Would you want “Give ‘em Hell Harry” Truman for a customer?
Satisfying the hard-nosed former President wouldn’t be easy, but once you did it, he’d be a customer for life.
That’s a lesson that Austin Coffee Service, based in Jefferson City, Mo., has learned over the years.
Jefferson City, located almost midway between Kansas City and St. Louis, is a unique OCS market. Being the state capital and a university town, Jefferson City is a white collar oasis in an agricultural region. People are set in their ways and tend to resist change.
Serving their refreshment needs requires a strong commitment to customer service and the ability to provide products at a competitive price.
Being a state capital and university community, Jefferson City has been spared the massive layoffs that have affected other regions. But at the same time, accounts are spread out over a large geographic area, making servicing accounts costlier than in more densely populated markets.
Being a very conservative community, customers have resisted the higher ticket single-cup systems that have boosted OCS revenues in other geographic areas in recent years.
As a result, where several independent OCS players once serviced this market, only a few remain.
Austin Coffee Service has mastered the art and science of profitably servicing this market by understanding customer needs, identifying a large number of products that can be delivered in a cost efficient manner, and identifying product suppliers that allow the company to make a fair profit.
Austin Coffee Service was founded in 1969 by husband/wife team Tom and Shirley Austin. The company has prospered as a division of Graves Menu Maker Foods, a broadline foodservice distributor which bought Austin Coffee Service in 2000.
Austin Coffee Service provides beverages, paper goods and cleaning supplies to customers in Jefferson City and Columbia and surrounding areas.
Bringing unique strengths
John Timbers, general manager of Austin Coffee Service, is reluctant to release financial information, but he insists the company’s performance exceeds the OCS operating averages reported by the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s profit ratio report.
Timbers credits the company’s success to the variety of products it offers and the ability to buy them in high volumes. Another factor is the company’s low employee turnover. Both route sales people have close to 20 years of experience.
Timbers, a humble man, is hesitant to credit his own management skills. But there can be no doubt that Timbers’ extensive foodservice background prepared him well for overseeing the OCS division of Jefferson City’s largest broadline foodservice distributor.
Timbers began his foodservice career in market research. After graduating from the University of Nebraska with a marketing degree in the mid 1970s, he went to work for AC Nielsen, the global market research company, in its Lincoln, Neb. office. He helped track customer response to numerous product launches, including General Foods’ Maxwell House Master Blend Coffee in 1976.
Timbers sought other opportunities when AC Nielsen wanted to move him to the East Coast. He decided to go into business for himself when he came across a General Foods coffee distributorship for sale in Brookfield, Mo. From his work at AC Nielsen, he knew Maxwell House carried strong name brand recognition in the market, so he seized the opportunity. “I knew the name brand recognition was there,” he said.
Working from his home, the ambitious Timbers quickly recognized the opportunity to expand the coffee distributorship to include additional product lines. He added snacks, canned goods and frozen foods, and renamed the company Timbers Fine Foods.