Meet Sterling Services is on a mission to bring fresh, delicious food and remarkable service to workplaces all over Metro Detroit. We’re also passionate about using smart technology to better serve our customers and lead our industry forward.
The good folks at Automatic Merchandiser sat down with our leadership team to talk about the latest micro markets and corporate cafes innovations and what’s next in corporate foodservice.
We love technology here. We love innovation,” said Ray Friedrich, co-founder of Sterling Services based in Canton, MI. The company started 31 years ago as a business between two school friends, Friedrich and Chris Peppo, and grew into a medium sized independent that employs 176 people in the Detroit area. The business partners never stopped evolving the business, first to include more vending and then micro markets and now dining. With investments in vending, micro market and foodservice technologies and anticipating the needs of the local employers, Friedrich and Peppo keep Sterling Services a strong contender.
Starting with a can-do attitude
Long-time business partners, Friedrich and Peppo both grew up with fathers involved in the restaurant business, which helped guide them to foodservice. “We were high school buddies thinking that we would start a catering business one day,” said Peppo. When they went to a hotel in 1986 to offer their catering services, the hotel refused. However, the hotel did need a vending operator. That was the beginning of Sterling Services, one hotel and two people with enthusiasm, a can-do attitude and a willingness to rethink the concept of service, plus day jobs.
Fast forward 31 years and the attitude of the owners is much the same. “Over 30 years later and I still truly enjoy this business, every day,” said Peppo. “It comes with challenges, but it’s the new stuff that keeps it exciting.”
Move to micro markets
Years ago, the business mix of Sterling Services looked a lot different. The company drew 80 percent of its revenue from vending and office coffee service (OCS) with only 20 percent from catering and foodservice. Today, half the company’s revenue is from micro markets, vending and OCS while the other 50 percent is dining. On the unattended side, micro markets are the lead revenue generator with a good market route bringing in $1.5 million in revenue compared to a good vending route that does closer to $650,000 per year. Friedrich and Peppo loved micro markets upon first introduction at a NAMA show in 2005. “We were super intrigued when we saw the concept,” admitted Friedrich. “We felt that if it worked, it would really change things.”
Sterling Services began partnering with companies working on the new self-checkout solution for workplaces that would eventually be known as micro markets. The first iteration of the solution was a self-checkout system that used RFID or radio frequency identification tags on each of the products for sale. The system was called Freedom Shopping and made by Dagosi LLC in Hickory, NC. It offered a kiosk that would scan the product RFID tags simultaneously, instead of forcing a consumer to scan them one at a time. It also featured an audible alarm if the patron left without scanning the items and video cameras to record the area.