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.
This is the second part of the advice he is sharing with OCS Operator e-newsletter readers. See Part 1 here.
6. Engage in the sustainability movement.
Laurer said he believes the sustainability movement will continue to grow, and operators should embrace it through choosing sustainable products and paper goods.
“It’s going to continue to grow, and I think it’ll be a major product line for everyone in the near future,” he said.
A lot of companies now have sustainability committees and are trying to be green-friendly, he added.
“A lot of people are eliminating foam cups as foam cups are known not to be very recyclable – and they’re going to paper cups and biodegradable items,” Laurer said. “Just as the company has put that lantern out and said, ‘Hey, we’re going green,’ we need to be able to have those products available to those customers. It used to be, 10 years ago, that those biodegradable products were quite expensive, but they have really come down in price and are almost now cost-neutral with some items that are not sustainable.”
He said Five Star Food Service promotes its sustainable products and foodservice goods to its clients.
“It’s just the way of the future, I think,” Laurer said.
7. Review route structure regularly.
Laurer said it’s important to consistently review route structure, perhaps on a quarterly basis, to evaluate the success of sales in accounts.
“You may find yourself seeing a customer every week because they were really good for a while, and now they’ve really dropped off and you only need to go once a month,” he said. “Just make sure you have your service schedule set right.”
8. Encourage route sales teams.
Laurer suggested encouraging the route sales team to add on new items for customers, as they see customers regularly. Route drivers can present customers with samples of new products, with pricing information, to increase sales at a location.
“Probably half of our customers want us to come in and look at what they have, consider the history of what they buy, and leave what we think they need,” he said. “They expect us to manage their inventory. They’re not actually ordering. We’re leaving what we think they need to last until the next time we come.”
On the other hand, some other customers order products online through Five Star Food Service’s website. They prefer to let Five Star know what they need.
“We do encourage customers to order online if that’s their preferred method, because it really gives them the opportunity to see everything we offer, including things they may not know we offer,” he said. “You can increase your sales by having a customer go online and order what they want.”
Another benefit of accommodating online ordering is giving route drivers the ability to simply fill the order at the client’s location instead of checking to see what the client sees. That way, the driver can complete more stops each day more efficiently.
9. Have an employee focus on top customers.
Laurer said that once an OCS operator business has established itself, it needs to have someone focus on its top tier of customers.
“Generally, your top 30 customers are 70 or 80 percent of your business, so make sure you take care of those customers,” he said.
Five Star assigns a business development manager to ensure those customers are happy and to try to sell them additional products or different methods of making coffee.
“Half of it’s maintaining that relationship, and half of it’s trying to make sure they’re aware of everything new coming into the market,” Laurer said.
He said establishing and maintaining constant contact with the company is critical, especially because the point-of-contact individual at the client’s company tends to change.
“People are coming and going and moving jobs. If you don’t maintain that constant contact relationship, you’re going to find yourself in a situation where a former employee whom you had previously worked with had moved out, and that person who moved in has a friend at your competitor’s business, and you end up losing the business,” he said. “You just need to stay in touch with those clients.”
10. Add complementary services.
Laurer said most companies have a water service contract for their business, such as a cooler that filters water to provide hot and cold water from a machine. When an OCS operator visits a new prospective client or an existing client, he or she can look for water units. The OCS operator may be able to easily take over providing that service through its refreshment agreement if the client is going through an outside supplier.
“You can eliminate a supplier and have one vendor to do both [OCS and water service],” he said. “It’s just kind of a win-win for everybody.”
Another service OCS operators can easily add to their portfolios if they already have experience in vending and micro market service is the provision of snacks and drinks, which can simply be dropped off if the client is interested.
“Many clients provide snacks and drinks for meetings and executive areas, and some people just give them away on a normal basis,” he said. “While we’re there, we might as well deliver all we can, so I would recommend adding snacks and drinks to your menu of items if you carry those.”
A final note
“Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of you,” Laurer said. “Reward them, encourage them, support them, treat them with respect. That’s what will drive your success."
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.