Community Refreshments, a Tampa, Fla. operation, was able to double coffee sales in a challenging market by understanding the unique benefits of the different single-cup systems and relating to customers on a personal basis.
New York City OCS veteran James Frank and his wife Marni founded Café Liberty Coffee, the OCS division of Community Refreshments, after starting and selling two successful OCS and office supply companies in New York State. They have no plans to sell Community Refreshments, however. Instead, the Franks are grooming their two daughters to take over the business one day. The company services 300-plus customers and is one of the largest Keurig distributors in Florida.
The Franks sold the vending division of Community Refreshments in February 2009 to focus on coffee and have seen their coffee business grow due to dedicated sales staff and customers asking for OCS bids in response to the economy. The Franks strive to provide not only coffee and ancillary products, but a personal relationship with customers and whatever additional services are needed.
FROM COFFEE SHOP TO COFFEE SERVICE
“I was driving through town at one in the morning and an idea hit me — this place needs a coffee shop,” recalled James Frank. In 1985, he borrowed money from family and got a small bank loan to finance a 1950s style coffee/ice cream shop in Westchester, N.Y. The 1950s style malt shop was popular at the time and the business succeeded. He was 20 years old with no college background.
MOVING ON TO COFFEE SALES
Frank sold the shop in 1990 when he decided sales had plateaued. His wife was selling office supplies in New York City and she knew Abel’s Coffee Service Inc., Hyde Park, N.Y., was looking for a salesperson. Frank took the opportunity to realize his long-time dream of working in Manhattan.
Although Frank had never sold OCS, he liked the owner and quickly excelled in the job. In his first week, he sold USA Today, a location with over 1,000 employees.
“I had zero sales experience, but I believe in relating to the customer,” said Frank. He doesn’t sell products; he sells himself. “We had a relationship,” said Frank, who kept in touch with the location manager of that first big customer even after he left New York. “Relationships are a part of the business, and the passion,” he said.
After two years working at Abel’s, Frank had some of his own ideas on how an OCS business could be even better. He was interested in a more high quality coffee service, including better quality coffee and classier uniforms.
Frank also believed it was possible to sell both OCS and office supplies together.
COMBINING OCS AND OFFICE PRODUCTS
“We decided we really needed to do it ourselves,” said Frank. The couple started ABC Office Essentials in 1992. It was one of the first combination OCS and office supply businesses. Early members of the National Coffee Service Association program, which became known as TOPS (Total Office Products Systems), the Franks grew the office supply side so much they began dealing directly with the office product supplier instead of using the TOPS program.
“We had two people who were from the respective industries — that helped us do well,” said Frank. His wife knew the office products market, and he knew coffee service. They worked well together and were quite successful.
After four years growing ABC Office Essentials, Frank and his wife were approached with an offer to sell.
“Because of our age, we weren’t afraid to work and (rebuild) another company,” said Frank. ABC Office Essentials was sold to Airline Stationary in New York City, which was featured on the first year of “The Apprentice” TV show. There was no non-compete agreement, so the Franks moved across town and started Corporate Accents in 1997.
In 2001, when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center, a number of Franks’ customers were affected.