I am going to deviate from my usual sales and marketing commentary in this article, and instead discuss a major issue that needs to be addressed by all of you who own or manage office refreshment services.
In November, I spent some quality time with my friend Elliott Slutzky and his wife Joyce at the National Automatic Merchandising Association's Coffee, Tea and Water show in Nashville. Elliott is the owner of Coffee Unlimited in Chicago, a very large office coffee service and vending company. One of the topics we discussed was his preparation for emergencies, some of which have happened and others that hopefully will not. Elliott sent me an email after that conversation to ask me to share it with all of the office refreshment industry. I'm happy to pass it along.
Coffee service operators need a crisis emergency plan to deal with situations in which business gets interrupted, whether by human error or natural causes. Coffee Unlimited has experienced both kinds, and attests to the need to be proactive and have backup measures ready.
Start with a list of the equipment you'll need. The most important is a source of electrical power, such as portable generators plus a supply of gasoline for them and long extension cords. This will enable you to run your portable lights, tape machines, conveyors, portable heaters and computers. A sufficiently powerful system can connect to the main furnace, telephone back-up system and computer uninterruptable power supplies as well as your servers, if they are on your premises.
You should learn how to manually to open and close your overhead warehouse doors in order to load your delivery trucks, to receive product and equipment. You also will need a tall ladder or forklift to reach the mechanism that attaches to the electric motor controlling these doors, so you can disengage it. Once your alternative power plan is in place, be sure to perform periodic maintenance on the hardware to make sure everything will work if it's needed.
There is an important customer relations dimension to this. If a calamity is citywide, you and your competitors will in the same boat. But if the problem is local, confined to your building or your neighborhood, you are at risk of losing many of your customers.
Coffee Unlimited has experienced a host of issues over the years: electrical outages caused by construction companies accidentally cutting underground power lines, lightning damaging a transformer or two in its immediate area, iced-up electric transmission lines breaking, and even the electric company suspending service during maintenance.
Elliot makes important points for the survival of any OCS company during emergencies, and I thank him for sharing his concerns and solutions with my readers.
Here are some additional suggestions based on the steps I took, over the years, to protect my company during emergencies.
First, give your customers an emergency number for a phone that is not located at your business. It can be your home phone or just your cell number.
Second, make an agreement with a local competitor that you both will help fill orders for each other if one or the other's warehouse can't function.
Third, think about your supply chain. For example, if you provide private-label coffee, keep enough film in your warehouse to enable another roaster to take over your packaging if an emergency shuts down your regular supplier.
Store enough company invoices off the premises to continue your billing if your office suffers a fire or a flood.
Every day, do a computer backup of all of your files and store the backups off the premises. You can also contract with a data-storage service to store copies of your files on its remote servers
Establish a good relationship with a local gasoline station. If you regularly fill up your company and personal vehicles at the same station, you should have an agreement with its management that, if there is a gasoline shortage, they will take care of their loyal customers first, before the general public. Also, make sure the station you choose has a generator to keep the gas pumps working in the event of an area power failure caused by weather or anything else.
While you can't plan for every disaster that might take place, you certainly can and should plan for the most obvious ones to protect your business.
I would like for you, my readers, to share with me what you have done to protect your businesses from disasters.
I can be reached at (515) 241-4883 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LEN RASHKIN is a pioneer in office coffee service. He founded Coffee Sip in 1968 and later merged it with Dell Coffee, of which he became president in 1991. Sales at Dell topped $7 million. He also founded the Eastern Coffee Service Association and National Beverage & Products Association. He is a speaker at national and local trade conferences, consults on OCS sales and marketing, and is the author of two OCS training programs.