LEADING A COFFEE BRAND’S HAWAII HOMECOMING

Bad Ass Coffee

Scott Snyder figures it’s well past time that Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii starts living up to every part of its name.

Snyder, the CEO of the Denver-based beverage company, first encountered the brand some 25 years ago while he was poolside at the Hilton Waikoloa Village.

Over time, Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii —which was founded in 1989 with the mascot of a donkey that braved the steep slopes of Kona — changed hands and steadily shifted to the Mainland with a franchise business model. It peaked in the late 1990s, but after the Great Recession, storefronts steadily closed to the point that there were only 16 left.

Snyder, who has made a career out of

revitalizing brands that have lost some luster, first consulted with Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii’s management four years ago.

One thing that intrigued Snyder: All the while, Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii never stopped using Hawaii-grown coffee beans. In July 2019, Snyder’s group, Royal Aloha Franchise Company LLC, bought all the assets.

“Even before we put the group together to buy this, it has always been important to me that we reestablish our [Hawaii] roots,” Snyder told Pacific Business News. “We have Hawaii in our name. … We follow the Hawaii coffee laws. So, we say that we’re from Hawaii, but if you look at our footprint, you say, ‘yeah, but they’ve only got two stores on one island, on Maui.’ So that has been one of our priorities since we acquired the brand assets two years ago.”

A brand overhaul followed in early 2020, with redesigned logos, packaging, messaging and store prototypes. It emphasized its playfulness; “There’s a little Bad Ass attitude in every bean we roast and every cup we brew” is one of its sayings.

The brand initially took a hit during the pandemic — revenues dropped by as much as 65% — but has since flourished. Its 20 locations on the Mainland are projected to more than double in the next one to two years with a bevy of new franchise owners. Online sales have tripled.

Snyder wants to see stores open in Hawaii, especially.

“We think it’s important,” he said. “It’s a missing piece to this story for us, and so we are looking for those partnerships that allow us to bring those storefronts back to the islands of Hawaii.”

One partnership Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii recently struck was with Martin & MacArthur. Its coffee and mixed beverages will be sold in the Hawaii-based handcrafted furniture retailer’s 13 locations.

Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii partners with four or five local farms, such as Kona Coffee grower Greenwell Farms. By the end of 2021, it will transport about 30,000 pounds of coffee beans from Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai to Denver for roasting and packaging, Snyder said.

Why go all-in with Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii when you did?

As I evaluated the brand, like any other brand that I’ve ever worked with, I looked at the three things that are most important: the brand itself — was it attention-grabbing, fun, disruptive, was there something memorable about that brand? Two, was the product any good? And three, does it have the infrastructure, the business model, the people and the processes to have ongoing success?

One leg of that stool is more important than the other two, and that’s the product. If the product isn’t any good, it doesn’t matter how good your name is … that’s a deal killer. I was thrilled to see in my very quick time with Bad Ass, that people know this brand, and they’ve known it for 30 years of coming to Hawaii.

What experiences did you have to prepare you for this?

Probably more than anything, my career’s been defined by working with legacy brands, longstanding brands that maybe have lost their way or become irrelevant, and reinventing those brands to discover what is unique and ownable for those brands that can be

… promoted, and build a brand about that one thing they do best. And that is really what Bad Ass Coffee of Hawaii is all about. Great brand, an amazing product. We just had to put the guts in behind it.

What is unique about your partnership with Martin & MacArthur?

We’re focused on franchises first, but we have a [new] wholesale program for those other types of outlets, whether it’s serving coffee in your office … or limited specialty retail. That’s where Martin & MacArthur comes in. Those wholesale channels don’t have access to all the coffees that our franchise stores do. But our current agreement is that they have that special retail exclusivity for the islands of Hawaii, and we think that that’s a great partnership for us.