FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Scott Dawson
July 19, 2016
First impressions matter in most things – and I find the interviews I do are no exception. It was my first face-to-face meeting with Scott. We’d talked a few times on the phone – and I’ve been to many 12,000 sq. ft. warehouse/office locations in my work. Should be routine and typical. Well, it wasn’t.
The front door doesn’t lead to a spacious empty reception area – but rather into a busy place, even first thing in the morning. Customers were already inside, smiling faces greeted me and I was offered a cup of coffee. And I’m impressed by clean. I always have been, and most business premises are what I call ‘sorta guy-clean’ – but this place was spotless, impeccable, and it didn’t look like the apple had been polished for my visit, or just for those retail customers …
We met at his office, above the warehouse – above the retail store (yes, a K-cup emporium), Scott Dawson, Pres. & CEO of a coffee service – DawsCo Coffee Service Ltd. He’s proud of the name, the look, the logo … the business he’s built, where things are going, his son in the business, 28 staff … and a lot more it turns out.
Call me jealous … how did he develop a 6-handicap in golf? In 1999/2000, when the first Mrs. Dawson was doing a law degree in Australia, he played golf every day for a year with a pro who helped him deconstruct and rebuild his game. Divorced once, and remarried once, he tells me his second wife – mortgage broker Fowzia Dawson – has taken up golf and enjoys it, so I guess she has a good teacher …
Let's start the story of his success road at the beginning - born in London, Ontario (same hospital as his son Christopher was born). Mom was an only child, homemaker and worked in data processing. Dad wasn’t around much – absentee, alcoholic. Divorced when Scott was 11. Siblings? “One of each, both older”. Scott’s grandfather was a steady hand and very involved in his upbringing.
School came easy. “I hated school”. Honour student, never cracked a book, loved to cut class with the gang and hang out at Lake Erie. He played football, basketball, volleyball – captain for five years; jock with brains. First job in a factory in St. Thomas, ON, lasted three hours! … For motivation, “a baby arrived! Christopher”. Marriage, child and a need to support everyone – prompted a move to Calgary, staying with family and exploring the job market after helping out in sales of computer software (remember the Commodore 64?) to farmers. Business was good, he was good – sales was clearly his game, natural selling skills it seemed. The story is long (I’ve left out a few of the interesting twists/turns for brevity), ‘an ad for coffee sales’ intrigued him. Cory coffee – he was 19 at the time and quickly rose to be top salesman – iterations, companies bought and sold – fast forward to a partnership in Western Coffee Royale, 100% two years later and a name change – in 1991 Dawson Coffee was born, a branding/name change to DawsCo in 2008.
Why are you successful? “Family, wife, son – now a grandchild – I’ve done this for them. Why? I pay attention to details – maybe trying hard to be the opposite of everything my dad was, to be what he wasn’t. Self-imposed structure. I’m smart at the office coffee business. I’ve had some experiences with failure, followed by successes.”
What has held you back? “Not much. A sense of comfort level. Some people live on the edge of that comfort level. I like to challenge myself … but I can’t control outside forces.”
Of two hours of storytelling – one interesting bit for repeating. Every three months Scott trips off to Toronto to work with his coffee roaster supplier (he also uses some local Calgary roaster suppliers) to test coffee. They ship Calgary water in five-gallon jugs to Toronto … so what they taste is what the customer will get … now that’s attention to detail!
How do you see your business – office coffee service – going forward over the next quarter?
… we seem to have bottomed out (seen it declining since 2014). Our expectations for pace of growth and profit are different now. We are seeing some positive signs coming lately. Starbucks have moved into the coffee service space – and we’ve become a Starbucks distributor. We’ve got K-cup service for the office and in our retail store we have home-machine products too.
And over the next five years?
… a little more consolidation in our business. We’ve done ‘just organic growth’, not by acquisition [seems that door is open …] For competitors getting into our field, the cost of entry is hard. Gone are the days when you would win someone’s business by installing a $200 machine. These days it is more often a $6000 machine – and a suite of services and large menu of products to back it up. On ambitions to go national, no. We’ve considered that but prefer to focus on our market here, though we do work with a networking group of similar operators across the country – we meet twice a year, share intelligence, do some supplier relationship things. That will continue to be important. And we are looking into some product diversification – too soon for announcements, ‘food items’ but that’s all I can say at this point …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… quality, customer service. I’m loyal to performance. I demand service and quality – and sometimes I pay more for that. Distinction, something that sets them apart … (i.e. Espy where I shop for clothes).
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Scott Dawson and DawsCo, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… wide ranging reasons. Referrals. Because we are the best at what we do. We are striving to do new things and do them better – when you create something, you then need to create ‘the next thing’. And we are recycling single-serve capsules; the metal in them is aluminum [I got to see an ingot – very cool!]
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… hands on. I have my influence in every aspect of the company – and when I have ‘the right people’ in all the right places I can be more laissez-faire. Last year SAIT was offering some courses - dealing with millenial decision makers. That looked interesting, so I enrolled myself and some of our staff - we did it together.
… I’ve got it all. I put in a lot of time at work, but I don’t really consider it work …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… being able to have my business run as I envision it – without having to micro-manage.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad – he died at 46 – I want to do everything ‘opposite what my dad did for us’. My paternal grandfather, was the most successful person I knew …
… golf … lots of clubs. I use V.I.P. Golf. Vegas trips with my wife. Playing with my one-year-old granddaughter.
What do you read?
… biographies. Steve Williamsms, Lee Iacocca, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates … love those.
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