NFIB Member Profile: How Corporate Burnout Produced a Successful Coffee Farmer

Date: February 01, 2016 Last Edit: September 07, 2016

Meet Dave Bateman—lawyer turned farm owner.

Name: Dave Bateman, CEO of Heavenly Hawaiian Farms

NFIB member since: 2013

HQ: Holualoa, Hawaii

Main product: Kona coffee

Farms: 46 acres with 24,000 coffee trees

Agri-tourism: 5,000 visitors annually

First big customer: Trader Joe’s

Dave Bateman never expected to be a coffee farmer. His early careers included Air Force Reserve colonel and litigator in his own law firm. But a chance visit to a coffee farm in Washington over a decade ago sparked an idea. In 2005, he and his wife, Trudy, decided to retire, sell their home in Olympia and buy Heavenly Hawaiian Farms. They moved to Kailua and purchased yet another, smaller farm.  

“It was corporate burnout,” explains Bateman. “I got tired of arguing with people.”

With just six full-time workers and 15 seasonal pickers, Heavenly Hawaiian Farms is one of hundreds of family-owned Kona coffee farms in Hawaii. He started from “ground zero,” joining as many coffee boards as possible. Within a year, he says, “I learned everything I needed to know about growing coffee.”

RELATED: From Boardroom to Barn: Business Leaders Who Became Farmers

 

Brewing Growth

The original farm came with a client in Japan and one in California. But growth would require a new direction. Bateman researched potential buyers throughout the U.S. and focused on penetrating California’s roaster market. After contacting about 100 roasters, he finally got his first client: a then-smaller Trader Joe’s. 

But most clients come through word of mouth. Creating a reputation was half the battle, so he built a strong educational presence online, while creating strategic partnerships here and abroad. Today the farms sell 250,000 pounds of “green” and roasted coffee beans each year to a handful of large international buyers, as well as several hundred smaller ones online.

RELATED: 5 Reasons Farmers Should Join a Small Business Association

Lessons from Global Expansion

International markets may provide bigger contracts, but they’re also subject to fluctuations and unique challenges. Bateman has navigated markets in Russia, Japan and Taiwan. To any entrepreneurs thinking of doing business abroad, he suggests they familiarize themselves with certain global factors:

  • International Law: Bateman’s background taught him about international treaties and foreign taxation. This came in handy when combing through shipping terms and other elements of international trade.
  • Political Stability: Expanding abroad can introduce new risks, from unreliable banking systems to political instability. Bateman recommends the CIA’s online resources on the economy and political climate of other countries. He often circumvents potential problems by requesting cash in advance.
  • Exchange Rates: The company doesn’t waste advertising dollars in locations that would weigh down profits with unfavorable rates.
  • Shipping Conditions: How would your product fare for months at sea? “Shipping can be an interesting challenge,” he says. When shipping into Russia, for instance, he works with a freight forwarder, who organizes the logistics of getting shipments to market.
  • Demographic Trends: What country offers the most potential? Always on the lookout for international opportunities, Bateman is “in the middle of an a-ha moment.” Lately, he’s noticed a shift in lifestyle among Chinese consumers from drinking tea to coffee.  “China looks like it’s going to be one of my primary markets,” he says. “I’m not afraid to try something new.”

NFIB’s Benefits

“NFIB does a great job representing its small business membership in Congress and in the courts fighting for our best interests, from taxes to burdensome regulations,” Bateman says. 

You know you’re doing something right when Captain Kirk wants your advice. Bateman explains his transition from courtroom to coffee orchard in William Shatner’s upcoming book, Catch Me Up, which instructs retirees on how to become entrepreneurs.

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