Nachtrieb also wrote about his espresso machines on websites such as coffeegeek.com and home-barista.com. When espresso lovers offered favorable testimonials about his espresso machines, he received orders. He realized that the homeowner espresso drinker was willing to pay for high-quality machines, and they were interested in buying products from people they felt they could trust.
The Internet, he realized, offered not only a sales forum, but a way for marketers to communicate in greater depth with customers. For a product that required a high level of customer confidence such as an espresso brewer, the Internet was a great tool.
"It (the homeowner espresso market) is much bigger than I ever imagined," Nachtrieb said. "People who enjoy espresso are tired of getting lousy drinks at restaurants, so they buy a $1,000 and up machine for the house."
Internet offers new opportunity
Nachtrieb noticed that other websites selling espresso machines did not offer good aftermarket support, which was important to espresso users. He offered a 30-day full refund policy and made it a point to respond to all e-mail inquiries he received about his offerings. He developed a reputation among espresso lovers as a reputable source.
As Nachtrieb's Internet sales increased, he hired more service techs to provide aftermarket support.
Recognizing the market for home-owner espresso machines, Nachtrieb decided to design his own machines based on user comments. He was able to pinpoint design flaws in existing machines, such as plastic fittings and circuit boards placed too close
"They (customers) give you a road map," Nachtrieb said. In the past two years, he has had two machines custom built by a manufacturer in Italy, and has three more on the way.
The homeowner units he sells have price points in excess of $1,000. He also sells grinders, coffee and accessories.
He noted that 35 percent of his Internet sales, which average 250 pieces per month, are from California, where espresso is most popular.
Nachtrieb now sends a quarterly e-mail newsletter to his customer list of more than 10,000 to introduce new items and unadvertised specials. He recently assigned his accounts receivable manager, Mary DeLong, the additional role of Internet sales manager.
Nachtrieb seeks espresso distributors
Nachtrieb sees the Internet as his best short-term growth opportunity, and is seeking distributors to stock and resell his espresso machines.
Because his espresso orders result in a lot of leasing activity for lending institutions, he is also exploring his own equipment leasing company.
In the meantime, Nachtrieb sees continued growth in the foodservice segment as more restaurants become interested in espresso. He is in the process of installing a micro roaster to roast coffee for foodservice accounts. He said many foodservice customers prefer buying from a source that roasts its own coffee.
The office market continues to be challenging, Nachtrieb said, since operating costs are rising and the number of offices with viable populations is not increasing in his area.
He acknowledged that manual pod machines have created some new opportunities for OCS, but he is uncertain that they offer a significant enough economic advantage over the pourover Keurig brewer. His new micro roaster may provide the means to produce coffee pods for the new manual pod brewers.
In the meantime, Chris' Coffee Service continues to expand in all of its business segments — offices, foodservice and Internet sales — due to the company's hard-earned reputation as an expert on all things related to coffee.
"All businesses nowadays have to be progressive," Nachtrieb said. "You have to be willing to make changes. There's no magic answer for the next 10 years."