Lately, Rachel and Luke Higginbotham have made a point of introducing themselves as brother and sister.
“Some people thought we were married,” Rachel says.
The twins work so well together that at age 25 they own two businesses, one of them started before they graduated from Virginia Tech in 2011.
Last fall, along with Michael Carroll, they opened Froth, a coffeehouse-restaurant at The Forum on Starkey Road. The quarters previously housed a Mill Mountain Coffee, which Carroll managed and where the Higginbothams were customers. Before Froth, the twins had incorporated Diversified Fabrication Group LLC of Buchanan to make EcoShelf hutches for dorm room desks.
Initially, their work hours stretched to 100 a week as they learned to be baristas and worked shifts as servers at Froth while also perfecting the design of their dorm hutch.
“Now, we are down to about 70,” says Luke.
The young entrepreneurs have had time to return to cycling and running and for Luke to help with the North Cross Little League baseball team.
In other words, they are beginning to have a life outside of work.
The Higginbothams grew up on a cattle farm at Buchanan. After graduation from James River High School, they attended Virginia Western Community College for a year and then transferred to Virginia Tech where Rachel majored in applied agriculture economics and Luke in building construction.
“We tried to get all of our classes together – mainly so we could split the homework,” Rachel confesses. They also enjoy some of the same activities, mainly mountain biking, and they shared living quarters while in school and still do since moving to Roanoke in recent months.
Their rapport is obvious during a business meeting at a Froth table as they divide duties with little discussion, punching information into their laptops simultaneously.
The twins were primed for business as youngsters when their father, John Higginbotham, encouraged them to read business news. He is vice president of sales for Corrugated Container in Roanoke, his family’s business that has been in operation more than 50 years. He encouraged the twins to join Michael Carroll in creating Froth. At the time, Rachel worked for a concrete company and Luke for a construction company, and they welcomed the chance to own a business.
EcoShelf had a much different genesis. The twins and a classmate, Gavin McGill, were helping friends move into a dorm when they noticed a company selling desk hutches. They decided they could build a better product so Rachel went to Lowe’s and Home Depot and bought lumber. Working in family basements, they built hutches, a labor-intensive project. The first year, they sold 30 hutches at Tech and 20 at Radford University.
The next year, they sold 100. They expanded marketing to Ferrum College and Liberty University through flyers Gavin made and by providing friends at other schools with samples to set up in their rooms.
Their new hutch design is easy to set up and so reasonably priced that it can be discarded when the student leaves college. This hutch is made from a corrugated material, a wood substitute that is recyclable and weighs only 12 pounds. The pieces slide together and are secured with one bottle of glue, which is provided as part of the purchase.
The production will be much more automated as a result of the way they approach business.
“We set a goal and keep a list of what we are doing,” Rachel says. “We then check our progress and go back and see if the goals are still good.
“We knew we wanted our own business, but we had no idea it would be this soon. It has been a fun challenge so far.”