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The Builders

Posted On: 3/14/2010

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Stuart Daw, office coffee service, OCS, vending, food service, vending business, vending machine, coin machine operator, vendor, vending news, bulk vending, coin-op, coin-op games, coin-op news, Vending Times, Alicia Lavay-Kertes

I was deeply saddened by the news that Stuart Daw, a genuine pioneer of the coffee service and specialty coffee business, had died. I only met him briefly, a few times -- once, memorably, as a dancing partner at a National Automatic Merchandising Association banquet a decade ago (he was a splendid ballroom dancer). Nevertheless, I felt I knew him through his son, my friend Kevin, and through the many admiring accounts I heard of his incisive (and wildly popular) presentations at conferences held during the early days of the office coffee service industry. Through this acquaintance, secondhand though it was, I came to respect and admire Stuart's passion for everything he undertook.

I have been told by many that Stuart played an important role in building the new coffee service industry. And since coffee service (which has now evolved into total refreshment service) has become so popular among vending operators to meet the needs of today's locations, I decided to do a little digging in our archives to see what I might learn about the early days of OCS and Stuart's contributions. Fortunately, I have a library at my disposal and can share this history with those readers who are interested in learning more about our predecessors. And for many of you who knew Stuart personally or attended his entertaining seminars, I hope the memories will make you smile. But no matter what business you are in, there is much to emulate from builders like him.

Stuart was recognized as a coffee expert by many organizations, including the U.S. government. He acquired his expertise by selling coffee as a young man; if he was going to sell the product, he was going to learn as much about it as he could. And he did just that.

He was passionate about quality. He always contended that "specialty coffee" simply was the long-delayed response of the market to the coffee-drinker's desire for a good cup of coffee. It took three decades, but the industry finally responded and the specialty coffee business was born.

He was also a strong believer in Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, a system that places the highest value on individual creativity, whether expressed by an artist, an architect, an industrialist or a coffee salesman.

And so, a master of his craft, Stuart put this thinking to work in his many memorable sales training seminars at NCSA conventions. He usually recruited an operator from the audience to play the role of a tough customer or prospect. He often put on a white laboratory coat with a golden spoon and a thermometer in the breast-pocket before he made his simulated sales call.

While he used product knowledge to very good advantage in the sales pitch he delivered, he also emphasized the romance of coffee. He often approached the finale of a demonstration by inviting the prospect to allow the enticing aroma of the freshly brewed coffee to conjure up a vision of the misty hills of Huehuetenango, or someplace -- "and listen! Can't you hear the native drums?" he would ask. (Note: Guatemalan coffee is revered as one of the most flavorful and nuanced cups in the world.)

In his role-playing sales seminars, the operator playing the role of the hard-nosed prospect often asked, "How much does your coffee cost?" And Stuart would respond by recoiling slightly, looking skyward for a brief moment, and responding, "How much does the coffee cost? Let me think -- no one's ever asked that before; let's see. Well, the coffee costs nothing. It is provided for free, in the context of a comprehensive professional service for which there is a modest but necessary charge."

While Stuart took strong exception to many tendencies he saw in contemporary society, he always was an optimist, and he always radiated confidence. In fact, during my research for this column, I stumbled upon coverage of a seminar from our December 1976 edition, sponsored by Goodhost Foods (one of the coffee companies that Stuart founded). I think it might just as well have been written today.

The article summarized a presentation given at a NCSA trade show in New Orleans that declared 1977 "The Year of the Optimist." In his engaging speech, Stuart appealed to all people in the Coffee Service Industry to "get over this mood of pessimism that is filling the air. For every problem there is an opportunity, and the losers in any business are those who dwell obsessively on the problems of the past."

There is much to be admired about Stuart Daw. He was charming and personable, dedicated to the business, and eager to inspire the same enthusiasm in his customers that he always displayed himself. And he knew more about coffee than anyone I have ever met. Everyone who knew him will remember him. It is essential that this industry not forget him.