Air Force Veteran Finds Rewarding Career in Franchising Former Colonel Applies Leadership and Team-Building Skills to his Coffee Shop Franchise Business
As a 25-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Rob Southerland has always possessed a strong business acumen and ability to lead, but it was Scooter’s Coffee’s emphasis on people that drew him to invest in a franchise with the brand.
“I fell in love with Scooter’s Coffee as a customer when I was stationed in Omaha, Nebraska. When they opened up the market in North Carolina, I knew it would do really well,” says Southerland. What turned him from a fan into a franchisee was “the absolute attention they put on people, and their focus on leading people.”
After graduating from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina in 1997, Rob and his sweetheart Jocelyn, were both commissioned as second lieutenants in the United States Air Force. Rob headed to pilot training at the Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi while Jocelyn went to Air Battle Management training at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Growing up on a farm, it had always been Rob’s dream to fly, even as he simultaneously pursued entrepreneurial endeavors, including running his own lawn and landscaping business at the age of 16.
In 2001, Southerland learned of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center during a crew brief for a training mission. Having recently suffered substantial injuries to tendons in his shoulders as the result of a motorcycle accident, he had to convince the flight surgeon that he was fit for duty. When asked if he had any reservations about the mission ahead, Southerland says, “Just like any kind of sport you play, if you’ve put in the time, practice, and dedication, you really want to just get in the game and help your team win. Everyone wanted to go.” Less than a month later, Southerland and many other brave Americans were deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar and within 36 hours of arrival they were in the air over Afghanistan supporting “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Even though his first deployment was only four and a half months long, he missed his wife, but knew the importance of his mission and relied heavily on the relationships and support built amongst his team members.
After his time providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in support of combat operations in Afghanistan, Southerland was selected to join a small group of airmen in the Stealth Bomber Program. As a result, Southerland and his wife moved to the Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri, where he flew B2 Stealth Bombers.
While Jocelyn started her Air Force career as an Air Battle Manager/Airborne Weapons Officer tasked with communicating and controlling battlefield forces and aircraft, she later cross-trained into personnel when Rob started the Stealth Bomber Program so that they could stay together through deployments and focus more energy on starting a family. After their first son was born, Jocelyn transferred into civilian life, but even while raising and homeschooling their now four boys, being a loving wife and active church member, Jocelyn became a major in the Missouri Air National Guard where she continues to serve today.
Now living in North Carolina, the Southerlands currently operate two Scooter’s Coffee locations with five more on the way in the Southeast Raleigh market. Even though Rob initially became involved with the brand in 2015, he didn’t sign his first Franchise Agreement until March 2020, mere days before the world went on lockdown. Still, Rob’s background helped him take it in stride. “From a military perspective — and it kind of plays true in life, and especially business life — you train, and you get in this mindset of how things are going to go. Well, in a real-world scenario, you can plan to the best of your ability, but it’s called the ‘fog of war.’ When things happen, you just have to adapt and overcome.”
Rob retired from the Air Force in September 2022. “After 25 years, I decided it was time to go make coffee,” he says with a chuckle. He insists that Scooter’s Coffee is an excellent brand for veterans, particularly for its leadership, support, and emphasis on people, all things he and Jocelyn acutely understand the value of.
“The military talks a lot about leadership and people, and how challenging various situations can be,” Rob says. “Scooter’s Coffee just seemed genuine. The more I got to know the leadership, the more I grew to trust them. And I just really wanted to be a part of the Scooter’s team, so my wife and I went for it.”