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The Start of Lock-n-Load Java
Carl Churchill lost his job during the Great Recession and the idea of collecting unemployment and waiting for the economy to get better did not appeal to him. Being the “make it happen” kind of guy that he is, Carl and his wife sat down and they asked themselves, “What do we know and what are we passionate about?”
Through 21 years of active duty in the Army and Army reserve service, Carl Churchill and his wife knew the military community quite well. Carl also had background knowledge about start-ups and growing businesses, and they both were passionate about really great coffee. So, they decided to form Lock-n-Load Java, selling coffee to the military and veteran communities while welcoming those that support them into their community of customers.
Fuel for Warriors
They wanted an auspicious start date, so Carl and his wife registered the company on September 11, 2010. Subsequently, they formulated the flavor profiles for the coffee, designed the brand, created the labels and packaging, set up the logistics, and launched their website in April 2011.
Lock-n-Load Java sells coffee, cocoa, and related items like mugs and t-shirts directly to customers online and ships it right to their front door. Lock-n-Load offers premium, high-quality coffee that is roasted fresh and shipped immediately. Their Code of Conduct validates their commitment to their customers and the military community. Part of that Code of Conduct is that they donate $1 from every order to military charities, offering discounts to those ordering from war zones, and donating coffee to the troops. As Carl says,
“We sell kickass coffee that is fuel for warriors – whether they are in uniform or not.”
Why did you choose Miva Merchant?
We were using a shopping cart that was specific to the coffee industry called e-beans. It had some great functionality and we liked the folks we were working with, but we started to realize we were outgrowing it. We chose Miva after meeting Russ Carroll when he volunteered to be our mentor at an INC 500/5000 Conference. It was a fortuitous coincidence that he was our mentor. Not only did we hit it off with him on a personal basis, but we discovered a great solution to our shopping cart problem. What appealed to us about Miva was a lot of customizable functionality, a company whose values and culture we liked, the level of support and responsiveness we received, and the ability to scale to a very large size.
How have you customized Miva Merchant to fit your needs?
We have just recently launched our site so we have not done extensive customization yet, but we have a long list of items we want to create, including:
- A coffee club for auto reorders.
- Linking our shopping cart to our Facebook page where our 33K fans are often hanging out.
- Creating a way to customize our customer experience so each order helps us to form and deepen a relationship with them.
What is your favorite feature that you’ve built into your online store?
For us, there are so many great things it is hard to pick one. We love our mobile site. We also have gained tremendous efficiency in our shipping by having it integrated into our cart and being able to ship right out of Miva, which we did not have in our former store. We also did not have the ability to offer gift cards. Another feature we love is to be able to offer customers the chance during check out to donate $1, $3, or $10 to provide coffee for troops. We would love more ideas from the Miva community as we know there are experienced online merchants out there who can give us some great suggestions – let us know. We are all about implementing best practices and learning from those who stormed the beach ahead of us.
In your opinion, what are the keys to success when operating an online store?
We might be a little different from other retailers, but what has made us successful so far are a few things. First, we offer flat rate shipping with a modified version of the Amazon shipping model ($7.45 for orders under $50 and $2.50 for orders $50 and over). We subsidize most shipping in order to compete with local coffee brands. The second thing that has helped our success is establishing a network of like minded and supportive companies, blogs, and individuals who then help promote you. We focused on this because we were bootstrapping this business and free or very low cost PR was the only way to go. This and social media are the main way we have spread the word and grown the company to date. We do hope to augment this with PPC, SEO, and other proven methods of generating visitors in the near future as growth continues and cash flow improves.
I also think that some of the fundamental business success concepts are the same for online or brick and mortar stores – always do the right thing; offer a great product with responsive, top quality service; keep it simple and make it easy to purchase; create a relationship with the customer to build loyalty; own up to mistakes and correctly them quickly and effectively; and have fun at what you do. People like to do business with companies they like and trust.
What lessons have you learned as a result of setting up your internet business?
It is harder than Lori and I thought it would be – haha! I think fulfillment and shipping are critical. We ran tests for a couple of months to dial it in. I think you also have to work hard to convey your personality/who you are as a company since you can’t form an in-person relationship – that is hard but very important. Finally, we learned the importance of inventory management – we are still trying to crack the code on that for our non-coffee products – but it can kill cash flow.
What do you like most about using Miva Merchant?
Miva is a very professional tool so that is great, but probably what has struck us most is the service of everyone from our developers to the customer service reps. It seems like the inevitable bumps in the road are addressed quickly and people work hard to get you a solution.
How is your online store doing today?
It is doing well. We are suffering a little during this record hot weather across the country because people aren’t ordering as much, but iced coffee rocks – so pick up a couple of bags and let us know what you think.
Here are some other interesting facts about Lock-n-Load Java’s Owners:
- I am a combat veteran with multiple deployments to hot spots around the world during the past few decades. I started as a 17 year old Private and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 9 years on active duty and 12 years in the Reserves. I spent most of my time in the muddy boots Army at the pointy end of the spear – with 9th Infantry Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division, and Special Operations Command Europe among others. Lori was a military spouse who sacrificed her career to follow me around the world. She had the harder job and made huge sacrifices, often not knowing where I was deployed and when or if I was coming back. She is the love of my life and the best thing that ever happened to me.
- We were featured on the cover of Vetrepreneur Magazine in Sept 2012 – see picture above.
- We are proud to be part of the INC Magazine Military Entrepreneur’s program.
- Our company mascot is Kingston, a one year old Boxer – see picture below.
- We love to send coffee donations downrange. We allow customers to purchase troop packages for donations at heavily discounted prices and we pay for all shipping. We get lots of great photos – see example of one from a team in Afghanistan above.
- We drink large amounts of great coffee every day and love every minute of it.