How Operators Are Navigating The Current State Of Business: Blake Jones, Sales And Marketing At Pot O’ Gold Coffee Service

June 4, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt everyday business, professionals in convenience services are using creative strategies to run operations and provide food and beverages to their customers. Each week, we’ll highlight the important work being done by leaders in our industry. Have something you’d like to share with us? Email us here.

Located in Bellevue, Wash., Pot O’ Gold Coffee Service is an independent, family-owned company providing office coffee service (OCS), snacks and beverages to the greater Seattle area. Blake Jones, who works in sales and marketing, said that the company responded to the COVID-19 crisis by offering PPE products to customers, donating coffee to frontline healthcare workers, and implementing a home delivery service. Like many operations, Pot O’ Gold has experienced a drop in sales, but Jones is optimistic that his operation — and other operations — will get through this and come out stronger than ever.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business?

Jones: Wow, where do I start? The most significant and personal effect we experienced was one that directly impacted our employees. We had to make the difficult decision to lay off more than half of our employees, which was devastating. We consider our employees part of our family and we feel personally responsible for their well-being, as well as the well-being of their families.Another effect has obviously been the loss of revenue. Like so many small businesses, we have been hit especially hard by this unprecedented event. Our source of revenue is directly related to consumable products that we stock in the office, and with the majority of our customers' employees now working remotely from home, our product sales have drastically declined. Luckily, we still have a significant amount of customers who are deemed essential businesses, but we've still had to be creative in recapturing the revenue we lost due to the absence of employees in a physical office.

How has your company responded to the COVID-19 crisis? Please give examples of any new initiatives you’ve implemented or areas of business where you’ve seen growth.

Jones: In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we're implementing new safety guidelines and service enhancements to our already thorough and stellar operations. We know that work environments have changed and safety expectations are much more heightened than ever before. We feel our new guidelines and enhanced service procedures will serve to protect our customers as well as our employees. As we prepare to reopen to full capacity, we have been preparing our office and warehouse by following the guidelines set forth by the CDC. We've also implemented new requirements for our delivery drivers and service technicians, including the issuance of appropriate PPE, reinforced cleaning protocols and strict social distancing policies.

As I mentioned earlier, since sales were down, we needed to be creative. We implemented a home delivery service through our website and through social media. Anyone can order coffee or coffee related products using an online order form and their selection will be delivered directly to their door. This has been a great enhancement to our business. We've received positive feedback, especially from businesses providing our product delivery service free of charge to their employees working remotely from home.We've also amped up the selection of PPE products we can now offer our customers. These products include Purell [hand sanitizer], Clorox wipes, face masks, gloves, etc.

We have also been using this time to find ways to give back to the healthcare workers who have been selflessly caring for others during this time of uncertainty. Last month, we teamed up with Starbucks/Nestle to donate coffee to healthcare workers throughout the greater Seattle area. With the help of Starbucks/Nestle, we were able to donate 200 boxes of Starbucks Caffe Verona Portion Packs coffee. That's over 560 pounds of coffee! What a great feeling it was to give back!

How do you envision the convenience services industry recovering as we emerge from shelter-in-place orders and Americans start going back to the office?

Jones: I think it is going to be a slow recovery. When offices reopen, I don't think it'll be to full capacity. That may take a while. I think that most offices will initially bring back 50% of their workforce. But since there are no real consistent or clear government reopening guidelines, it'll be up to individual companies to come up with a plan. One thing is clear: Break room guidelines will be strict, with social distancing playing a huge contributing factor. How many employees will be allowed to use the break room at any given time? This will definitely be interesting as it could have a negative impact on coffee and snack consumption.Coffee and water equipment are also going to experience some innovation and changes. A ton of coffee brewer manufacturers have already started to release touchless functions to their machines, allowing users to select their coffee without touching the screen. I think most water coolers will transition into a touchless sensor system as well.

Any advice or insight you’d like to share with other operators?

Jones: Keep your head up. Sales will come back and we will get through this. People aren’t productive while working from home and they will need to get back into an office setting at some point. People need their coffee and they need a service to take care of their break room solutions for them. Everything will pan out and get back to a somewhat normal state soon. We just need to hold on and wait it out. We'll get through this and come out stronger than ever!

Read continuously updated and expanded coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here