PERRY HALL — Lillian Debelius is proving you can start a successful business despite how the Coronavirus has impacted the economy and you can do it no matter how young you are.
Lillian, who is from Perry Hall and recently had her 10th birthday, was one of the vendors at the 1st Annual Baltimore County Children’s Business Fair last Saturday at The Avenue at White Marsh. She set up shop at the fair to sell what some may think quite unconventional for a 10 year old—coffee.
Screamin’ Beans Coffee Collaborative is the name of Lillian’s coffee business and while she admits she doesn’t drink coffee, the birth of her business stemmed from a school science project where she decided to focus on the process behind roasting coffee beans to make quality coffee—something she knew her moms both loved drinking.
“My hypothesis was the way you roast coffee can impact the flavor. I really enjoyed doing it so I just continued roasting coffee. We had a taste testing and people really liked the coffee so I decided I can really do something with this,” Lillian said while roasting some beans from her mini coffee roaster.
Lillian began to roast one ounce of beans at a time by using a popcorn popper. Then, by borrowing a family friend’s coffee roaster, she began to roast even more beans. Once she found a more efficient way to roast beans and decided she wanted to turn this science project into an actual business, Lillian said she started searching for the type of beans she thought her customers would enjoy best.
“When she first started we went where everyone goes, to Amazon, to look for raw coffee beans,” Rene Debelius, Lillian’s mother said.
“They were fine and the coffee was fine but when we spoke to some friends who do roasting they said you really have to find a good place to buy your beans and they recommended Happy Mug Coffee.”
Lillian said she decided to purchase her beans from Happy Mug, a wholesale, organic coffee and tea supplier, because they only support farmers who don’t mistreat their workers or the Earth. Plus, Lillian said her Peruvian beans come from a woman’s co-op coffee farm.
“They started off working for a male coffee farm and said, ‘why are we doing this, let’s start our own’ so now there is this woman founded [ business].
Lillian started Screamin’ Beans in May and said at first the biggest challenge was the amount of time she had to spend roasting her beans.
“I had to sit outside for four hours and just roast nonstop.”
Through the process of trial and error, Lillian was able to cut her roasting time down from 20 minutes to 8—saving her a lot of time and allowing her to roast even more beans. All of Screamin’ Beans coffee comes in one pound bags of either whole beans or ground and costs $15 dollars per pound.
Debelius and her wife, who own a financial business, said once Lillian started to roast enough beans to package up in bags, they started to crunch some numbers to see how feasible it would be to make a profit.
“We did the math to try to figure out the cost per ounce of beans and then how much it costs for her to sell a bag and then what she would need to sell it for to make a profit.”
And Lillian has made a profit. Since May, Lillian has made about $1,000 in profit and has used that money to invest in some capital for her business.
“We finally said [to Lillian],’you gotta buy your own roaster, you need a bigger one and you need to have your own,’ so that was a couple hundred dollars she had to spend. We have made her pay us back for a lot of the upfront charges but all the beans, all the packaging, she designed her logo—everything has been stuff she has purchased and fronted the money for,” Debelius said.
“As parents we have been joking that she is getting her Roth IRA. She has her own IRS EIN number, an official business number because we saw very quickly it was getting traction.”
Debelius said orders started to come in after she posted to several social media groups about Lillian’s coffee business. Within a week, Debelius said Lillian received about 40 orders.
“At first, she started to sell at half pound increments, which is great. We said we will deliver if you live in these four counties near us, Debelius said.
However, Lillian and her mothers quickly realized that the time they were spending to deliver beans to people’s homes was eating up the time they could spend roasting more beans.
“We had to refine the business model and I think it’s a concept that all businesses have to learn,” Debelius said.
Now, Lillian is working on creating a subscription plan where, if a customer buys multiple pounds of coffee at a time, she can then either ship or deliver the bags to the customer’s home.
“We had to learn how I stay in business but pivot what I’m doing so that I’m sustainable and I’m still meeting my customers’ needs. It’s about learning what people want and how to get that to them in the most efficient and safe way,” Debelius said.
Lillian’s resiliency and determination to commit to things wholeheartedly is a big reason why Debelius said Screamin’ Beans has been successful during a time when many businesses are closing.
“She’s amazing. We are incredibly lucky to be her moms. She is an incredibly hard worker and that is one of the amazing things that has kept her going. When she sets her mind to something she is going to do it and get it done.”While most sales Lilian makes is through her website, www.screaminbeans.bigcartel.com, or through email,firstname.lastname@example.org, she plans on participating in more community vendor events and begin collaborating with other young entrepreneurs (hence the Coffee Collaborative part in the business name) to help them sell their products while she sells her own
While roasting beans at the business fair, Lillian said she has enjoyed running her business despite the challenges she has faced and sai as far as advice goes for anyone who wants to start their own business, the most important thing is to not give up.
“It’s going to take a lot of time and you might not want to do it but it’s going to work out. If you don’t want to do it, it’s going to come back to haunt you and you’re going to regret it. So, always work if you want to succeed.”