Dave Hart, right, credits his service manager, Buddy King, with keeping the business running successfully.
For Dave Hart, the coffee service business is very rewarding. “You should have a passion for your work,” he said, “and being passionate about coffee has been successful for us.”
Over a long career working for vending companies and manufacturers, Hart decided coffee was booming and in 2000 started his own office coffee service business. Twelve years later, Hart, the 2012 OCS Operator of the Year, is known for his steadfast commitment to customers and his loyalty to the vending, micro market and office coffee industry.
A family start
In 1977, Hart began working for his father-in-law at a full-line vending operation in California called De Paul Service Co. At that time, Hart’s in-law had just launched his OCS business as well, Diversified Coffee. Hart found himself learning both sides of the businesses from the onset. “I was young and willing,” said Hart. “I would be a route driver one day and the next restocking soda machines.” It wasn’t long before Hart was running the vending service department.
In 1989, after 12 years, it was time for a change. Hart went to work for Crane National Vendors in field service. After offering his service skills to local operators, Hart wanted to start his own company, and could see there was a huge demand for coffee, especially in the Silicon Valley area.
Becoming a coffee provider
In 2000, Hart decided to strike out on his own. With the support of his wife, brother and close industry friends, he started Coffee To You in Santa Clara, Calif.
Even with all Hart’s experience, launching his own OCS business was a challenge. “Until you take that first step, you don’t realize how much of your time and energy is spent learning,” he said.
As with any service business, adding the right people was imperative. “It comes down to the person who is out there every day visiting your customers,” said Hart. He believes proper service and communication are vital to the coffee service business since most operators offer similar products and equipment.
His training program doesn’t involve long hours or a formal process, it’s more an outlook. “I project me, my image, my personality, to the employees,” said Hart. He encourages his staff to be kind and courteous, but also not to promise the world, unless they plan to deliver it. He focuses on a team approach, sometimes using sports analogies to illustrate that every person in the company is important. He makes it known that every employee relies on everyone else to do their job. “If they perform their role as they should, the whole company succeeds,” added Hart. And it seems to be working.
“I hear it all the time ‘Dave, your guys are wonderful,’” confessed Hart.
This year, Hart added a customer service division to Coffee To You, which he says is the best thing he’s done in a long time. “It helps build a rapport with customers, which is very important to me. When you do that, you and the customer have more of a vested interest in doing business together,” he said.
Association board member
Something ingrained in Hart from early on, was a philosophy of giving back to the industry.
“If you don’t get involved, who will,” asked Hart. He’s been a member of the California Automatic Vendors Association (CAVA) for four years, and is currently serving as second vice president. He will serve as president in 2014.
He’s also a believer in the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) and the changes it’s made over the past few years. Hart remembers when NAMA tradeshows were all about getting products and equipment. Now, the association has changed that by focusing more on educational sessions and providing information.
As a coffee service provider, Hart also appreciates how the association has split out the OCS booths at the OneShow. “That (the coffee pavilion) seems to grow each year,” he said.
Additionally, Hart has been regularly attending the coffee, tea and water event since NAMA launched the first one in Cherry Hill, N.J., in 2008. “It’s a fantastic show,” said Hart. “It’s been a great addition to the industry.”
Service: innovation and organization
In the future, Hart wants to see coffee service evolve with new products and equipment that will bring even more of the coffee house experience into the workplace.
“I thank Starbucks every day for opening our eyes to a good cup of coffee,” Hart said with a laugh.
Of the recent changes, single cup has been one of the most successful for Hart. “That’s what my customers are requesting,” he said. However, he always pairs single cup with traditional air pots for meeting rooms and in executive briefing areas.
In the single cup segment, Keurig and Flavia are well known to OCS customers, but Hart reasons that soft pods will grow. He’s surprised this hasn’t happened since pods are less expensive than cartridge single-cup coffee and a “greener” option. He believes it will take a brand name roaster producing and marketing pods to drive their growth.
Hart’s biggest successes when bringing his service to a customer location isn’t always coffee — often it is bringing organization to a breakroom. Coffee To You provides storage containers for sugar, stir stickers and other items usually placed on the counter.
“If everything is labeled — chances are it will get back the way it should,” said Hart.
While Hart is flattered by the OCS Operator of the Year award, he feels most honored having a dedicated staff. “I have fantastic employees representing Coffee To You,” he said. “I think that is most rewarding to me.”