You might not know what a Brix cup is. Or, that even soda fountain machines need calibration, just as any other machine does. You might not be familiar with why soda water always has to be paired on the same gun as pop. You might also be unaware that water treated through Reverse Osmosis makes for a poor soda experience.
But with confidence, I can say that I know all of those things. But only recently, and only because of one person in particular: Jeff Hoppe; Soda Whisperer.
Decades of Drink Experience
In all fairness, he doesn’t approve of that title - Soda Whisperer. Those of you who know Jeff are nodding your heads right now. He’s too humble. He prefers the flashlight (he carries one with him) to the limelight; rather enjoys working alone, and is quick to shrug off praise or a pat on the back. He was hesitant when I told him I’d like the opportunity to ride along with him for a day on the job. He’s been part of the Bernick’s team for 33 years; he’s held about 10 different positions in his tenure and has seen just about everything this industry has to offer in terms of service, sales, and equipment. And I wanted him to share some of his incredible knowledge with me.
For the past two years, Jeff’s filled a kind of hybrid role on our sales team. Not quite installer, not quite sales guy, but all about service, he acts as our fountain/service expert popping in and out of our accounts, checking quality, customer satisfaction, and overall experience of fountain machines across Minnesota. If you ask Jeff what he’s tasked with on a daily basis, he’ll tell you he’s the eyes and ears. He’s observing what quick tweaks he can make to machines, what can be relayed to our service team, and priming the pump for the install team, sharing location nuances and customer feedback as he goes.
Service with a Smile
Each place we walked in, Jeff was greeted warmly, by first name. He was ever the gentleman, pausing to introduce me to our customers. Planning our stops at considerate times of day so as not to barge in during breakfast or lunch rushes, and circling back to customers if he missed someone along the way saying, “It’s better if I come back instead of leaving a message. It’s better if it’s face to face.” He laid out our day’s plan when we met the morning of my shadowing. “First, we’ll stop and see Kevin. Then, we can probably catch Harry before he gets too busy,” he said.
Then, he filled me on the business name to go along with the names. But that’s Jeff’s system: people first. It took me a few stops to get acclimated to walking into the back of these establishments, gaining access to kitchens and back of houses normally reserved for people close to the cause – staff, owners, delivery drivers. It was cool to have that level of trust.
I asked Jeff when we stopped to grab lunch what's changed in the course of his career at Bernick's. He didn't miss a beat when he said, everything. He talked mostly about the technology changes and innovations, and how during the heyday of premix tanks, the delivery crew was running to Saint John's University nearly every other day trying to keep up with demand, hauling the heavy products across campus, and up and down elevators.
"They were going through 20 to 30 tanks a day. We'd pile an old wooden cart full of tanks and begin the journey of hauling them to where they needed to go," he said. Jeff also commented on the changing consumer demographic, and how more places are asking him about non-carbonated beverages to add to their fountain lineup.
He also mentioned how great it was when pagers were replaced with mobile phones. Though he misses searching for a phone booth every once in awhile!
The Bernick's Difference
We've been asked countless times in our history what makes our company different. After all, isn't a can of Pepsi just a can of Pepsi?
Yes and no.
Yes - the products are the same. But no - we have people like Jeff on our team who make all the difference in business. The difference is how our team approaches every aspect of business. They're proud of the work they do and help us tell our brand story so much better. Jeff is a great example of that.
Personally, Jeff and his wife Mary have a daughter, Sara, who’s a sophomore in high school. When I first asked him about hobbies and free time he mentioned volleyball, immediately adding he’s too old to play as much as he used to. Again, there’s that sly humbleness sneaking in. He snowmobiles when (and where) he can find snow, and supports Sara in her hobbies, like trapshooting. Oh, and he also helps operate a natural beef farm alongside his dad and will eventually takeover the century-old family farm.