Hartley wants to bring break room of the future to Jacksonville

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  • | 12:00 p.m. November 2, 2007
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by David Ball

Staff Writer

Susan Hartley sees a whole new world ahead for the corporate coffee drinker. She sees the company break room as a comfortable, trendy lounge with sofas, flat-screen TVs and even some exercise bikes.

Vending machines will work on credit and debit cards and offer a computerized concierge service where employees can order drycleaning and take care of other errands without ever leaving the office.

“I really see a revolution in the coffee break for the employee,” said Hartley, president of Jacksonville-based H&R Coffee Co. and its brand names Coffee Perks and Sunbelt Springs Bottle Water.

“I’m working to create a new design for the break room to encourage a refreshing environment and increased productivity,” she added. “The whole industry is getting ready to embark on this revolution, and it’s really only about two or three years away.”

There may be no one better equipped in the country to lead this revolution than Hartley, who earlier this month was named Operator of the Year by the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA). She became the first woman to ever receive this top honor in the multi-billion-dollar coffee, snack and vending industry.

“This means we are doing all the right things in studying high levels of standards and service,” said Hartley. “I hope by being a woman, we can encourage more women to become involved in our industry, which is primarily male-dominated.”

Hartley, a Jacksonville native, began her career working in her family’s office coffee vending business, Betty’s Coffee Service, which her parents started in the 1970s to put Hartley through college.

After school, Hartley joined the business and stayed on after it was sold in 1988. She worked her way up the corporate ladder from route driver to sales representative to vice president and then finally president. With the help of a Small Business Administration loan in 1993, she acquired H&R Coffee and in 1999 bought the rest of the business, SunBelt Coffee & Water Service from then-owner Robert Jackson.

In 2004, Hartley merged her company with Beverly’s Coffee, owned by her sister Beverly Cleary, and then launched the national office coffee franchise concept Coffee Perks. Operations have now been opened in St. Augustine and Biloxi, Miss.

Hartley brought in about $300,000 in revenue in 1993 and now expects to clear $5 million this year. She serves more than 1,500 clients including corporations and company offices, golf courses, hotels, restaurants and others.

One of her clients, Rogers Towers, practically runs on Hartley’s products. On each of the four floors Rogers Towers’ occupies in the Wachovia building on the Southbank is a break room with 15 different coffee flavors, an assortment of teas, snacks and a five-flavor soda dispenser. That’s in addition to the company’s large main break room also completely stocked by Coffee Perks.

“They provide all of this — coffee, coffee machines, sodas, cups and they clean and maintain their products and come out whenever I need them,” said Rogers Towers Facilities Manager Josh Bernard, who routinely takes advantage of Coffee Perks’ 24-hour maintenance and repair service.

“I probably deal with 20 or 30 vendors here, and they are one of the best,” he added. “I get two or three phone calls a week from refreshment companies, but there’s no reason to change. They are one of the only vendors I don’t look at to possibly change.”

Every week, Bernard receives 15 cases of coffee to replenish the up to 500 cups consumed every day. The flavors come in individual serving cups that are brewed one at a time, so each employee can drink his or her flavor of choice. The quality and choice is appreciated by the employees.

“I drink coffee to the level that if I didn’t have this available, I’d be in trouble,” said Benefits Manager Barbara Fox, who prefers the bold “Dark Magic” blend.

“I think it’s a huge benefit and incentive to both hires and current employees,” she added. “There’s a lack of belief sometimes from people from other offices that we do provide all this for free.”

Hartley said she wants to bring this same sense of disbelief to break rooms across North Florida and eventually across the country. She is currently working with NAMA to create new break room designs and technology that give employees an escape from the busy work environment without having to leave the office.

“Soon, we’ll be able to work with companies and build them a break room with templates based on what kind of environment they want to install and their budget level,” said Hartley. “It could be a break room the employer totally funds, or we could take care of it and operate it if they want something hassle-free.”

Hartley said her biggest challenge will be to educate employers on the benefits of spending a little extra money on quality products that should reap tremendous benefits from happy and energetic employees.

“Coffee is just the beginning, as we have health and wellness initiatives for the workplace and promote exercising options,” she said. “It really comes back to our slogan, which is ‘enjoy the grind,’ whatever grind it is.”



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