Understanding customer needs is something Dave Davis does very well. As a managing partner at Northeast Coffee Company in Skowhegan, ME, he has been faced with larger operations competing for office coffee service business in his area. Instead of panicking, he turned the company's size and location into a strength. "My dad started this company back in 1960," said Davis. "We are a small family business and that is how we relate to our customers, many of which are also small businesses." Northeast Coffee Company employs 20 full time employees and is in its third generation.
You're Just Like Me
One of the challenges Davis saw with customers of the larger and national OCS providers was a lack of flexibility in service. Customers were offered a catalog of services and products. If they asked for something different, they were told "no," explained Davis. Being the owner and operator of a small business himself, Davis understood the need for flexible service support and evolving product offerings. The relationship with customer he strives for is different. "It's more of a 'what can we do together' relationship," Davis said. He will work with each location to find and deliver a product they requested or offer a new service that interests them.
One area that is getting a lot of interest from Northeast Coffee Company customers is local coffee. Davis has partnered with a small roaster in Thompson, ME, called Wicked Joe Coffee. Northeast Coffee Company distributes the coffee for Wicked Joe in it's OCS locations, but also to retail. "We are pushing our local coffee into grocery stores and convenience stores," said Davis. In convenience stores, Northeast Coffee Company handles the entire installation, including placing airports, racks and the enture point of sale. "It's more work, but there is more volume [than workplace coffee service]," adds Davis.
Area residents favor Wicked Joe Coffee. It is made locally with the same values that make family companies around Maine thrive. Plus, the coffee is both organic and Fair Trade. "Essentially, it lets us hit two markets," said Davis. "We can satisfy the demands of customers who want a local product and the people who want a fair and organic coffee option."
Wicked Joe Coffee also roasts bean blends for Northeast Coffee Company's private label coffee. Davis finds customers prefer the coffee to be local even when opting for a less expensive private label. "All things being equal, people prefer local," he said. Local coffee currently represents 30 percent of his coffee revenues and is his fastest growing segment.
Another very strong segment for Northeast Coffee Company is its single-cup coffee service. Davis believes the variety of options really allows customers a freedom of choice with the single-cup brewer and there is always something to keep the selections fresh. "One thing about Green Mountain I appreciate is that there is always a new product to offer customers, such as a different blend," added Davis. A third of Northeast Coffee Company's business is from single-cup coffee.
This family business is thriving. It stands strong, relating to Maine businesses based on what they have in common and personalized service. "I give them my cell number so they can call me direct," said Davis as an example of the personal touch his local business offers.