In the Pacific Northwest, generations of coffee lovers have gotten their daily fix from a uniquely regional kind of establishment: the drive-thru coffee stand.
With roots as deep as a Douglas fir, the coffee stand has long been a mainstay of the landscape in Washington, Oregon, and even northern California. Drive through any town in this region and you’ll see small buildings full of personality dotting the landscape, each offering their unique take on coffee and energy drinks. To residents of the area, these businesses inspire fanatical devotion. Outside the region, the coffee stand remains a rare sight.
For two entrepreneurs, this represented an opportunity.
Growing up in Oregon, high school friends John Anderson and Darren Spicer reconnected as adults when Spicer happened to visit a coffee stand where Anderson was working. The two guys picked up right where they left off, and soon came up with a novel idea: to bring the coffee stand concept to somewhere it had never been — three thousand miles away, in North Carolina.
After bringing aboard their business associate Jake Vandermeer to run the finance side of things, the founding team was in place for what would become Clutch Coffee Bar.
As the CFO of Clutch Coffee — now 8 locations strong and growing fast— Jake Vandermeer’s job is to scale the company lean and clean: to maximize efficiency in their operations while keeping their financials in order.
One area he focused on immediately was automating AP.
“A huge priority for us is automation so that we can grow as lean as we can,” says Jake. “We restaurants want to get our invoices into organized financial data. But how are you going to do that without massive amounts of manual work?”
Setting out to automate his AP, his first solution was to write a homebrew piece of software. In the process, he became probably the first customer in history to discover Plate IQ while attempting to build Plate IQ.
“I said, I'm just going to have everyone send invoices to an email address, I'm going to scrape that email address for PDF attachments, then I'm going to use an OCR library to parse those PDF attachments and translate them into structured data. And I just built a little Flask program to house it all.
“So I was looking at this process, probably on Stack Overflow, when I came across Plate IQ. I was like, Ah, there you go. Much better. You guys already built it for me!”
Once Jake discovered Plate IQ, Clutch Coffee was able to automate their invoice processing and move entirely off of paper.
“We don’t do any paper. All of our invoices get emailed to us. I set up routing rules that automatically forward the emails into Plate IQ, which transcribes the invoices and adds GL codes to each line item. If it’s a new line item, we in Finance just quickly map it first. The digital invoices get sent to Clutch Coffee’s stand managers, who review the coding, make any necessary adjustments, and approve the invoices for export into NetSuite.”
But getting invoices ready to be paid was only half the story. Clutch Coffee still needed a system to pay their vendors. When they tried to put together a solution, they found that navigating the world of payments as a small business came with a very different set of challenges.
With Clutch Coffee in growth mode, Jake wanted the company’s invoice and non-invoice outflows to be managed in one system. He turned to a trusted name in all-in-one software.
“We were just using small business credit cards, in our names, and tracking things through Concur,” Jake recalls.
Clutch Coffee, in other words, was part of an emerging trend in AP: companies using corporate cards as expense management. With the ability to create, control, and edit highly specific virtual cards, CFOs like Jake have begun to conclude that a modern corporate card program is a better method of control than the old mix of checks in the mail and expense reports in the inbox.
But Jake had two problems implementing this system. The first was that he had to supply his own outside card program and plug it into the software.
“You know, Concur was fine as an expense reporting solution. But it wasn’t a card issuing and organization solution.
“We recognized that we needed a solution that would scale us up. Not only in terms of the reporting, but to be able to access virtual cards, to issue new cards for people as they come and go, and change locations within the company, which is happening much more frequently now.”
The second problem — amplifying the first — was that Clutch Coffee, as a startup business, didn’t qualify for corporate credit card programs.
It’s hard to get corporate credit when you're small. We wanted something in place now that could scale, and traditional corporate cards aren't really going to underwrite that.
Trying to find a corporate card program that would manage expenses and that his business qualified for, Jake discovered the answer… in his invoice software.
In June 2021, Plate IQ introduced The Plate IQ Card: a corporate card and expense management platform rolled into one. The platform lets users issue virtual and physical cards with full control over every parameter of every card. The new product clicked with Clutch Coffee.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Jake. “I was going through the process of trying to find corporate cards while we were onboarding with Plate IQ for invoices. When we learned that the same system had expense management, card issuing, and invoices, that was very attractive.”
As a corporate debit card program, The Plate IQ Card didn’t require a minimum balance, credit check, or personal guarantee. Clutch Coffee was already qualified. They could set it up right away.
“It's the fact that Plate IQ allows us to actually get corporate cards, while also having this all-in-one platform that everyone's already used to for invoices.
Most corporate cards out there didn't work for us because of stringent cash balance requirements. Plate IQ’s corporate debit cards are way simpler. I can issue one with a single click, control the card’s rules myself, and monitor all of my purchase activity in real time.
The virtual cards, specifically, empowered the business to implement a new type of spend management: one built around granular control and automation.
“The benefit of virtual cards is being able to pre-assign cards and give them to vendors. Then you don't ever have to think about it anymore.”
Best of all, the Plate IQ Card’s cash back program actually earned revenue for Jake’s accounting team.
With the volume of payments Clutch Coffee is sending with the Plate IQ Card, they’ve earned more than $5,000 in cash back in six months, simply by paying their bills.
The Plate IQ Card has helped Clutch Coffee streamline its AP in a few ways.
First, it has become the company’s default method of bill payment.
“Aside from payroll, rent, and some utilities, we use the Plate IQ Card for almost every cash outflow our company has,” Jake explains.
The company’s spend management strategy is simple. The Clutch accounting team creates a card for every category of spend for each of its stores, maps those cards to their NetSuite chart of accounts, and gives the card numbers to vendors to keep on file.
All of our virtual cards are pre-assigned to a GL account, so that when transactions come through on them, they're immediately classified to a particular expense account and exported to NetSuite.
"When we set up a new location, our Director of Growth sets up a group of new cards and gives them to the store. That way all the expense reporting for that store, on a recurring basis, is set up and automated.
“So, for example, we have the utilities card. That's where we put the internet and the electric bill. There's a software card we give to our POS vendor, Spotify, and whatever else.”
Jake explains the ease of this system over what he was using before — or would be using now, without granular virtual card control.
If we didn't have the Plate IQ Card, those charges would have to be put onto someone's actual credit card. At the end of the month, they would have to go through and classify those transactions, potentially upload receipts. It's just a huge pain. So there's value in locking in straight-through processing, where the vendor charges the card and it goes immediately into Plate IQ. That card is already classified, and it gets exported to our ERP journaled to that expense category. That's huge.
Thanks to the controls built into the Plate IQ Card, Jake knows that each card is protected from fraud, theft, and vendor error.
“Across all of our virtual cards, locations, and users, we see exactly what all the monthly limits are and exactly what the usage is. That way, if there’s ever a problem or the vendors are doing something incorrectly, it's very easy for us to pinpoint. We can see exactly where it is and exactly what the transactions are.
“We recently caught one of our vendors using one card for all of our purchases instead of the specific cards assigned to every store. It was very easy to catch because after a few times doing this, they just blew through the limits we put on that card. They let us know, ‘Hey, this card isn't working anymore.’ And I was able to check and see: ‘Well, it's because you're charging it and not anything else.’
The fact that I can go in and change the limits anytime, quickly click on a card and immediately have access to all the transactions on that card — it's all very easy. So yeah, I would say the organization and automation that that enables is definitely paramount for us.
As a full expense management system, the Plate IQ Card is not only the method Clutch uses to pay its vendors. The team also uses it as an employee expense management platform at every level of the company. For example, the physical Plate IQ Cards have been great for getting rid of petty cash.
“Everyone at the company at the Store Manager level and above has a physical card. They're responsible for uploading receipts for their purchases and categorizing those purchases to a GL account.
“The biggest use case is incidentals, like if they run out of ice and have to run to the grocery store or something. Around a new store opening the charges get a lot more diverse because people are rushing around buying small wares or small equipment or tools, even.
“Meanwhile, a Regional Manager or Director of Ops will use the Card for gas, because they’re driving around multiple hours per day to visit different locations.”
At the company’s executive level, the Plate IQ Cards pay for more of the traditional T&E you might traditionally associate with expense reporting.
Our CEO uses his physical Plate IQ Card to book flights and get rental cars. He travels a lot, and we don't have anyone centrally doing that. So he just uses the Card himself.
With the Plate IQ Card rolled out across the company, Clutch Coffee has all of its AP under one roof. Plate IQ handles everything from receiving invoices, to getting them approved, to sending payments that stay organized and in-control.
As a result of Plate IQ, Clutch Coffee has:
Most important, Jake has been able to achieve the kind of lean growth he had envisioned for Clutch Coffee.
“That’s the beauty of this system: we don't need people focused on paperwork and manually tracking financial data. We want our people to be focused on serving our customers. With Plate IQ, and especially with the Plate IQ Card, we have a solution that allows us to accomplish the vast majority of those processes without committing human capital.
“So I’m very happy that we're keeping that all in-house in a way that doesn’t cost our people all their time. It's fantastic.”
To learn more about Clutch Coffee, visit clutchcoffeebar.com or follow them on Instagram at ClutchCoffeeBar. To streamline expense management at your growing business, request a demo of Plate IQ using the form below.