There’s something about a family-owned business that just feels comforting. In our increasingly disconnected, harried world, interacting with people who have committed themselves to making a single company the best it can possibly be — in some cases, for generations — feels downright novel.
These companies possess the storied history and interpersonal respect that comes from working alongside parents, siblings and cousins over many years to perfect a single recipe, and to build trust with customers to always do the right thing. There’s a sense of tradition and a feeling of responsibility for the family legacy that imbue a successful family business model.
Local, family-owned businesses understand the deep power of community, and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself. This is why, for over 100 years, Community Coffee has put their community of neighbors and coffee drinkers first every step along the way. Whether brewing up a cup of the chicory blend or the classic dark roast, folks have been able to sip with confidence, knowing that the family behind their morning caffeine boost has been steeped in the coffee-making tradition for more than a century.
And for Matt Saurage, fourth-generation owner of Community Coffee, working as part of the company is so much more than a Louisiana-proud, family tradition (though it is that too). It’s a way to recommit, each and every day, to the friends and consumers who make up the Community Coffee, well, community. Below are key tenets that any good community member should embrace — whether you’re getting more involved in your hometown, book club or bowling league — as demonstrated by the lessons Saurage has learned growing up immersed in the family-owned business that he’s now leading into the future.
Good Community Members Remember Their Roots.
“When I was young, I would follow my dad to work. I wanted to be like my dad: I wanted to drink coffee, and I wanted to go to work, and I wanted to have a purpose. After school or during the holidays, I would come sit with him — and my grandfather — and just learn about what it takes to be in business with other people,” says Saurage. He developed an appreciation for the strength of relationships between employees, and how that goes deeper than just a job. It’s more about being part of a unit — a family unit. Saurage says he carried the importance of that idea through his teenage years and into early college, eventually joining Community Coffee for that particular reason. “I wanted to be with a local business, family-owned, that really had connectivity and appreciation for the people that worked with them in growing the business over a long period of time,” says Saurage.
“My first job was actually in a grocery store … the summer when I was 13. And I would also work for the owner during the holidays, stocking shelves and unloading trucks. So I have a deep appreciation not only for working with small business, but for the challenge of being a grocer and what it takes to be a successful grocer,” Saurage explains.
Although that grocery store summer job was the only experience he had on that side of the business before getting into the manufacturing, marketing and sales of coffee, the lessons learned there have remained important to Saurage.
As I got older, I wanted to prove myself to the family business — that I could get a great education and pursue my interests — and at the time I wanted to be an engineer. So, there was a period of time where I didn’t think much about the coffee company. And I felt that by being independent, I would be happy. But what I found was that I wasn’t, and it was always on my mind, and I wanted to be home. That’s what drew me back in 1994 to the family, and to the business, because I missed the people that I had met and knew.”
Good Community Members Always Listen — and Lift as They Climb.
“Our first name is ‘Community,’” says Saurage. “And we have to remember that we are successful because of those around us who support us; who work for us; who are there over a long period of time; who believe in what we do and give us feedback. We’re very appreciative for not only our customers, but for all the dialogue. It’s a community, right? It’s the exchange of ideas — even criticism — and we’re very appreciative for it.”
What’s important to Saurage is the ability to give back, by creating jobs and other opportunities — but even more so, by improving the quality of life in the communities where he works, and where his customers and employees live. This can mean very small or simple things, like giving donations to nonprofits to help them grow. It can mean supporting education in his employees’ and customers’ communities in a way that can make a lasting change, providing these communities with the tools needed to create new businesses and new opportunities.
“I think if you look behind any successful business, you will see that they are also actively giving back to their community. I think it’s a natural thing: The employees, the owners — they all want to do that, and it’s just a matter of doing it,” says Saurage. “Taking action and giving back to our local community has always been part of our DNA. It’s become more formalized as we’ve grown into three community giving pillars: education, support of our service men and women, and the impact we can make in sustainability and the environment, since we are an agricultural product.”
Good Community Members Build Relationships and Respect.
When you sell or market a perishable good, particularly a food product, you really have to know a lot about its origin and the care that’s taken to preserve quality from the day the plant is placed into the ground until it is harvested. “Not only is going to origin very important in our business, but it was a starting point for my career,” declares Saurage. He explains that the coffee farmers in Campos Atos, Brazil who grow the beans for Community’s products are much like farmers in America — except that the farms are at high altitude and in a beautiful, tropical rain-forest environment.
While Saurage is quick to say it’s a wonderful place to visit, he acknowledges that the job of farming there is as difficult as it is at any other farm in the world. He says, “I gained a true appreciation for the amount of work that goes into husbandry of a crop or plant, and the focusing on quality to ensure freshness.”
He reveals that the greatest lesson he derived from that, other than a real love for the farming and the people, was an understanding of the culture of those who produced the product that Community would ultimately roast and sell in the United States. He has enjoyed the real exposure he’s received, through his family’s business, to Brazilian culture, and the culture throughout Central and South America.
Good Community Members Always Work Together.
“What’s important in long-standing relationships — like our relationship with Rouses, or with a customer or with an employee — is honesty and listening. It’s all about being true to your word and listening for opportunities to help. I believe, as a local company, that the ability to have a handshake relationship, as well as the ability to solve problems or bring ideas to help solve problems for a customer, is important to the relationship,” declares Saurage.
And he believes the success that Community Coffee and Rouses have had over time are because of the two companies’ demonstrated dedication to those two things: honesty and listening. Says Saurage: “It’s about listening to the customer, being open to ideas. We have thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with Rouses. They’re good people. They’re true to their word. And they’re always looking for new ideas. It’s been an incredible relationship.”
Good Community Members Aren’t Afraid of Positive Change.
It’s a common challenge for any family business when the next generation comes along; identifying where they fit in and how they can contribute value are crucial to guiding the family business. Saurage believed being part of the younger set of a generational business was quite daunting. But as he matured he began to realize that the older set in a generational business is also intimidated, hoping that they have taught their children, or their nieces and nephews, well enough to sustain the business.
Saurage illustrates how learning to work with those generational differences can actually enhance the business as well as the family bonds: “It was kind of an interesting relationship with my father. I wanted to demonstrate my passion for the business and my new ideas, but I was always hesitant to implement them until he invited them. And that really flourished into a great relationship, where we had stories not just about the business, but about the father-and-son-working-together relationship to embrace new ideas while building confidence and trust.”
The greatest change Saurage’s family business is facing in the immediate future is engaging their workforce in using technology to connect with the customer at all levels, so they can better understand their customers’ needs and respond more quickly to them. He sees technology as an immediate opportunity, one that will change the packaged goods industry as it changes the grocery channels where Community sells their products.
Saurage has realized that a family business is much more than proving ideas or taking over ideas from one generation to the next, but in helping each other. Of working with his father, he says, “It was a great experience … I was able to implement a lot of my ideas and innovations and changes.” And working so closely with family members helped Saurage better appreciate, too, the contributions his father’s generation had made in advancing the company over the years.
Good Community Members Look Toward the Future.
Saurage has five children of his own, as well as a number of nieces and nephews. He believes many of them will enter some area of the coffee business, either directly in operations, or in working to sustain the impact the family business can make locally in Baton Rouge and across Louisiana by giving back. “They will probably all be involved to some degree,” he says of that next generation, “and those who pursue their own interests will also remain engaged with ensuring that [Community Coffee] remains a multigenerational company. That’s our dream.”
But Saurage also believes that Community Coffee, like many local businesses, is also owned by its customers. “This is not [just] my family’s business. It’s many families’ business. Many people are invested in this brand. So, our growth is really led by building value in and an affinity for the brand. Following that is the geography that we will gain. We’re not driven by growth for the sake of growth. We’re driven to build our brand and reach new consumers while delivering a great cup of coffee each and every time,” he declares, “because that’s what the people here in Louisiana expect from Community Coffee.”