Small Business Success Story: Neckar Coffee

Boise coffee shop owner Grant Shealy talks about finding your passion, why he thinks a little risk is a good thing, and his top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Nicola McIntosh Dec 17, 2019

What do psychology and a coffee shop have in common?

Quite a bit, actually.

Just ask Grant Shealy, who applies the concepts he learned from earning his psychology degree to his business, Neckar Coffee.

Specifically, Shealy says our five senses — sight, hearing, taste, feel and smell — are our “access points to reality” and they guide his daily decision-making. Shealy asks himself: Is it pleasant looking? Is it too loud? Too quiet?

guy and woman in coffee shop
Neckar Coffee owners Zoe Davis and Grant Shealy
Photo by Matthew Wordell
people inside a coffee shop

“Everything in society hinges on collective processes that exist in our brains that affect the choices that we make and things we end up doing,” he explains. “That has been a big advantage — the ability to think critically.”

We sat down with Shealy to learn more about his journey to becoming a business owner, why he thinks a little risk is a good thing, and his top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Name: Grant Shealy
Age: 31
Hometown: Boise, Idaho.
Education: Attended Highlands Elementary School and Boise High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
First job: Dishwasher at The Melting Pot in Boise. 

Why did you want to start your own small business?

 If there was one reason as to why I started this business, it was learning that I can’t work for people. I never had a supervisor that I really respected and who respected me. I was sick and tired of that. I needed to have control over my work process.

Why coffee?

cup of coffee with a foam design

I drew it out of a hat. We think about entrepreneurs as people who woke up 30 years ago knowing what they wanted to do. There’s always this romance about being born to do something. I don’t believe that.

For me, it was a much more pragmatic approach, a scientific approach: What I thought I could do and what I wanted to do. You absolutely have to be passionate about something, but you can find your passion later. 

In a fairly crowded marketplace of coffee shops, what differentiates Neckar Coffee?

We haven’t chosen to focus on just one aspect of the business. We need to have an excellent product, an excellent location, a strong brand, access to capital and a good team of employees.

Watching other businesses, you see people put all their eggs in one basket. I knew that was very risky. It’s not that our coffee is 100% better than any other cup of coffee. It’s a collection of everything.

What is the biggest challenge for you as a small business owner?

I don’t have any real experience, I’m just self-taught. So I have to be OK with making mistakes. The times that I failed to admit I made a mistake, that’s a bigger kind of mistake.

What is it like working with your spouse in your small business?

It’s how much we have in common that makes us a good couple as well as the ability to communicate. We communicate even when it’s very uncomfortable — especially when it’s very uncomfortable.

What words of wisdom would you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

Plan to succeed. Again, this is psychology. If you don’t plan to succeed, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I really believe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy

I  heard so many times about the risks involved with starting a business. That was everybody’s first reaction. There were so few people who came from an optimistic point of view, but that language is so important. You have to take risks and plan to succeed.

coffee making equipment on a countertop

My dad used to say, life is not a primrose path. Life is supposed to be hard, especially when you are pursuing starting a business. People say, if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life, but that’s just not true. You need to be OK with it being hard. Rather than a deterrent, it should be inspiring. It indicates that we’re in the right place. 

What role did Zions Bank play in your journey to small business owner?

I found out that Zions Bank was highly ranked for U.S. Small Business Administration loans and I was referred to Zions by a business owner. I needed a loan, so I was sent to Karen Appelgren at the Business Resource Center for help with my business plan. I received an SBA 7(a) loan from Zions Bank to finance the tenant improvements and equipment at our shop.

I still use my business plan. It’s a good way of building a blueprint for your business. The numbers aren’t exact, and it’s impossible to predict your revenues. But the relationships — such as the cost of goods sold as a percent of total revenues, or labor expenses — just having that written down set me up to more easily understand and work with that data down the road. It would be so much work to do that retroactively.

neckar coffee window sign

I have so many good things to say about that experience. Karen is just a superhero. She was so into helping me, and that was such a cool thing — especially coming from a bank.

Looking to follow in Grant’s footsteps and start your own small business? Zions Bank offers online business tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.

Visit a Zions Bank branch or locate a banker near you to learn more about financing* including SBA loans.

Nicola McIntosh is social media manager for Zions Bank.

* Loans subject to approval. Terms and conditions apply. See banker for details.

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