Duo Moves From Dorm to Distributor

Thomas and Sartin with coffee beansThere’s something special about college. It’s a place where relationships develop into lifelong connections—like the one that began when Harlin Thomas, B.B.A.’01, and Floyd Sartin, B.A.’03, started college as roommates in Fox Hall, where they had ample time to talk about life, dreams and goals.

Eight years after graduation—following marriages, children, relocations and corporate career launches that landed them both in the Washington, D.C., area—they continued their friendship and their connection with WMU. And, they made good on a dream from their dorm days to start a business together.

“In 2005, we began to sponsor social events for WMU alumni—this was the birth of our working relationship,” says Sartin. “In 2014, we decided it was time to start a business together in an industry that provided great opportunity to grow and gave people a product that was special and memorable. On that day, Mochabox was born.”

Mochabox.com is a roast-to-order, specialty-coffee-bean wholesale distributor that delivers high-quality coffee beans from around the world with products and services that represent integrity, authenticity and collaboration. In addition, Mochabox’s subscription service is a way for consumers to try some of the finest coffees available.

While they are both still immersed in corporate careers—Thomas as a supply chain manager for Northrop Grumman and Sartin as the director of human resources at cool.org and previously in a position working with government contractors in strategic human resource management and talent acquisition—the duo carves out time to meet biweekly to discuss company goals and business plan objectives, and to plan for local events.

With technological changes and customers who seek speedy delivery, the duo says the greatest challenge with keeping their delivery model on schedule is gaining a better understanding of order demand. “As a WMU student, I learned the importance of understanding lead times and building that into your delivery model so that you can avoid delays to the customer,” says Thomas, co-owner and chief of operations. “We have solid relationships with two coffee roasters that support us with drop-ship deliveries and expedited shipments, and we are currently looking at tools that can help us connect more effectively with our customer base so that we can understand their needs real-time.”

To help address demand and manage the process, they have adopted an economic order quantity model, a fundamental model for balancing inventory costs with order processing costs.

“We have a ‘roast to order’ model, but when there is last minute variation in the order quantity, we face the challenge of shipping the coffee to the customer on time,” explains Thomas. “Therefore, we try to keep some reserve coffee on hand and stored appropriately so the coffee can be as fresh as possible upon delivery.”

Coffe bean packagingBut delivery is not the only challenge in Mochabox’s business model. Understanding the customers’ palates is essential. They started Mochabox with 20 different coffees ranging from single origin to various blends but recently reduced offerings to eight, improving internal operations and speeding delivery to customers.

Sartin, co-owner and chief creative director, adds that industry trends, including innovative packaging, cold brew coffee products and additional specialized varieties, will continue to influence Mochabox’s distribution. “Also, as Millennials begin to drink more and more coffee, our strategies will focus on marketing our brand and products to that audience,” says Sartin. “We also plan to introduce a cold brew product in 2017.”

But Mochabox isn’t focused solely on coffee beans. ‘We remain committed to helping sustain local communities by supporting low-income and homeless individuals,” says Sartin. ”Being from the inner city of Detroit, we believe that it is important to show young people that success is attainable,” says Sartin.