Locals in Greenville enjoy all that downtown offers. Regular free concerts, free movie nights in Falls Park, and abundant shops, restaurants and bars are just a few fun things we enjoy. Yet the real gem, in my opinion, is the Greenville Health System Swamp Rabbit Trail.
This paved trail allows us to be away from the hustle and bustle of downtown in just a couple of minutes. Cyclists, runners and walkers equally enjoy the exercise, scenery and feeling of being in the country in a matter of moments.
Just a couple of miles from downtown on the trail is the increasingly popular Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery. Opened on Labor Day weekend 2011 by owners Jac Oliver and Mary Walsh, the café has a loyal legion of fervent customers. These customers not only enjoy the emphasis on local produce, much of it organic, they come for the friendly, down-to-earth Southern-style service from its employees. One gets the sense that the employees really like working there and enjoy working with each other.
As a customer and an accounting faculty member at Clemson University, I observed firsthand the operations and how the employees relate to customers and each other. I also got to know the owners, Jac and Mary, as they get to know their customers by sitting with them from time to time.
In April, I took my class of 27 Clemson MBA in Entrepreneurship & Innovation students in for a field trip to the Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery. As part of their accounting course, I wanted my students to see a real live small business in action and meet the owners. They observed firsthand the operations of the store.
One of the co-owners, Jac, graciously shared about 45 minutes of her time to tell us the story of the store. She discussed their inventory issues and other interesting issues affecting their development as a viable, successful business. She also answered many questions from the students.
Jac told us that they started rather simply. They had a passion for local produce and sought to get to know local farmers and their practices. The store bakes their own bread and makes sandwiches fresh. In 2011, when they were preparing to open the store, a high school kid on his bike stopped in to see what was happening. This kid promptly became one of their first employees.
Since the owners did not want to take out a loan, they prudently bought their ovens off of Craigslist. By keeping capital expenditures low, they were able to stay afloat while the word of mouth spread about the store. Having a great location really helped, being right on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Yet in the end, their success stems from offering a quality product, listening to their customers’ suggestions for products to carry, and developing strong relationships with customers and suppliers.
My students told me that they were most appreciative of Jac’s honesty and candid comments and that they really enjoyed the experience and seeing a small business in action. Once the class and I returned to the Greenville ONE campus, we discussed their observations from the field trip. The next day students worked through my case study on Rebecca’s Coffee and Tea House, which paralleled their experience from the field trip. My case will be published later this year in the top accounting education journal, Issues in Accounting Education.
Thank you, Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery, for a great experience for all.