OCS has certainly changed from the time Mike Ferguson and Paul Endres first went to work at Custom Coffee Plan (CCP) in Houston, Texas in the 1980s. Customer needs were much simpler then and the range of products and equipment was less extensive than it is today.
Working for a big operation gave Ferguson and Endres a solid understanding of OCS. So when they got the entrepreneurial itch in 1991 to launch their own operation, all they needed was a reliable delivery vehicle, a work area and some functioning pourover brewers to get started. But they also needed to be committed to delivering a high quality service, and the tools to do this were changing.
When they started Southern Refreshment Services, Ferguson and Endres paid attention to consumer needs, kept abreast of new products, and eventually bought computers and OCS specific software. As a result, they have been able to provide a highly professional operation in an industry that they and many others now recognize as a specialty.
The pair didn’t have a lot of capital when they began their business, but they understood the fundamentals of OCS and they have remained committed to them. Today, their company holds a strong market position as a leading independent OCS player in Greater Houston.
Southern Refreshment Services offers OCS, water service, break room supplies and cleaning products. The company provides a wide assortment of products and it uses the Internet to solicit and educate customers. The company Website allows customers to place orders via email, and to be a selling tool for sales reps.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS FOR BOTH PARTNERS
Ferguson did not have a clear career direction when he took a job as a coffee salesman 22 years ago. Having worked as a cook, waiter and a bus boy, the 21-year-old Ferguson felt qualified to work in the foodservice industry when he responded to an opening at CCP for a coffee salesman. He thought the position was to sell coffee to restaurants. He had no idea what OCS was.
Endres was already employed at CCP as a service tech. He later took a position as a route driver.
CCP, a division of Farmer Bros., introduced Ferguson and Endres to the OCS business. They both found they had a passion for OCS. The economy was growing at the time, and many businesses wanted OCS.
At first, Ferguson spent most of his time knocking on doors, doing demonstrations, and signing up customers. He eventually moved to a delivery position, where he was able to learn the route and customer sides of the business as well.
SELLING THE BENEFITS OF OCS
Membership warehouse clubs were making their initial forays into OCS at the time. But Ferguson was able to counter the warehouse clubs’ lower prices by showing the customer how many times the product was being handled from the warehouse to the office. The employee had to pull the box from the retail or wholesale warehouse shelf, haul it to the counter, take it to the car, bring it to the office store room, then eventually move it to the break area.
Ferguson made the customer realize that all of this handling affected the product.
The business was much simpler back then. Products and equipment were mostly limited to pourover brewers and fractional packs. Ferguson and Endres reasoned they could go off on their own without too much difficulty. “I knew the sales end; he knew the service end,” Ferguson recalled.
They launched Southern Refreshment Services in 1991 in their garages. They bought used equipment from operators and restored it. They also bought a used van and repainted it. They went knocking on doors offering national brand fractional pack coffee and pourover brewers.
From the very beginning, Ferguson and Endres wore uniforms bearing their company logo.
PRIVATE LABEL BRINGS AN ADVANTAGE
In eight months, Ferguson and Endres signed an agreement with Excelso Coffee Co. to provide private label fractional packs. They remain committed to this day to
Excelso Coffee Co. for the support the roaster gave them in that crucial early period.