When the recession hit in 2008, small Rust Belt communities took it hard. Areas like Erie, Pa. on the Ohio/Pennsylvania border had never recovered from the manufacturing decline that began in the 1960s.
But for business owners like Anita Rose-Marcoline who know how to leverage their strengths and meet customers’ needs, every challenge brings a new opportunity. Rose-Marcoline, owner of McCormick Coffee and a 30-plus-year coffee industry veteran, continues to prosper in the face of a recession.
For Rose-Marcoline, challenge has been a constant. She got into the OCS business in the midst of the worst coffee price increase in the industry’s history. That challenge prepared her well for those that would face her for decades to come. She learned that a relentless focus on product quality and customer service would enable her to prosper in the face of adversity.
As a coffee service provider in a small city that is just beyond the market reach of the very large competitors, she has expanded from traditional OCS to foodservice coffee and retail coffee. Having established relationships with high quality roasters and developing a team of capable equipment technicians, she has made a name for herself as Erie’s top coffee service expert. She has expanded beyond coffee service to equipment maintenance for a wide spectrum of coffee retailers.
Erie, Pa. has a population of about 100,000 and is about 100 miles equidistant from Pittsburgh, Pa. to the south, Cleveland, Ohio to the west, and Buffalo, N.Y. to the east. The national OCS players have never established a lasting presence in Erie, creating an opportunity for independent players like McCormick Coffee.
This past year was one of her most profitable years ever, despite the fact that she lost one of two hospital coffee shops she operated.
Rose-Marcoline’s career has taken many twists and turns from the time she launched her one-person OCS business in 1978. While she shares the entrepreneurial instincts of many of her OCS colleagues, her story is unique in several ways. She did not come from a business family and does not remember being a particularly motivated student in school.
After earning an undergraduate degree from Gannon University in Erie, she became an X-ray technician. Once on the job, she realized the 9-to-5 routine was not for her. The problem was she didn’t know what was. It was five years before she left the technician job and went into OCS.
The path from X-ray technician to OCS operator wasn’t smooth. Her future husband introduced her to a friend whose parents enjoyed freshly ground coffee for home use. She got interested in opening a coffee shop and started researching the coffee industry.
Rose-Marcoline’s research took her to Jamestown, N.Y. to meet with roaster/retailer/OCS operator John Cayer who operated a company called Coffee Exchange that sold 100 percent Colombian coffee. Cayer told her that OCS was a better business to get into than a coffee shop.
Rose-Marcoline realized the main OCS player in Erie at the time was not selling good quality coffee. Encouraged by Cayer, she struck out on her own in 1978, working from her home under the name Coffee Mill.
Cayer loaned her equipment and provided her a supply of his private label Colombian coffee, private label cream and sugar, and some pourover brewers.
Coffee becomes a passion
“Once I went into the coffee business, I fell in love with it,” she said. “It was a grass roots effort. I knew it was my passion. When I reached a certain point, the entrepreneurial spirit just led me away.”
Which is not to say it was easy. Coffee prices were rising in the late 1970s, and her main OCS competitor was cutting prices. But encouraged by Cayer, she persisted with her 1.75-, 2 - and 2.5-ounce fraction packs of 100 percent Colombian coffee. Unlike the competition, she offered coffee with the Juan Valdez 100 percent Colombian coffee logo. She told prospects she cleaned the pots with every visit. And she won accounts.