WILMINGTON — After launching Wilmington’s first Scooter’s Coffee Drive-Thru in August, Morgan DeBerry is already on his way to opening another, as part of fulfilling his six-year contract as a newly minted franchisee.
His Market Street and Gordon Road location has been exceeding expectations, serving up to 300 vehicles a day. With the second shop coming near Oleander Drive and South College Road — one of Wilmington’s busiest intersections — that number will tick up.
“Roughly 48,000 cars drive past us at the Market Street store,” DeBerry said. “That’s double what some Scooter’s stores experience.”
South College Road’s location will experience a passing 60,000 vehicles combined near Oleander Drive. The store, slated to break ground in February and open by May 2024, will be situated between Trader Joe’s and the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. DeBerry is building on a half-acre tract at 1421 and 1425 S. College Road.
“At that site, nobody is going to miss us,” he said, adding he’s been working with city planning and permitting for months now. “How we impact traffic, I will say, we’re very meticulous on our site planning and how we set up the store, how we’re gonna have flow — because the last thing I want to do is make traffic worse.”
Drive-thru is the king of the 660-square-foot Scooter’s; the footprint does not include dine-in options or patio seating. It works to get customers past the pick-up window within 1 minute. So far, those goals have been met at the Market Street Scooter’s.
“The goal is to find the right spot where people can scoot in and scoot out easily — that’s one of the big keys, I think, for success in this,” DeBerry said.
The new location will have enough space to wrap cars around the building twice if need be. There are also double lanes, the outer one dedicated to customers that order ahead. After placing orders for drinks and food items via the mobile app, they can jet through more quickly, as a Scooter’s barista delivers their drinks carside through a walkout door.
It’s a new concept that DeBerry’s second Wilmington store will be testing for the corporation to potentially implement elsewhere. He said the Market Street location will be rolling out a dedicated order-ahead, fast-service line next week.
DeBerry currently employs roughly 20 people — mostly UNCW and CFCC students — at the Market Street store and anticipates the same for the new location. Though he’s not under contract for a third Scooter’s quite yet, he is bound to launch 10 in six years, with a little more than half located in the greater Wilmington area. He’s looking into Leland and Hampstead, as well as Monkey Junction.
DeBerry is considering the remaining four stores to open across southeastern North Carolina, including Greenville, near East Carolina University. Though the goal wasn’t to target college towns per se, through conversations with other franchisees, such as in Boone, North Carolina, DeBerry found the popularity near campuses was a bonus.
“For me, I’m very hands-on,” he said. “So I never really want to open stores that are outside of my grasp. That’s really my goal, to stay regionalized so I can always be present in my stores and for my team managers because that’s the key to being successful, just being present in your business.”
Scooter’s opened almost 150 locations over the last year, including an expansion into the southeast — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. DeBerry said he spoke with franchisees in South Carolina as well as the Raleigh area, and visited the corporate headquarters in Nebraska to learn more about the coffee chain’s systems before signing on the dotted line.
“They just had a really strong executive team and their values really aligned with mine,” he said.
DeBerry comes from a franchise background. The Columbia, South Carolina, native graduated from University of South Carolina in business and worked in franchise development for Zaxby’s for 10 years. That’s where he met his silent business partner for Scooter’s, who still works for Zaxby’s as well.
“I really wanted to go into business for myself,” DeBerry said. “That’s always been the goal.”
With a proclivity for coffee, DeBerry first encountered a Scooter’s in Denver, Colorado, while going on a hike with his sister in 2021. They passed by a kiosk and stopped; the product quality and convenience of it drew him in.
“Obviously, drive-thrus are increasing,” he said. “Zaxby’s has gone from 50 or 60 percent to 80 or 85 percent drive-thru business.”
DeBerry associates the change with Covid-19 shutdowns shifting consumer habits. More take-out business has become the norm over the last four years, as people are accustomed to quick service on-the-go.
Aside from the efficient business model, DeBerry was drawn to Scooter’s owning its own manufacturing and distribution centers. The corporate company handles all preparation of its coffee beans through its Harvest Roasting company and ships the product to its locations. The company uses Arabica beans sourced directly from family farmers in Guatemala and Ethiopia, for example.
“They have their farmers come to our conferences and we get to meet them and talk to them, which I really like,” DeBerry said.
With a love for the Port City — a place DeBerry had vacationed for years during his youth — the entrepreneur knew he wanted to start multiple operations on the North Carolin coastline. Though introducing the new brand to the market is a challenge, he said it’s been a welcoming experience so far.
“The most positive feedback I’ve gotten from the community is just the interactions between my baristas and our guests,” he said.
The number one drink so far has been the Caramelicious — a Scooter’s staple — made with its own proprietary caramel sauce, he added. All of Scooter’s drinks are offered hot, iced or blended and are priced $3.75 and up; it also serves smoothies and teas.
Food wise, the maple waffle sandwich, served with sausage, egg and cheese, comes in as a top seller, DeBerry said. All of Scooter’s sandwiches and baked goods — cookies, donuts, cake bites — also are shipped from the corporate distribution centers.
In the winter, the coffee chain launched a center in Atlanta to help with its blooming footprint, as the company’s goal is to reach 1,000 stores nationwide by 2024.
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