While the workforce, and therefore the customer base, at vending locations shrinks, those operators who offer OCS have the opportunity to expand. In fact, coffee has been quite lucrative for Commercial Coffee Service/Food Systems Inc., Bridgeview, Ill., producing 35 percent growth in the last two years, compared to a relatively small increase in vending business.
Co-owner Tom O’Malley attributes most of the OCS success to finding and winning new accounts in the southern Chicago market. “We’re knocking on doors,” he said, although some of the OCS business is based on adding the service to previous vending-only locations.
O’Malley and partner Lee Hartnett both started at the company as 18-year-olds, running routes under the original owner, Ray Ornder.
“In 1979, I moved on to become a shop mechanic, then a street mechanic, then into other areas of operations,” said Hartnett. O’Malley took over Hartnett’s routes until he was promoted to sales.
Almost 20 years later, Ornder was ready to retire. Hartnett and O’Malley were already running most of the day-to-day business, so Ornder offered them the opportunity to buy the company instead of selling it to a competitor.
Long time friends, the pair jumped at the chance and bought the company and the building. Hartnett took over the operations side, equipment and personnel while O’Malley continued in sales, logging hours to find new business. After 30 years, the partners remain passionate about vending. “We still enjoy coming into work,” said O’Malley.
“We look forward to coming regardless of the economy,” added Hartnett. “We just like doing it.”
Since buying the company, O’Malley and Hartnett have focused on aggressive growth and replacing or upgrading equipment. The business grew 30 percent in the first two years under the duo, despite the effect of 9/11, and the OCS business has more than doubled.
TAILOR OCS TO THE LOCATION
O’Malley uses his years of experience to determine a coffee proposal for a location, whether it’s an airpot with basic coffee, cream and sugar, or a single-cup, multi-flavor specialty brewer. “I see what they’re doing currently, then come back a second time with a program and some coffees to taste test,” said O’Malley. He likes to choose about 10 people to be the focus group. They meet before lunch to taste two or three coffees (out of the 40 brands Commercial Food Systems carries). He also includes refreshments to complement the coffees. Usually the decision is made right there if Commercial Coffee Service gets the OCS business.
In the last three years, O’Malley has had tremendous success with the Keurig single-cup machine and Green Mountain Roasters coffee. Among work places with a majority of 18- to 30-year-olds, specialty brewers, teas, liquid creamers and better grades of coffee are doing very well. “Some of these breakrooms look like coffee shops,” said O’Malley. This age group drinks more coffee than the same group did 10 years ago. The single-cup brewers allow locations to bring their employees back from the coffee houses.
Another program Commercial Food Systems instituted for OCS customers is free giveaways. When a customer orders a certain number of boxes of coffee, Commercial Coffee Service will put in a free tin of pre-made cookies or powered drink mix. “It was to encourage volume purchases,” said O’Malley. “For locations that order one or two boxes at a time, now they will order three or five boxes to get the free cookie tin.” The free giveaway is always changing to keep the idea fresh. The company announces the giveaway in its quarterly newsletter to its customers. The newsletter also has trivia contests where clients can win gift cards as well as read about company news.