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Part 2: Continental Coffee

I responded to a want ad for a service manager's position at Continental Coffee Company, also in Chicago. My intention was to drop super tech for relaxation and simple tech. They had the office complex named after them as the anchor client. I moved back to a big company. I figured it would be hard to outpace my learning curve with time temperature and volume.

What I found was an entire industry supported by small appliances scattered across the entire country and even the planet. The service department was a chaotic mess. It consisted of scattered paper and politics. Product sales depended on the complimentary use of appliances. The sales department forced new equipment purchases by the truck loads. Service was considered a black hole. Service personnel roamed the city putting out an endless string of political and mechanical fires. What an unbelievable "opportunity" to show how equipment and service can make or break a company of any size on any scale. This is where I coined the phrase "Sometimes you have to let the fires burn while you search for the kids with the matches". Boy did my young family and I have work to do.

Just as I had learned earlier, I started collecting data. I piled invoices to pick out the make, model and serial number of every unit purchased past and present. I scanned through weekly read outs for Customer Sales histories past and present. I started typing. At home my wife and kindergarten age son helped to alphabetize service call work sheets by customer so I could tell which manufactures units lasted longer, and what type of customers were service intensive. I loaded parts purchases to teach what units from which manufactures failed the most. I melded all info into one cohesive system of paper and computer with continuance flow. When my home made computer and software choked on the bulk early on, my boss got his boss, the president, to let me use his unused Compac luggable with this great application called Lotus, version 1.0. I could actually drag this beast into a meeting. I was in heaven. I recovered so much equipment no longer being supported by product sales that we didn't buy new for months on end. The poor Bunn-O-Matic salesman, John Fogarty, what a trooper, was never anything but a gentleman and teacher even after killing his golden goose.

It wasn't long before I was involved in every new product and project that anyone contemplated. The projects varied from Gatorade bubblers to waffle makers. If it involved a cord it was sent for my evaluation, or for me to present, or to back up sales at the big meeting or trade show. I was producing my sales and equipment tracking reports for the sales departments at four of the largest Sysco houses in the country. For this I collected a second pay check from the home office. I also developed and ran the first 24 hour, 7 day a week service hot line with technical support in the industry. For this I collected a third paycheck from the home office. More on this hot line appears later. The local Sysco house, one of the largest, received permission from Continental and Quaker Oats to hire me as a live- in consultant to manage their service department supporting all beverage vendors. I did this while performing my normal duties throughout the day. I started receiving my fourth pay check on a weekly basis.

I trained myself or received training on everything. I rode with service and sales people continually exposing myself to customers, practices, and the business as whole system.

I trained new coffee sales people on brewing. I commissioned Platt tool case company to produce a small zippered pouch to my specification. It was designed to hold the specific tools that I had chosen for sales training. Small easily lost parts were included in compartments. Seat cups, shear discs, keys etc. These where given to the sales staff during training. The training consisted of how and WHY to make every minor adjustment on any unit we supported. They now had every tool they needed for adjustments in a very professional carry case. The rule was "if you had to remove a chassis screw you had to call for service". The point to be made was showing the customer that our sales people knew everything about the coffee business. If they had to adjust a competitor's brewer to brew our samples correctly, they did it. They would tune the unit and tell the customer we would always keep his units in better shape. When any sales person called in for help we knew what instructions they could follow and what tools they had at hand. Business grew.

In 1985 for relaxation and a dramatic shift in pressure points, I purchased some vacant land in Michigan. Here I began to develop the homestead I now work from. I designed and have been constructing the home of my dreams on this acreage over the last 12 years. It is 33 acres of orchard, sugar bush, and woodlot. Each weekend we exchanged car horns and traffic in Chicago for morning doves, deer, and dirty hands on the homestead. The contrast was and is heaven. I return to Chicago now for just about any reason. I love the big city as much as the wildlife.

Back to the Hot Line. To make a new national service hot line work I needed some special communications hardware. I also compiled the first comprehensive national list of service agents. It didn't matter where the call originated, if I couldn't fix it over the phone I sent local service companies to the accounts with specific time saving instructions such as take this part, or don't go.

The effectiveness of the after hours line reduced costs dramatically while increasing sales. I later placed the service list as the main attraction on Fetco's web site for the world to use and enjoy. That's another part of this story.

At the time radio telephones were still in use. "What did you say? Over". Cellular phones installed in cars were gaining popularity very fast. I developed the hotline program about the time bag phones were becoming common. Not wanting another luggable type device, I stopped by one of our accounts, Motorola. They had a new portable phone. The first hand held battery powered phone on the market. It was the Model 7000. The phone cost more than my first new car with accessories. It hung on my belt and was great.

I could respond to calls nights and weekends from practically anywhere in the country, I became a hit at company outings as every VP and director wanted to call someone from the 10th hole of wherever or the sky box of this or that stadium. I was invited everywhere. In the sixth year of the program call loads had climbed to 20-30 over weekends. It was killing me.

As an early cell phone user I had many new experiences. One, while talking on the phone in traffic, with the optional roof top antenna attached to one end and the optional cigar lighter adapter plugged into the other, phone in hand, I realized the distraction I was causing myself. At the first opportunity, I stopped behind a state trooper to ask his opinion on the legal aspects of these distractions or whether I could pull onto the shoulder to make and receive calls. He was clueless. Chicago just last week passed a hands free cell phone law.

In a second instance, I was talking via cell phone to a police officer called to a restaurant by an angry owner about a theft of equipment. It was Continental's equipment and they no longer bought our products. I had a signed loan agreement. In the face of repeated lies and personal threats, I grabbed a service van and went to recover the equipment myself. When I entered for the last piece, the owner was on the phone yelling, the equipment thief had returned. As I pulled away in the alley, patrol cars started pulling up out front. The restaurant owner's husband was a police officer. I called the restaurant from the van as I made a clean escape down alleys and side roads. As I was talking to the officer at the scene, his radio announced that the thief was in the sights of a patrol car. In the mirror I saw a squad car practically pushing me down the street. The officer excused himself and advised the squad car via radio that he had the wrong van. The man being sought was now on the phone with him, not driving. Isn't new technology wonderful? The mess was quickly cleared up and it was my last personal recovery.

Continue on to part three...

Table of Contents

  1. Lanier Business Products
  2. Continental Coffee
  3. Quaker Oats
  4. FETCO
  5. BMG Holdings LLC