The Woods Coffee opens store at Birch Bay Square

Published on Thu, May 7, 2009
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By Tara Nelson

Wes Herman has a motto for doing business – family first.
Herman, a resident of Lynden who has more than 30 years of experience in the construction and development industry, broke into the coffee business in 2002 after watching his children spend hundreds of dollars on espresso beverages each month.

Through his business, he believes he has helped give his family long-term financial stability, a way to spend more time together, and enjoy some quality coffee drinks as well.

He recently opened his newest store at Birch Bay Square. With the number of Whatcom County stores now at nine and several more in the works, the Woods is quickly turning into a success story, or miniature coffee empire, take your pick.

“People thought we were crazy when we went from one store to six months later going to two stores and then when we opened a third store, they thought we were certifiably nuts,” he said.

The 1,750-square foot Birch Bay Square site was on the agenda for two years but their plans were halted when Starbucks said it was looking into that location. So when Starbucks backed out of the deal at the last minute, Herman jumped at the opportunity.

“We felt it was a great location in an area that was underserved and so far, it’s been outstanding,” he said. “We haven’t announced that we’re open and we’ve been absolutely busy every single day.”

Herman speculates part of that success is rooted in Whatcom County being the fourth largest market for coffee in the United States, behind Alaska, Seattle and San Francisco.

“We happen to fill a void in the market place for a high-quality experience, with fireplaces, leather furniture, wireless internet and comfortable interiors with a Northwest look,” he said. “Based on the response since we’ve opened, we’re definitely filling a need. It’s also our first freeway-visible store and we’re seeing a huge influx of Canadians as they’re driving south.”

The interior of the Woods Coffee stores are also notable with inviting track lighting, warm, rich tones of pine, vaulted wood ceilings and comfy leather sofas – all designed and executed by family members.
Herman said the Birch Bay location is the first to showcase their style of furniture line and color scheme. It also provides an opportunity for customers to purchase his natural edge or “live-edge” tables he’s handmade from fallen, dried trees gathered over the years.

“The live edge is the actual natural edge where the bark has been removed,” he said. “We design them and they are locally made from native Whatcom County wood.”

A family affair

Herman, his wife Diane and their children – Natalie, 25, Kelly, 22, Taylor 20, and Connor, 19 – moved to Whatcom County 15 years ago from Northridge, California. Herman was working in the construction industry and Diane was a stay-at-home mother of four who homeschooled their children.

Shortly after moving, he quit the construction industry and was hired by Cruisin’ Caps, a small product development company in Bellingham as a national sales manager.

The job – selling small adhesive plastic caps to keep coffee beverages from spilling – would take him around the country during the week, leaving weekends for visits with family. It was then that Herman said he was inspired to open a business.

“I came home and saw my children spending $100 to $200 on espresso drinks apiece per month,” he said. “I thought there could be something to the idea that coffee isn’t just for a select older generation but for a younger generation all the way from middle school to high school and college.”

Keeping it green

Herman’s relentless drive naturally doesn’t stop there. The Woods won green business of the year in December from Bellingham/Whatcom County Çhamber of Commerce as well as the Readers’ Choice Award from Bellingham Herald for 2008.

In 2007, they were the large business of the year finalist through the Bellingham/Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce and was named “hottest brand in America” by the Brand Coaches.

Herman added that his is one of the first coffee companies in the area to use clear cups and lids made of 100 percent compostable natural cornstarch polymers from which to serve his organic lines of Kona coffee.

Another important goal, Herman said, is reducing their amount of waste and footprint on the environment, using reused or sustainably produced building supplies and the employing local construction services.

Just last year, Nooksack Recycling notified Herman that his business is the “biggest plastics recycling client in the city of Lynden.”

“We are in a business that thrives in an area that supports local ownership and promotes good business and community connections,” he said. “The relationships are not only built on an almost daily basis with the customers, but all the way down to the relationships that are built with the family farms who are producing the green beans that are shipped all the way around the world.

“We work closely with small farms and co-ops around the world and we pay them a premium for the quality of their product. It’s not just a competitive edge, but it’s a caring from the buyer all the way to the consumer who is spending $3 on a latte and down to the owners of the local stores who own that product, down to the farmer who is an independent person and are people that we believe we need to support because they provide our product.”

“Local is important the further we go, the more we become part of this urban village mentality,” he said.“All these things cost more money but they are issues that we feel are important to us.”

Herman also said Woods Coffee is the first specialty coffee retailer in the northern part of Washington to introduce Greenware, a compostable cold drink cup and lid product for iced drinks made from a polylactic acid resin made by isolating natural starches found in corn kernels and converting into sugar.

Small is beautiful

With nine stores throughout Whatcom County Herman said they are also looking at several other prospective sites for the future, two of them in Blaine.

Herman, however, said they plan to focus their growth here in Whatcom County before they consider branching out into other markets.

“We’ve had plenty of opportunity to grow outside of our community and even into Canada, but we’ve have been specific and intentional about managing our growth so we have what we’re doing under our control to the point where we know and are confident that we’re doing the right thing before we move on to bigger things.

“Having been through many different areas of development and construction, you kind of get to that place where you realize bigger is not always better.

“The mentality in our country is that bigger, better, faster is how you achieve; we don’t necessarily buy into that.”

The Wood’s is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and is located at 8130 Birch Bay Street at Birch Bay Square. For more information, call 393-4761 or visit their web site at www.thewoodscoffee.com.