel. “Hobbies are harder today than they were a year ago,” Michael said, “but I do love photography. That’s one of my big passions. I like to use that as a vehicle for a creative outlet and stimulation. I love to be outdoors thinking of my old days of wanting to be a park ranger. I study and I love to read. Church and my faith are also really important to me. Those are the things for me, that touch on mind, body, and soul.”
“I love to travel; I grew up traveling. My Mom and Dad would throw my sisters and me in a car, and we hit pretty much every state in the US. When I got married, my wife, who is from India, loved to travel as well and we traveled to Alaska, Hawaii and Niagara Falls and then started cruising and went to Mexico and the Bahamas. Then bigger trips to Italy and India, where I got to participate in a wedding ceremony and see lots of India that most people probably don’t see. Travel is important to me because I get a moment to step away from everything, turn the phone off, put my watch away and just enjoy time with my wife.”
Michael Johnson is a man who has a big heart and just wants to enjoy life with his family, friends, and customers, while always trying to help people along the way.
Visit Revocup South located 11822 W. 135th St. in Overland Park on the corner of 135th and Quivira. Stop by and say “Hi,” but have a good answer when Michael asks you how life is. And you’ll know how his life is because he’ll probably have his “Life Is Good” tee shirt on.
Also, visit the original Revocup located at 11030 Quivira Rd. in Overland Park on the corner of Quivira and College.