During and immediately after college, coffee held little interest for Steve Brehm, president of Berry Coffee Co. in Eden Prairie, Minn. Not being a coffee drinker, Brehm didn’t think selling coffee would be on his radar of career choices. His first job interview was with a local coffee distributor where he felt compelled to drink his first cup of coffee. He accepted the job offer and that is where his passion for the coffee service business developed and took hold – leading him to become the owner of a regional OCS company in the Midwest making more than $10 million in sales annually.
Brehm, the 2013 Readers’ Choice OCS Operator of the Year, is the type of entrepreneur who wants others to be inspired by his dreams. His management style is “participative” with a shared company vision among his staff. “Our sustained success and continued growth is directly attributed to the great team of professionals that I have surrounded myself with through the years,” Brehm said. “Passion is the cornerstone of success, and that’s the environment I’ve tried to build here at Berry Coffee.”
An unexpected career
In 1975, Brehm went to work for a regional coffee company as a driver. He also got a chance to sell the services. While he didn’t drink coffee at the time, he found that he loved the business. After a little more than a year, he was recruited by a national coffee company that offered continued education in coffee, management, sales and marketing. “If I hadn’t had an opportunity to work at these two companies, it would have taken a lot longer for me to build my operation,” said Brehm. “I was working with a team of highly trained professionals and this is where my passion for this great industry started.”
Brehm decided to become an entrepreneur in 1979 and hasn’t looked back. For nearly four decades he has built his business by being passionate about the products and services he provides and always striving to do things better, whether it’s a better computer system, equipment upgrade or product offerings. “There are just so many things happening at lightning speed within our industry…and it has grown because of that,” Brehm added.
His early coffee experience taught him to look at his business from a marketing perspective. “Building a brand was very important to me,” said Brehm. He also focused on his customers, trying to meet their needs and wants. He regularly reads trade journals and industry resources and even attends the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) OneShow.
Most importantly, he keeps an open mind. “I don’t screen my phone calls,” said Brehm. While he admits he has to deal with people selling him things he doesn’t want, it’s still an important practice. “I don’t want to miss an opportunity,” he said, whether that comes as a new product, new equipment or suggestion from a customer or staff member.
Meeting customer expectations
When Brehm first opened Berry Coffee Co., customer expectations were very different. He installed mostly pour-over brewers with some ancillary products like cream and sugar. He had 30 SKUs in his warehouse. Today, he has more than 1,000 and believes there will be more in the future. Customer expectations have even increased. “Customers know companies like ours can offer more – more product offerings and more services,” said Brehm. That has led him into paper and plasticware, cleaning supplies, multiple types of beverages, fresh fruit and pantry service, filtered water, ice machines and in the future – the micro market. “We haven’t done one yet, but have been researching the concept,” said Brehm, who believes the initial investment looks less expensive than getting into vending. He hopes to have his first micro market sold and installed by the end of 2014.
The future of OCS has never been more positive, according to Brehm. Not only is coffee a more popular drink than ever before, its health benefits are being studied and reported regularly, coffee prices are dropping and Brehm sees even more requests for single-cup coffee, including bean to cup systems.
“I can honestly say I have the same passion today as I did when first getting started,” Brehm said. He attributes this to the evolution of service, equipment and product offering that has shaped OCS. He added, “The number of ways to delight a customer is becoming endless!”