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UW-W alumnus helps to lead family coffee business

Carlie Sue Herrick / Graphics Editor

Carlie Sue Herrick / Graphics Editor

Brad Allen, Biz & Tech Editor

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A University of Wisconsin-Whitewater alumnus has been propelled into conducting sales on behalf of his family’s coffee and tea distribution business, Door County Coffee.

Doug Wilson graduated from UW-W in 2013 with degrees in finance and economics. Door County Coffee, which opened in 1993, is a family-owned business that Wilson joined onto after graduation.

Wilson said he has had a lot of experience working with coffee, starting as a waiter in the café in Door County.

“I was mainly back up at the Café on weekends during college,” Wilson said. “Having a lot of that one-on-one experience with coffee helped really propel me into this sales role.”

Door County Coffee has partnerships with many department stores, including Kohl’s, Shopko, Bed Bath & Beyond and Meijer. They sell 17 varieties of single-serve coffees, bulk beans, ground coffee and has distribution lines for tea syrups. The business offers fall and spring coffees as well.

“We’ve been more or less thought of as a Wisconsin company, however we’re actually going to be selling to retailers in 45 different states,” Wilson said. “That was a pretty big hurdle for us to jump. It’s pretty exciting to say that we’re were in almost all landlocked states.”

Economics Professor Russ Kashian said Wilson has found a niche market.

“His family is taking the experience of Door County—this sense of history, the culture—and they’re allowing the consumer to bring it back to their house [in the form of coffee],” Kashian said.  

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“His family is taking the expereince of Door County—this sense of history, the culture—and allowing the consumer to bring it back home [in the form of coffee].”

— Russ Kashian, associate professor of economics

Wilson completed three economics courses instructed by Kashian. Wilson was also active in the Economic Society on campus.

Wilson said Kashian was his favorite professor, and the two have kept in touch since his graduation.

“We have a very tight-knit alumni group,” Kashian said. “We graduate probably 20 majors a year, so it’s relatively easy to keep in touch with them. We follow them on LinkedIn, and they tend to be cheerleaders for us.”

Kashian described Wilson as one student who hung around the halls looking for knowledge. He added that some of the most successful hang out and don’t just come here for classes, but also are engaged in a program on campus.

“I encourage all of our students to make the university their own and become part of it,” Kashian said. “That’s how you built greatness, you take ownership.”

Doug embraced the concept of perfect competition, Kashian said. The four ingredients to perfect completion in business are: Easy entry and exit, perfect information, homogeneous product and many buyers and sellers.

“Basically, you take coffee and make it special, and that’s what he did,” Kashian said. “It’s about moving away from a commodity to a special product. The entrepreneurial spirit isn’t something you can teach, you can only nurture it.”

Kashian said that professors give students core knowledge and an assortment of skills—almost abstract knowledge—that students then have to learn how to translate into other working skills after graduation.

“All of our students, if they focus on what they view as success, then they can succeed,” Kashian said. “We need to do what inspires us, and I’m glad Doug is doing this, because he’s found his calling.”

Wilson said that from a financial perspective, having a background in accounting will help him to make decisions down the road when he takes over the family company.

“We’ve had talks about it,” Wilson said. “It’s just about getting our ducks in a row, so that when the day comes when mom and dad want to retire, I’m ready to take the leap.”

Kashian said Doug has built a close network with his family, and they’re working very tightly with him on this.

Wilson said it is a big effort running a business when you’ve got 50 to 60 people [employees] to take care of.

“But the biggest challenge is being able to walk away from certain clients in business has been an issue,” Wilson said. “From a business perspective, you’ve got to be able to know when to turn away poor business and focus on another business that’s better for the growth of your company.”

Among all the skills Doug learned during his time at UW-W and while working with his family’s business, he said that self-development has been really important to him.

“When you talk to a lot of national retailers, you meet some pretty interesting buyers, and you’ve got to learn to prop them up a little bit and make them feel good about themselves,” Wilson said. “I also think helping to develop relations with people is important too. People from all walks of life come here, and it’s awesome.”

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Taking tradition home