Katy Welch on growing up in downtown Hannibal, becoming a local business owner

Katy Welch, owner of Java Jive, stands in front of the window last Monday at the popular downtown coffee shop. Welch shared the lessons she has learned growing up in downtown Hannibal and owning a local business.

HANNIBAL — When Hannibal native Katy Welch isn’t near a river, she feels a little lost.

“I can’t figure out, directionally, where I am,” she said.

Growing up in downtown Hannibal, Welch has found her compass in this river town.

Welch is the owner of Java Jive, the local coffee shop in downtown Hannibal.

She was a high school junior when it was originally opened by her parents Steve and Lynn Ayers who also owned two other popular downtown businesses, Ayers Pottery and Fresh Ayers.

“I left and went to Truman (University) and thought I wanted nothing to do with the business,” she said. “I had big goals for a political career.”

It was when she took a job at a local coffee shop in Kirksville that she began to feel drawn toward home. By her third semester in college, she spent more time at work than she did in her classes.

“I was working more than 40 hours a week at the coffee shop and reduced my class load to whatever was the bare minimum,” she said. “I kind of just had a realization.”

Welch returned home in 2003 to work at Java Jive and has been independently running the business since 2009.

She now owns the business that she once thought she wanted nothing to do with.

Java Jive is situated on one of the same streets where she grew up riding her bike and it’s situated in the only town that she wants to call home.

“I feel like there is something special about growing up here and that we all really share this bond,” she said. “I know part of it is being a small town with a close knit community but I really feel like we just deeply feel our roots.”

Along the way to becoming one of downtown Hannibal’s most popular spots to meet up for coffee and food, Welch shared some important lessons she has learned.

Employee retention

Java Jive has a high rate of employee retention; two employees have been at Java Jive for 10 years, six employees have been there for five years, and several others have been there for more than three years.

From the daily grind of the lunch rush to quality time at social gatherings in their off-time, Welch said employees are family. She wants them to feel appreciated on payday.

“I have been fortunate to share my success with staff and reward them for their hard work,” she said. “The ones who have been with me for a long time are making good money here now, and they are worth every penny.”

Welch said that several years ago, she began to focus on employee training.

“The biggest shift has been my own mindset where I take responsibility for the mistakes here,” she said. “You can’t blame the employee for not doing something right if they haven’t been taught how to do it right in the first place.”

COVID strategy

During the two months that Java Jive was closed during the shut-down, Welch learned the importance of social media marketing.

Before that, Welch said they didn’t focus too much on marketing but when the pandemic hit, Facebook was their only tool to communicate with customers.

“During our shutdown we used it just to stay relevant,” she said. She added that after canceling an in-person celebration, Java Jive celebrated its 20th anniversary through various throw-back Thursday Facebook posts.

She also connected with customers by offering a puzzle delivery service through Facebook, by posting pictures of the puzzles for sale at Java Jive.

“When everything was fully shut down and everyone was doing puzzles,” she said. “We would collect orders all week and then on Friday we would go around and deliver them.”

Welch said they have worked hard since the pandemic to develop their Facebook marketing and it has helped them with growth.

“We have introduced paninis and really grown the gift line,” she said. “I really credit Facebook with our success and growth recently.”

Customer service

Customer service is everything to Welch, and she experienced a rare form of it by growing up in downtown Hannibal.

She recalled the clothing store, The Famous, a shop on Main Street not far from where Java Jive is now. A regular stop for her mom, Welch said the owners regularly checked up on her dad during the holidays.

She laughed and said that one Christmas Eve they called him and said “Where are you? I know you haven’t shopped anywhere else!’”

“It was a different kind of customer service that I feel fortunate to have gotten to experience,” she said. “Not that we can recreate that experience here necessarily but I feel like it gave me that core understanding of the value of customer service.”

That is a core part of the training Java Jive employees receive, and Welch said that the customer experience is her motto.

“I want every customer walking in our door to feel welcome and I want everyone to leave feeling like they can’t wait to come back.”

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