When Rootless Coffee Co. opened in September 2020, they set out to change how coffee was viewed by the masses.
“I had worked in coffee and there was a lot I didn’t like about it,” says Sean Murray, CEO of Rootless Coffee Co. “People were using plain paper bags with plain labels, the names felt very exclusive and limiting. It seemed pretty pretentious.”
But Murray had an idea for how to change all of that. After working in the craft beer industry, Murray got inspiration from how those businesses were marketing their products.
“In the early 2000s, these companies used cool art and cool names to get people interested,” said Murray. “People who were used to drinking Bud were drinking IPAs and stouts because it looked cool, and they tried it. We took the same motto with Rootless.”
In that vein, Rootless’ coffee varieties have names that are rooted in pop culture references like, “A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee,” and “Out of Your Element.” The brand also uses unique imagery and out-of-the-box advertising to sell its products. It has all paid off over the last three years as Rootless has grown immensely.
“When we started, (local photographer) Mike Naddeo had us in his conference room and we were e-commerce only with a couple of wholesale accounts,” says Murray. “We really started refining our systems and growing as a brand. We’ve grown a lot on e-commerce, have a lot of wholesale accounts now, and we’re at 35 grocery stores.”
Although Rootless is still a relatively new company, the business has been moving very quickly. And in a city that has a number of coffee purveyors, Rootless is trying to stand out by setting their sights high.
“I am focused on building a brand that has a national reach,” says Murray. “We are committed to being part of the community, but there is another part that is like, ‘Hey, we want to grow this across the country.”
That goal is already being realized with its two biggest ecommerce markets being Michigan and California. Locally, Rootless can be found at Penny’s Café and Steady Eddy’s Café at the Market at the Flint Farmers’ Market, Donna’s Donuts, and UB Station Coffee.
What has been your favorite memory so far?
The day that I got the call that we were going to be in Meijer. It was years’ worth of work and not knowing for certain if it was going to happen.
Why did you decide to set up shop in Flint & Genesee?
I came to Flint around 6 years ago and my intention was not to stay. But the community here is amazing, and I have met many people who have become close friends. I am not leaving this place and it’s awesome starting Rootless here. It makes sense that we’re doing it in Flint.
How would you describe Flint to an outsider?
It’s a very large smalltown. The community here is super tight-knit with an absolutely enormous amount of potential.
Outside of work, what do you like to do?
It’s weird, but business is one of my favorite things to do. But I am also a musician, I play guitar, sing, and write music a little in the background. I also love to play disc golf. It’s therapeutic, connecting with the outdoors and being in nature. I am recently married, and my wife and I spend a lot of time with our friends hanging out at Soggy Bottoms.
How is your business involved with the community?
We do a few different things. There’s a local rehabilitation center for men struggling with addiction and we supply them with coffee free of charge. We partner with a lot of local non-profits and do collaboration bags to raise money with the profits going to their organization.
Why did you decide to become a Flint & Genesee Chamber member?
We wanted to be part of the community more and connect with local businesses. Obviously, what better way than the Chamber? A lot of people look at networking as, “What can I get out of this?” but we want to see how we can work with and support other businesses even if we don’t benefit from it.
What advice would you offer other business owners or future entrepreneurs?
First and foremost, I would say plan as much as you can. From there, don’t get caught up in the details, take the leap and you’ll learn as you go. If you feel that awkwardness, remember that you haven’t done this before and you’re learning. Don’t quit, it’s going to get hard, but if you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll get through it and grow as a person from persevering.
For more information on Rootless Coffee Co., visit RootlessCoffee.com.