A number of years ago, Melesa Williams saw Coffee News® and was interested, but didn’t think too far into the idea. When she and Mike Thill wanted to start a business together, they researched franchises. “But nothing quite fit,” Melesa says. “Then we happened to be in a restaurant one day. I saw Coffee News® and picked it up. We got home and set it on our dining room table. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is it!’ We found out the Coffee News® College was in one week.” So they packed their bags and traveled from Chicago to Bangor.
On April 9, 2016, Melesa and Mike published their first issues of Coffee News® Chicagoland, one serving St. Charles and the other in Geneva, both in the western suburbs. Fresh weekly issues of Coffee News® can now be found in locations throughout St. Charles and Geneva, Illinois.
They’ve wanted to be in business together ever since they met. “We were both tired of working for companies,” says Mike, who has been employed by everything from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop shops. “I’ve got 25 or 30 years’ experience, not only running my own business selling computer hardware and software but since the early 1990s, selling and consulting for different businesses. So stepping into all these businesses to sell Coffee News® is second nature for me.”
Early this year, they investigated franchises, as Mike had done once before, “when I was looking for something to add on to my business.” Deciding on Coffee News® was easy. “The price was certainly an attractive feature. Other franchises cost $50,000 to $100,000 just to set up and would take four or five years to get your money back. I did the numbers right away,” says Mike, who is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and has a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). “With Coffee News®, we could make our money back in a few months.”
In dramatic contrast to Mike’s background, Melesa sold headstones for 13 years. “This is quite a bit different,” she says. She also has done event planning, “So I was used to working with people. Back in the day, I always wanted to do some kind of newsletter.” She’d kept selling headstones, “but it just didn’t feel right. Nothing about it felt right. We just continued to talk about this and it seemed like a perfect fit, how we can help people promote their businesses.”
Melesa is enjoying the networking aspect of being a franchisee. “It’s been very exciting, and a lot of hard work—joining the Chamber of Commerce, going to events, and things like that.”
By their fourth week of publishing, they had 20 advertisers. Right now, they’re putting advertisers in both editions and will work out the split later. “Some of our early people we’ll keep in for a while because they were the first ones to jump on,” says Mike. “The idea is to get the two papers set up as quickly as possible, and start to get into that $35 to $40 advertising range.” Then they’ll talk about adding editions. “I’d already planned from the beginning to work that whole corridor, north, and south.
In late March, the Chamber of Commerce sent an email blast to 1500 companies. “That generated our first three orders, right out of the gate, and all three knew each other,” Mike says. By their fourth week, everybody was excited about getting in. “If I don’t get three or four orders a week, I’m ticked. But that’s just me.”
One day soon after the email blast, they were walking door to door in a building that had a large sign over three doors. Mike swung open the door and said, “Hello, LA Tan people!” But it was a Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Everyone was shocked because they weren’t LA Tan. But the owner said someone had given her a recommendation and she was just getting ready to call them. “Stuff like that happens to me all the time,” Mike says, “like ‘I was just getting ready to call you.’ It comes down to doing the hard work, and grinding it out with the phone calls, and seeing people. And eventually, things just fall into alignment.”
Melesa and Mike enjoy walking into businesses wearing Coffee News® hats, or carrying the papers and having people say they’ve seen Coffee News® all over the place. Mike says, “It’s been kind of neat to have a product that will generate that kind of excitement.”