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QSR Interview | By Robin Van Tan

Field of Beans
Caribou Coffee CEO Michael Tattersfield is convinced if the company can reinvent the coffee experience, customers will come to play. So far, he’s right.
Caribou Coffee aims to be 100 percent Rainforest Alliance Certified in the next year.

Mike Tattersfield was living in Columbus, Ohio, in 2005 and working as vice president of store operations at Limited Brands, an apparel company, when he first visited a Caribou Coffee. The brand immediately piqued Tattersfield’s interest.

“It had outstanding coffee,” he says. But even though he came to visit at least three times a week and his family made Caribou coffee at home as well, something was always missing.

“It was a bit of a functional experience,” he says. “It was more focused on throughput than on connection, and I’m a customer that’s looking to have a conversation.”

Tattersfield would go on to spend several more months at Limited and then another year and a half as chief operating officer of lulu-

lemon athletica, but he never forgot his earlier experiences as a Caribou customer.

So when Tattersfield took the role of CEO and president of the brand in August 2008, he knew exactly which direction to take the company.

“The brand always, from its inception, was built on a belief of having the best coffee, but we weren’t delivering that in every single consumer touch point that we have available,” he says. “It was all there in front of us, we just weren’t executing around it. We weren’t living the culture.”

Ever since, Tattersfield has examined each aspect of the brand, reinventing everything from its logo to its marketing plan to its expansion strategy, all the while making sure Caribou finally does live the culture.

Overcoming Growing Pains

When Tattersfield came to Caribou, he was the third CEO the company had had in as many years. At the time, the company was at a low point financially. Its stock price was $1.89—less than the price of many of its coffee offerings.

“One of the first things that we did as a team is we looked at the business from the outside looking in and started to address some of the major issues,” he says.

Real estate problems immediately became apparent. An emphasis on rapid expansion had led to poor decisions when it came to site selection and store managers. Tattersfield and his team assessed each Caribou store based on the value of its real estate and its performance.

“We had opened up in some wrong locations, so we closed the ones we should close,” he says. And as expansion fell into the background, Caribou turned to elevating the entire brand experience for customers.

The numbers show the real success of Tattersfield’s strategy. Caribou’s stock prices rose 500 percent last year, making it the best in Caribou’s financial history. During the same time period, competitor Starbucks struggled, facing massive closures and falling stock prices.

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