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Cabin Coffee Impacts Small Communities through Business Growth

Be Loyal, Buy Local. It is the rallying cry for many retail small businesses. The economic impact is more obvious, but to Brad Barber, co-owner of Clear Lake-based Cabin Coffee, the social aspect of small business is of even greater importance to the local community.

“I believe the people you work with within the business, your suppliers and your customers are just as important as your family,” said Barber. “The more we make people feel wanted, needed and appreciated, the healthier our community.”

Such is the core of Cabin Coffee’s success. Since its beginning in 2002, Barber and his wife Angie have grown the local coffee shop into a national sensation known for its homey décor and welcoming environment. Today Cabin Coffee boasts two company-owned stores in Iowa with 15 employees and 13 franchises in Iowa, Georgia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado with another 130 employees.

Barber champions the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) for helping so many small businesses fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. While Cabin Coffee’s start-up operations were financed with personal savings and a conventional loan from Manufacturers Bank & Trust, its 2nd location in Mason City and many of its franchises were financed with SBA guaranteed loans through local lenders.

Its recent expansion of an operations center in the Clear Lake Industrial Park includes space for its primary office, a new roasting facility and a merchandise distribution center. The Barbers financed the facility with a SBA 504 loan through Iowa Business Growth and Farmers State Bank. They worked with Paul Weeks of Iowa Business Growth, a SBA Certified Development Company, to structure the loan, which allowed them to invest only 10 percent into the project with 20-year fixed rate financing on the SBA portion of the loan.

Entrepreneurial Vision

It all started with a quick stop at a locally-owned coffee shop while on a visit to Des Moines. Realizing Clear Lake and its tourism industry would greatly benefit from such an investment in the community, the Barbers set their sights on building a brand that would flourish into something bigger then themselves.

The Barbers’ previous business experience contributed greatly to their plans. Brad spent most of his career working for a national restaurant chain where he gained expertise in operations and construction with its expansion of corporate-owned and franchise stores.

Angie’s wide range of experience with a national luxury brand retailer helped them to identify areas to focus on with wider profit margins.  Cabin Coffee’s merchandising of t-shirts, coffee mugs, French coffee presses and other items has developed into a significant revenue stream for the business while supporting its branding efforts.

Working with family members, especially your spouse, is a challenge for some small businesses. Brad sees it as an opportunity to get to know each other better by appreciating each other’s talents and the value they bring to the business.  One important lesson learned is the need to separate business and personal lives, especially at times when the business gets too consuming.

Franchising and Business Growth

From the beginning the Barbers knew they wanted to franchise the Cabin Coffee brand.  Their strategy is to not grow too fast and to focus on small towns with less than 10,000 to 20,000 in population. It is based on the Barbers’ passion to help others start their own businesses and take ownership in their communities.

Brad advises other small businesses of the importance of surrounding yourself with a team of professionals to support the start-up and growth phases. He worked closely with a franchise attorney at BrownWinick in Des Moines seeking legal advice on tax and regulatory policies in the various states of their franchise operations.

The Barbers also believe in paying it forward by giving back to the community. Brad started working with the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at Northern Iowa Area Community College  a few years after starting the business. He now volunteers his time sharing his business experience with students through its Youth Entrepreneurial Academy.

After 15 years of small business success, Brad and Angie Barber are still living their dream by Cabin Coffee’s motto - “Just be Happy…and have Fun.”

Jayne Armstrong is the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Iowa District Office with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The SBA resource network includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, eight SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center servicing Iowa’s small business community.

About the U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit