Blake Jones, who works in sales and marketing at Pot O' Gold Coffee Service just outside of Seattle in Bellevue, WA, watched his father grow the family business to what is now the largest independent office coffee service (OCS) provider in a state that knows a thing or two about coffee. Jones says that Pot O' Gold, which has about 900 accounts and over 20 employees, currently purchases more Starbucks products than any other independent operator in the state. Pot O' Gold has also been distinguished by Washington CEO Magazine as one of the "Best Companies To Work for in Washington" and was recently featured in Forbes magazine. Pot O' Gold has been serving the greater Seattle area since 1986, keeping clients caffeinated with great coffee. It also provides other necessities for the office break room such as carbonated water coolers and snacks.
We caught up with Jones to learn a little more about what sets Pot O' Gold apart from the competition.
1. How did you get into the family business?
Jones: I've worked [at Pot O' Gold] since I was in high school, at age 16. I've worked in the warehouse, as a delivery driver, and now in sales and marketing. After graduating from the University of Oregon, I came to work at the company full-time, and now I work with my uncle in sales and marketing. My aunt runs the company with my dad.
2. How has Pot O' Gold changed over the years, and what separates you from your competitors?
Jones: We started in OCS, offering coffee and break room supplies, but we've transitioned to offer more than that. We currently offer cold brew, soft drinks, paper products, healthy flavored carbonated water, snacks and any other item you can imagine for the break room. We've had to totally innovate as a company over the years to accommodate the increasing demands of customers.
What separates us from the pack is that we don't charge rental fees for our coffee equipment. When we acquire a new customer, we set them up with equipment that best suits their needs, free of charge — no rental fee. We don't charge for delivery or installation, and there are no fees associated with off-route service calls. If a coffee machine goes down — and they go down, that's just how it is — we come out and service it within one to two hours. Our company was founded on providing exemplary customer service.
Also, as a family-run business, I think it makes people feel comfortable when I come in for a sales call and let them know that this is my family's business, and I don't plan to leave. I hope to take over my dad's role when he retires, so it definitely makes people feel good knowing that they won't be dealing with someone else down the road.
3. What do you like about working in OCS?
Jones: It's a fun industry to work in. It's a growing industry, and it's a really competitive industry. When my dad started in Seattle, he might have had two or three competitors, and what separated my dad from the pack is that he was the pioneer of offering specialty coffee in the break room. He tried to highlight the micro roasters and specialty coffees because he knew that if you put a premium coffee into a machine, you're going to get way better results.
Now the industry is changing; people want the option of having a wide variety of quality coffees in their break room to choose from. They want to be able to choose from local micro roasters from different cities in the U.S. For example, if someone lives in New York, they want to be able to work with a New York-based micro roaster. That's how it is in Seattle, too. When I do coffee tastings with clients, I'll bring in seven or eight different coffees, they'll taste and vote on them, and choose which coffees they would like served in their break room. We deal with approximately 40 different roasters, and most of them are local. We have a ton of different options to keep employees happy. They are motivated to go to work knowing that their break room has awesome choices of quality coffees, snacks, etc. There's no need to venture down 40 floors to the coffee shop in the lobby.
4. You carry a lot of different brands of coffee, but also maintain a close relationship with Starbucks. Why do you feel the need to carry so many options for clients?
Jones: We always do our best to provide our customers with a wide variety of options for coffees and break room supplies. We are one of the leading sellers of Starbucks coffees in offices throughout Washington state. We work really closely with them. We have cultivated a great partnership with them in providing their proprietary bean-to-cup brewer, the I-Cup, in offices throughout the Pacific Northwest. We have been working with Starbucks on placing I-Cups since 2003. Today, we have a ton of I-cups in the field.
We pride ourselves on offering a very wide and diverse product line. We always have to be prepared to offer alternatives to higher-priced coffees when budget concerns come into play. Seattle is a super healthy, outdoorsy place — a perfect market to offer our healthy, gluten-free snack options. Recycling and compostable items are also really important to the many environmentally-conscious companies in Seattle.
5. Have you seen a growing demand for pantry service, or snack service?
Jones: Yes, definitely. It started with a couple of our larger accounts, with 500+ employees. It was a new thing for us, and we started out doing a nightly delivery service. I actually did the graveyard shift one summer with one of our drivers; I'd come in at 11 p.m. or midnight and get off around 6 a.m. It was crazy! It turned out not to be the best fit for us, operationally. We decided to integrate the snack delivery service into our regular daytime routes, which has proven to work out great.
Our office snack division has totally grown. Every business wants to offer their employees the very best amenities because they're always competing to keep their employees. A lot of companies in Seattle offer amazing perks — cool snacks and specialty food items are just a few of them. The intention is to keep employees in the offices. Just like with coffee, these types of perks help to keep the employees happy, energized and in the office being productive. All offices — especially the tech ones around Seattle — want to offer their employees the best they can, because they're competing to keep those employees.