Not long after Scott King (MBA 03) graduated from the Ole Miss MBA program in 2003, he noticed that there was no good place to stop for coffee on his morning drive to work. Working as a marketing analyst for Caesar’s Entertainment in Gulfport, King first formed the idea to open a coffee shop during that morning commute.
But it wasn’t until years later that his dream became a reality. When it did, it was a combination of tragedy, opportunity and preparation that made it happen.
In 2005, King took a job with the Hard Rock Casino as part of their opening team. The hotel and casino was scheduled for a grand opening ceremony the very day that Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast. Though the $250 million project was almost a complete loss, the Hard Rock vowed to come back, and King stayed with them until they did.
But in the meantime, the dream of opening a coffee house came closer to reality. “Hurricane Katrina was devastating,” said King, a Gulfport native who lost his home in the storm, “but it also presented some opportunity. It was because of the storm that the property where our store is became available, and when it did everything fell into place.”
The location was inauspicious enough, a slot in a planned strip-mall retail center. But it was a heavily traveled area and proved to be well suited for King’s business. He started researching his business through his network of friends, working on a marketing concept and supply partners. Soon, Southern Grounds Coffee was born.
King said he had considered partnering with a franchise, but opted instead to stay independent in order to have more flexibility. That decision paid off when the store’s homemade soups became as much of a trademark as their coffee. Southern Grounds adapted to the market and put more emphasis on their food selections. Now, King says as much as 50 percent of their income comes from food sales.
In August, Southern Grounds was honored by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce with a Tapestry Award. The Tapestry Awards are given to outstanding small businesses each year. King and Southern Grounds received the “Rookie of the Year” award, the most coveted of all of the small business awards.
King said he used the skills he obtained at Ole Miss to make his business a success.
“The most important thing to me was that it got me used to being in a deadline oriented atmosphere, and meeting deadlines is one of the most important things in business,” he said.
In the corporate world, King said he sometimes felt restricted, unable to fully exercise all of his ideas. But owning his own business has given him the freedom to wear many hats.
“You’re able to work in marketing, finance, accounting and operations, all within the span of fifteen minutes,” he said. “The advice I give to people who want to start their own business is to keep dreaming.
“Always be thinking about it, and always be adding another chapter to that dream. It may only take a few chapters, it may take 35 chapters. But if you keep putting it together, you’ll be ready when the right opportunity presents itself.”