Servicing these commercial espresso machines created another revenue center. The company marketed its equipment service capabilities to restaurants and coffee retailers. "I saw it as a way to offset a portion of the cost for the help in the service department," Nachtrieb said.
He offered discounted labor rates, travel time charges and faster response times to those restaurants that purchased all their coffee from him, not just espresso. If they did not purchase their drip coffee from him, he would still service their espresso machine, which his competition refused to do, but they would pay a higher price and wait longer.
In 1996, Nachtrieb hosted a reception for Dr. Ernesto Illy, an Italian who is recognized as the world's leading authority on espresso. The event was held at a fine Albany restaurant, and was well attended by local restaurateurs. It received a lot of coverage in the local newspaper.
Consultant offers outside input
While espresso opened some new doors, the growth was not fast, and the mid-1990s was a slow period for Chris' Coffee Service. Nachtrieb realized that he needed more salespeople to grow, but he didn't have the time to manage more salespeople.
In 1994, he was solicited by a business consultancy which offered to provide an outside perspective on his business. Nachtrieb believed in listening to others. After researching the consultancy, George S. May International, he took them up on their offer. The company sent several representatives out to his facility to interview his employees and observe them in action.
"They basically confirmed something I knew I needed to do," Nachtrieb said. "I knew I needed to let go and empower people."
He had a route driver who was capable of running the warehouse and purchasing. The person he had running the warehouse and doing the purchasing was perfect as service department manager. An even bigger need was to have a dedicated sales manager, who could free Nachtrieb to oversee the whole company.
Key change: empowering employees
Making these changes wasn't easy, as many employees, including Nachtrieb, were comfortable doing what they were used to. But once he explained to everyone what the goals were, the employees supported them. The changes increased employees' job satisfaction and productivity.
"If you don't empower people, you're not going to grow," Nachtrieb said.
The sales manager position was particularly critical. Paul Johnson educates the salespeople on the products and on how to sell them.
"You've got to know what your customers are going to ask you before they ask you," Nachtrieb said.
To succeed, they need to have products that will generate sufficient commissions. The high-ticket, commercial espresso machines were key selling incentives to the salespeople, in conjunction with the other products and services.
The company pays its salespeople commission based on gross profit and collections, not sales. Route drivers and inside salespeople are paid on a similar basis: part salary and part commission. Management meetings are held weekly.
Reliability of service has been a key to the company's success, Nachtrieb said. The company calls OCS accounts in advance of delivery, or faxes them an order form to send in.
As the company grew, so did its ability to win business.
Key step: Internet selling
Nachtrieb's expertise in espresso proved especially helpful when he expanded into Internet sales, an area that has seen the fastest growth for his company in the last four years. Nachtrieb first launched a website in 1999 simply as a way to enhance credibility. He had his teenage son, Christian, develop the website, www.chriscoffee.com.
Nachtrieb soon realized that he needed a better website if he wanted to update it frequently without incurring excessive costs, so he hired a professional webmaster.
In the meantime, he began surfing the Internet to learn more about the coffee industry. He quickly discovered that the Internet provided various forums for coffee lovers to compare experiences on all aspects of coffee, and that all types of products were being sold online.
One day, a broker asked him if he would take a look at a new line of semicommercial espresso machines he was representing. Nachtrieb asked him how many he had, and purchased all 30 machines. Nachtrieb then posted photos and a description of the products on his website just to see what would happen.