INDUSTRY INSIDER: Top 10 Keys To Success In OCS, Part 1

July 15, 2019

Mike Laurer, vice president of office coffee services at Five Star Food Service, has worked in the refreshment services industry for more than 35 years. He highlighted several ways OCS operators can ensure their success in the field, especially when they are launching their business or want to expand their service.

“The OCS industry has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years, but it continues to be a very profitable business force for the industry, as long as you do it correctly,” Laurer said.

1. Recruit the right people

Laurer said choosing the right people for an OCS business team, especially customer-facing employees, is critical. While it may take some time to identify people who are a good fit for the business, finding them can help the business thrive.

“I look for people who have what I call ‘the service gene.’ They actually enjoy interacting with people, and they enjoy serving customers and pleasing customers,” he said. “Not everyone has that. It takes a while to find a person who has it, but I would encourage everyone in the business to look for that type of person.”

Laurer said it’s “a gut call” to make during the interview. Questions about the candidate’s past customer service experience can help, but ultimately it’s “a feeling you get” during the interview process.

2. Focus on OCS

In order to be successful in OCS, operators need to focus on that part of their business rather than doing it as a half-hearted offshoot from vending, Laurer said.

“You can’t do OCS part-time,” Laurer said. “You really need someone who’s leading that line of business for you.”

He said OCS “gets a little more personal” than vending and it involves a lot of customer interaction. Operators will tend to work with front office people, like executives and office staff, rather than back office people, who may be blue-collar workers.

“You need to know what kind of coffee to present to the customer and what kind of allied products you think they’d be interested in,” Laurer said. “To really grow the business, you really just need to focus on it.”

3. Take care of your team.

“I think it’s important to give your team the tools they need to be successful,” he said.

Those include basic training, technology, point-of-sale material and general support.

“Be sure your team has everything it needs to be successful,” Laurer said.

Clear communication with the team is essential.

“Your sales people really need to understand what type of prospect you’re looking for so they can focus on the right ones and not waste time on the ones that you really don’t want as a customer,” he said.

He said that includes establishing a minimum number of employees that would need to work at a business location to warrant trying to sell an OCS location to.

“A customer that has 15 to 20 people generally is not going to buy enough coffee to be a profitable coffee account,” he said. “So, you need to make sure your people understand the kind of customers you’re wanting to go after.”

4. Sell the service, not the product.

Laurer recommended OCS operators remember to sell their service, not the products and price levels.

“Let the customer know what you’re going to be doing for them and how it’s going to affect morale for the employees,” he said.

Laurer also noted that it’s important to inform customers of all the benefits of providing a quality refreshment service to employees.

“Employees in an office who have good gourmet coffee are more productive, happier and more engaged,” he said. “They don’t leave the workplace to go to off-site cafes because they have a quality beverage in their office.”

He suggested OCS operators encourage clients who are using glass-pot coffee to go to single-cup, bean-to-cup or a pod since that will boost revenue.

5. Choose an appropriate menu.

Laurer said it’s best for operators to limit the number of items and SKUs they provide to businesses.

“Don’t be afraid to say no to a customer,” he said. “A lot of the time, you’re going to have one customer who wants you to provide one particular item, and you just can’t really afford to fill your warehouse with items that only one person buys.”

He said that for coffee, it’s best to have a “good, better, best” scenario to address all the needs customers have.

“Some people just want a decent cup of coffee. Some people want something a little better. And some people want premium coffee,” Laurer said. “So just be sure you have all of those in your menu.”

Mike Laurer, vice president of office coffee services at Five Star Food Service, has been in the Refreshment Services industry for over 35 years. His experience includes managing both vending and micro market operations, but his passion and expertise lies in office coffee service (OCS) and water. He believes the key to success is staying ahead of the curve on industry trends while delivering the best possible customer service experience. He understands that each customer is unique and requires clear and consistent communication to uncover their true needs and wants. He is also a believer in the concept “If you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers.” Laurer is a past president and current board member of Tennessee’s Vending Association. He received his NCE designation from NAMA in 2008.