Vending Operator of the Year

PROFILE: PREMIER SERVICES

Headquarters Location: Denver, Colo.
Founded: 1979
Owner: George Yost
Sales Mix: Vending 50%, manual feeding/catering 29.1%, OCS 12.5%, honor boxes 8.3%
Annual Sales: Not revealed

 

For George Yost, the 2009 Automatic Merchandiser Vending Operator of the Year, there is no mystery to succeeding in refreshment services. A veteran since 1979, Yost has been active in every aspect of the business, from honor boxes to OCS to vending to manual feeding and catering.

As he enters his third decade as the owner of Premier Services in Denver, Colo., the future looks better than ever, despite the recession. In reflecting on his career, Yost believes that his willingness to work hard, serve the customer and have the right people behind him have positioned him to succeed.

While customers have become more demanding in recent years, Yost has focused his attention on the most promising segment: coffee. In recent years, he launched his own roasting operation to improve product quality. In the last year, he has gone a step further by importing coffee directly from growers in Cameroon, Africa.

While his journey has taken him a long way from his foundation in the honor box business, Yost continues to provide every service — honor boxes, vending, OCS, catering and manual feeding — allowing him to meet a wide variety of customer needs.

Yost started from humble beginnings in Great Bend, Kan., the son of a firefighter. After winning a scholarship to a community college, he transferred to Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan. to study business. His studies were cut short when he accepted an offer to work for a concert promotion business.

The concert promotion gig ended when he came across a chance to buy a Nationwide Gourmets franchise in Denver in 1979. Nationwide Gourmets was a snack/coffee franchise organization. Many of the original franchisees still exist as independent businesses.

At age 25, Yost secured 3,000 honor box accounts. The honor box business was a viable business in 1979, he said, as employers in general were more accepting of it than they are today. But being young had some disadvantages. Yost was unable to secure credit to expand the business. After five years, he sold the business and went into real estate.

After eight years in real estate, Yost missed refreshment services.

He started another honor box business in 1993 under the name, Snacks for a Purpose. But he quickly learned that many employers, particularly large ones, were less accepting of honor boxes. So he expanded into full-line vending and OCS under the name Premier Services. His vending/OCS business grew steadily during the 1990s.

Yost realized that many of the larger vending accounts wanted manual feeding. He came across an opportunity to buy a Lemon Tree franchise with about four manual foodservice sites in Denver in 2001 and purchased it.

His manual feeding business, called Eur-o-serve,
has since grown to 20 accounts and a sizable catering business. It also prepares much of the food for his cold food machines.

KEY TO SUCCESS: THE RIGHT ASSOCIATES

The expansion into manual feeding was a big boost, but Yost credits most of his success to having the right people working with him. “It’s very difficult to put all the right people together,” he said. To get the right people, it is necessary to pay them well, he observed. But the investment is worthwhile, since it results in better customer service and ultimately a more stable account base.

Yost’s sister, Carolyn Sleezer, has been his buyer for several years. He recently hired Eugene Byron, who was Denver vending manager for Sodexo, as his vending operations manager. He also hired Ken Kaina, a longtime veteran for the nationals, as his OCS manager.

Premier Services has become a major player in the Denver vending market, but Yost has retained his honor box business. He said it allows larger volume snack purchases.

In 2004, he began focusing more on the OCS business. He came across an opportunity to buy coffee roasting equipment, and made the investment. He recognized that consumers were focused on quality coffee, and he reasoned that roasting his own coffee would give him more control over quality and cost.

To hone his coffee professionalism, Yost joined the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Single-cup has been a great growth area for his OCS business. He uses Colibri, Brio and Flavia single-cup machines.

Yost began sourcing coffees from different countries and in 2005 he decided on a partner in Cameroon. In the years he has imported coffee, the farmers have doubled their yields, allowing him to get better coffee for his money.

“My job is entirely about the coffee side now,” Yost said. He estimates he spends about $5,000 a year on coffee education.

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