In Marketplace

Colectivo owners Lincoln Fowler, Paul Miller and Ward Fowler say goodbye to a name but welcome the future.

In Marketplace

New cups, similar designs.

Alterra / Colectivo owners explain name change, share future plans

On Sunday, July 28, Paul Miller, Lincoln Fowler and Ward Fowler – the founders and owners of Alterra Coffee – announced to their 350 employees at a staff meeting in The Pabst Theater that the name of the company is changing to Colectivo Coffee.

"Nothing else is changing," says Lincoln Fowler. "Not the people, not the look and feel and certainly not the culture."

The new name – pronounced "Co-lec-TEE-vo" – is inspired by the colorful buses used for public transportation in Latin America.

The name change marks the end of a three-year relationship with Mars Drinks, a subsidiary of Mars, Inc. It's also the start of a new chapter for the local company.

In 2010, the owners sold the brand name – not the company – to Mars Drinks. During this time, the cafes and wholesale business remained owned by Miller and the Fowler brothers and continued to operate independently.

"Mars wanted to buy our company, but we told them no," says Lincoln Fowler. "We knew if they bought our company, they were going to close our company down."

However, after much negotiation, Alterra struck an agreement with Mars, agreeing to sell the name, intellectual property, consulting sessions and general knowledge / insight into the industry. In exchange, Alterra received enough resources to expand.

"(Without the agreement) Bay View simply wouldn't have happened – maybe not at all and certainly not in the fabulous way it was executed," says Lincoln Fowler.

The Madison, Wauwatosa and Third Ward stores were also made possible by the arrangement with Mars. The Third Ward store is scheduled to open in late fall.

Currently, Mars distributes its Alterra brand coffee in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Korea and Japan.

The Colectivo owners view the relationship with Mars as a success.

"They have been remarkably respectful of our company. They understood that we could create something they couldn't, and they respected that and treated us carefully and didn't intervene in places they didn't have to," says Miller.

The Alterra signage will be removed from the Prospect location on Monday, Aug. 5 and will be completed at the other cafes by mid September.

"We're thinking about doing a public auction where people can grab a piece and then we'll donate all of the proceeds to our local partners," says Lincoln Fowler. (More information on this to come when it's available.)

The original plan was for the name change to happen in mid-June, but it was set back. The owners were aware of the upcoming change for a while, so providing signage for stores that opened recently, although necessary, was done resourcefully.

"The Madison sign looks kind of temporary and we were literally pulling letters out of the scrap heap to put together a sign for (68th and Wells in) Tosa," says Lincoln Fowler.

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Jeff | July 29, 2013 at 8:42 a.m. (report)

The name stinks. I know they had to pick something, but really: Name it after a third-class bus in rural Mexico? And BTW, these buses in most of Mexico are called "micros."

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