In his famous song, “New York, New York,” Frank Sinatra sings: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” Sinatra might not have been singing about the OCS business, but if he were, he would have been right.
Metro New York has always been a bellwether market for the OCS industry. Having the largest concentration of offices in the U.S., the Big Apple has spawned some of the nation’s largest regional OCS operations, some of which have been market leaders in pioneering new concepts, notably single-cup, and in OCS marketing and operations professionalism generally.
To succeed in this highly competitive environment, partners Charles Chiarello and John Malizio had to be at the top of their game from the beginning. The founders of Classic Coffee Systems Ltd., based in Valley Stream on Long Island, recognized at the outset that they needed to be professional in every way to succeed.
This wasn’t as obvious when the partners founded their company in 1980. The OCS industry was still young, and scores of one-person operations were thriving throughout the New York metropolitan area. Startup costs were low by today’s standards, and many worked out of their homes.
STARTING OUT ON THE OCS ROUTE
Chiarello and Malizio each had the benefit of having worked for one of the larger and more professional OCS operations at the time: Professional Coffee Plan in Lynbrook, N.Y. Working as route drivers and mechanics, the pair, both college educated and in their early 20s, recognized that customer service held the key to success in OCS.
With OCS just gaining its identity as an industry at the time, Chiarello and Malizio saw an opportunity to provide reliable service in the huge New York metropolitan market. Offices in Manhattan didn’t (and still don’t) have the luxury of sending an employee to a warehouse club for things.
“We saw what was going on; both of us saw there was an opportunity,” Malizio said. With about $20,000 in combined savings, they struck out on their own in May of 1980.
PROFESSIONALISM FROM DAY ONE
Chiarello and Malizio rented a 1,500-square-foot warehouse and hired a part-time office worker before they made their first sales call. “We thought if you started small you’d always be small,” Chiarello said. “At that time, a lot of guys worked out of the house and never got out of the house.”
They held a party the night before they opened for business, inviting friends and acquaintances. They knew the importance of networking, and that opening night party drew prospective customers.
They needed the warehouse because they knew from their experience that many accounts wanted vending in addition to OCS, so they needed to have vending machines ready to be deployed. They also needed space for allied products, which they knew was a big part of the business.
NETWORKING: AN ONGOING ACTIVITY
Chiarello and Malizio called on friends, family and acquaintances in addition to knocking on doors. They signed up about 10 customers per month. Their morning sales calls began wherever their deliveries took them. “Wherever we delivered, that’s where we would sell,” Malizio recalled.
After six months, they had about 60 customers, and they hired their first delivery man.
A friend who worked for a bank in Manhattan got them an interview with the bank, which resulted in their first 400-plus account. “That lit a fire under us,” Malizio said.
Beneath all of the excitement of a growing business, the pair never forgot their founding principle: customer service. “Customer service became who we were,” Malizio said. If a customer wanted a specific item that they didn’t warehouse, they would (and will still) get it for them.
A customer might want a specific cough drop, juice or popcorn. The customers know they can call on Classic Coffee Systems and get it at no extra charge. “That goes a long way; the fact that they can call the owner of the company and get that kind of response,” Malizio said.
EARLY SUCCESS: COCA-COLA BREAKMATE