His success caught the attention of Graves Menu Maker Foods, which operated several hundred miles away in Jefferson City, Mo. and Chillicothe, Mo. Dick Graves, company president, saw Timbers as providing geographic expansion for his own company.
Graves offered to buy Timbers’ routes and inventory and hire his employees. And since Graves’ own coffee business was minimal, he viewed Timbers’ coffee experience as a way to strengthen Graves’ own beverage business. Timbers agreed to sell and join Graves as director of beverage sales. His responsibilities eventually grew to include chemical sales as well.
“It (growing the coffee business) started all over again down here,” Timbers said, recalling his relocation to Jefferson City.
Office accounts were not high among Timbers’ priorities at the time. In the early 1990s, there were about five independent OCS players in the Jefferson City market, but Timbers stayed focused on foodservice accounts.
In 2000, Tom and Shirley Austin were in their early sixties and looking to retire from their OCS business, which was based in Columbia, Mo., 30 miles from Jefferson City. They approached Graves Menu Maker Foods about buying their company, which consisted of two routes that did about $200,000 in sales annually. Austin Coffee Service provided pourover brewers, national brand fractional packs, sweeteners, creamers, stirrers, and not much else.
Timbers wasn’t highly knowledgeable about OCS at the time, but he met with the Austins to see what they might offer.
“I was shocked by the profit margins,” said Timbers. The OCS margins were much higher than foodservice margins. The downside was there wasn’t as much variety to offer as foodservice. “When you go in an office, you’re very limited in what you can sell,” he said.
OCS and foodservice synergies
Timbers reasoned there were synergies between OCS and foodservice. Namely, the ability to buy large volumes of coffee, which would result in profitable coffee sales. He also recognized the high level of goodwill that Austin Coffee Service brought to the table. “They were the premier OCS company in this area,” Timbers said. Hence, he advised Graves Menu Maker Foods to buy Austin Coffee Service. Tom and Shirley Austin agreed to stay for six months to assist in the transition.
Graves Menu Maker Foods kept the Austin Coffee Service name and leased its Columbia building for close to three years before moving it to their Jefferson City headquarters facility. Graves constructed a 10,000-square-foot elevated wood platform for Austin Coffee Service inventory in its 50,000 square-foot warehouse.
Central Missouri was slower than other parts of the country to experience specialty coffee houses, but by the time Graves acquired Austin Coffee Service, specialty coffee retailers were emerging in the market.
Timbers’ first order of business was to expand the coffee offerings.
Building OCS Tickets
It was around this time that Cadillac Coffee Co., the Detroit, Mich.-based roaster, called on Austin Coffee Service. Cadillac Coffee became their private label roaster.
Timbers also added specialty fractional pack brands such as Starbucks and Millstone, along with powdered cappuccino, teas, spiced cider, hot chocolate, juices, flavored syrups and snacks.
Water quality was a serious issue in Jefferson City, so Timbers also added point-of-use water coolers. He opted not to add 5-gallon water systems due to the amount of space they would require on the delivery vans.
He also added paper goods, such as towels, napkins, utensils, cups and plates.
“We’re willing to try anything to pump up those ticket sales,” Timbers said.
Being a broadline foodservice distributor, Graves Menu Maker Foods has a large inventory of items for Timbers to consider for Austin Coffee Service, a total of about 60 stock keeping units. “When you’re owned by a foodservice company, you have so much,” Timbers noted. “The inventory is there if you need it.”
Timbers encourages the OCS drivers to test products from the foodservice menu. “If they want to sell hamburger to an account, they can,” Timbers said.
Jeff Wells, a driver who worked for the previous owners, said more than half of the inventory he sells was not available prior to the Graves acquisition.