Over the past several years, coffee services operators have made a concerted effort to offer online ordering to their clients. The thought process: Let’s give our clients what they really want (especially millennials) and cut our labor costs at the same time.
The concept of online ordering for OCS makes sense; it eliminates time-consuming inventory activity by route drivers, who deliver and move on to the next stop. Our clients are currently ordering plenty of office products online, including furniture, paper, desk supplies, computers and their own lunch. Why not coffee service? Doesn’t every office manager want to automate the ordering process?
Opinions vary among operators and their clients.
Matthew Marsh, President of First Class Coffee Service, a division of First Class Vending, made it clear that he prefers a full-service approach, with a route driver taking inventory, servicing the equipment and putting product away. Marsh added that salespeople might have a tendency to move decision makers toward online ordering when they think it is attractive to the prospective customer.
“Salespeople will sometimes do what they have to do to make a deal,” said Marsh. “Unfortunately, online ordering is not always the best choice for the customer.”
Office manager Annette Hargan of Los Angeles based Cohen Pagano Accountancy offered an opinion that was typical of small company administrators who were interviewed. Online ordering is perfect for her current company. “We’re a small firm, so it’s easy and more cost effective to order online,” said Hargan. “If we were larger, believe me, we would choose a full-service company.”
Rodney Turner, Vice President of Coffee Distributing Corp, in the greater New York City area, firmly believes that the demand for online ordering is a generational issue. “In my experience, Gen Z and millennials absolutely want online ordering. If you can’t provide it, they will be unhappy. Most of the time, in their opinion, it is the best way to order everything,” said Turner. “Gen X wants a more personal touch, a par level, full-service approach."
Joe Simonovich, Chief Growth Officer at Corporate Essentials, located in the greater New York area, actually had to rescue a new client from an online ordering process that was out of control. “I was working with a larger client recently that was ordering from six different places,” said Simonovich. “The first thing she wanted to do when we took over the account was to change that. I asked her how that ever happened, and she said that it worked when the company was small, but when the company grew, it was unmanageable.”
Simonovich’s boss, Judson Kleinman, Founder and CEO at Corporate Essentials, has definite concerns about online ordering. “When you move primarily to online ordering you are on a slippery slope because you can become completely commoditized. You get away from what the industry started as: a service business,” said Kleinman. “If you burden the customer with all that work, why do they need to order from you? They can order from anywhere and unfortunately, it gets them in the habit of ordering from anywhere. I think you need to add value to your customers; provide service and let them run their business, not yours.”
Seattle-based Arthur Siller, Vice President of Operations & Business Development at Avanti Markets Northwest, said his clients are rarely interested in online OCS ordering. “I think that millennials certainly want to use an app for ordering in their personal lives, but I can’t imagine if I polled our clients and asked them if they wanted to change the process so that from now on, they tell us when to come, what to bring and they place the order online, that they would be interested,” said Siller. “I’m a millennial myself — maybe I’m an outlier, but if the client is doing everything, what is our role?”
“As part of a large company, I always prefer a full-service program,” said Dion Brain, Vice President of Global Facilities Operations at Open X, which has a substantial number of employees in offices around the world. “If we are managing a refreshment program on our own, it can be costly because one of our people has to do inventory, order the products and distribute them to various stations.”
Brain thinks a hybrid approach might be a viable solution for many companies, including his. “The basic 15 to 20 coffee service and pantry products should definitely be handled completely by the coffee service,” said Brain. “If beverage and snack quantities don’t vary much from week to week, that’s where online ordering works. It allows us to manage the selection while the refreshment service does the heavy lifting — rotating product and putting it away,” he added.
Whether or not online ordering is the right OCS solution, Rodney Turner is confident that online ordering is here to stay. “The reality is that our industry is moving toward online ordering,” said Turner. “As Gen Z and millennials take over the workforce, there will be more and more online ordering and we need to adapt to it.”