- Devon McConville is a former day trader who owns First Place Coffee, a Phoenix-based coffee truck.
- McConville found success only after finding a consistent spot on the track.
- First Place owes its success to social media and a strong customer following.
- This article is part of “.Enabling small business success” is a series that provides small businesses with a roadmap to growth.
Devon McConville didn’t set out to be a small business owner or barista. Realizing that her own life was missing the human connections she found during her coffee breaks, she started her career in finance at a firm in Phoenix.
In 2015, she took the plunge and quit her high-paying job to dive into “all things coffee,” she told Business Insider.
McConville worked as a barista at a local coffee shop, working shifts and often returning home to read books and watch videos about the world of specialty coffee.
“I just fell in love with it all,” she said.
For McConville, working in this field felt right, and as soon as she took on her new role, she started brainstorming ways to do more in the coffee industry.
Today, McConville runs First Place Coffee, a beloved coffee shop on wheels in Phoenix’s drinks scene.
First Place Coffee serves specialty coffee and espresso drinks to patrons out of a 1970 Chevrolet P10 truck known as “Matilda.” The truck can only accommodate three or four baristas, but McConville and her team often stir and shake drinks for lines of customers surrounding the parking lot. .
First Place is one of many small businesses that has found success by building a strong community around their products and services.
McConville slowly built his business from scratch
McConville got the idea to start a mobile coffee shop after his partner in life, Terrence Marter, told him about an abandoned truck on a friend’s property.
McConville said she didn’t know there were many coffee trucks driving around Phoenix at the time, but she did know that food trucks were already well-established in the restaurant industry.
“I had a vision to really build a community around a mobile coffee business,” McConville said. “I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish something like that, but I knew it was something that was really important to me.”
For McConville and Murtagh, the truck was a low-risk way for mobile coffee distributors to test the market and an easy entry into business ownership. Because the business was fluid, the couple didn’t have to rent a storefront or invest in expensive facilities.
Ms McConville told BI that she and Mr Murtagh self-funded the launch of First Place. Also, since the couple did not receive financing, it took nearly two years to get the business off the ground.
“Everything was completely self-funded by us, so it was a great way to start,” she added. “It was great to be debt-free right away.”
Although it took a while to get the business up and running, McConville said it was worth the wait. She said this experience of hers has allowed her to continually build on the idea of finding customers, improving products, and fostering a community around her business.
“Entrepreneurship can be challenging enough as it is,” she says. “So by starting a small business in a way that worked for me, I had the benefit of exploring, failing, and learning along the way, without the added pressure of loans and investors. ”
Six years after its first sale, First Place was making between $1,300 and $1,800 in about four hours, representing an approximately 550% increase in sales since its opening month, according to financial documents reviewed by BI. Become.
After growing my following in person and online, things took off.
The first moment McConville felt his business was taking off was when he settled on the truck’s first consistent location at Rebel Lounge, a locally owned music venue in downtown Phoenix.
This spot is ideal because, like other nighttime breweries and bars with First Place parking, trucks can take advantage of empty parking lots and quiet after-hours.
But the key, McConville told BI, was that he parked his truck in the same spot every week and locals knew where the store was and returned. “We started getting busy, so we had to hire someone,” she says, adding that she brought on Elizabeth Chan as one of the team’s first baristas in August 2018. Ta. OK, this is working and my vision of creating a community atmosphere around a mobile coffee business is coming true. ”
Over the past five years, McConville’s business has grown from 36 sales per four hours to more than 130 transactions in the same span, according to documents reviewed by BI.
Chung told BI that he believes the company’s surge in new customers is due to risk-taking on Instagram.
McConville previously found success on the platform by posting and tagging photos of customers drinking coffee. The business grew organically as customers shared their photos with their followers.
When Chung took over the account, she continued to post photos of her customers, but also shared high-quality shots of drinks and designed graphics to make the page stand out. First Place Coffee has over 15,000 followers on her Instagram.
“From a logistical standpoint, it was a great way to get new followers and get attention to our page by tagging all of those people,” she said.
Social media has led to rapid business growth, but quality products continue to attract customers.
First Place sources coffee beans from Austin roasters and handcrafts seasonal menus to create a place where “quality and creativity meet,” Chong said. Past flavors have included pistachio, orange blossom water, and baklava made with flavored syrups measured in grams.
Build a community and get repeat customers
Many customers originally came to First Place for coffee, but Katie and Austin Hoglund told BI they keep coming back for the community. She said the couple has been coming to the track regularly for more than four years and loves being able to take their young children there on the weekends.
“We’re addicted to real coffee and the people keep us coming back,” Katie Hoglund said.
Chong said he believes the truck’s mobility is why it has such a following. With no seating area for people to work or immerse themselves in their laptops, First Place has become a place for people to socialize over coffee.
“The best thing you can do as a company is spark some kind of emotional connection with your customers,” Chung said. “We’re always in the same place with the same people, and I think that probably fosters higher quality connections with customers.”
In the five years he has worked at the truck, Chong said he has seen friendships blossom, lovers meet and children grow up to become friends. She believes the energy she and McConville have developed with her team and her customers is contagious. That’s why people keep coming back.
“Owning and operating a mobile coffee business seems like a really small thing, but I think the impact that comes from it is really big,” McConville said.