LAS VEGAS (May 2007) — The National Automatic Merchandising Association Spring Expo, held April 11-13, lived up to its theme – “Making the Right Moves” – at its new Mandalay Bay Convention Center venue. The convention and trade show, previously held at the Las Vegas Convention Center and surrounding hotels, was brought back under one roof for the first time since 1968.
Dan Mathews, NAMA’s senior vice-president and chief operating officer, said the show’s “high energy and outstanding buzz” were sparked by increased operator turnout and 7% more exhibitors than last year. The trade show exhibits featured an extensive display of cutting-edge technology, innovative equipment and the newest products and services for the vending, coffee service and contract foodservice industries.
NAMA’s Supervisor Development Program, launched last year, was again one of the most sought-after educational opportunities at the Spring Expo. The four-day program, which began a day before the official start of the convention, is designed to provide supervisors at all levels with tools, goals and training to help them become effective team leaders. Topics covered include decision making, time management, communication, personal selling skills, working with customers, safety and security, food handling and an accounting overview. The program will again be available at the 2007 National Expo in Chicago from October 9 through 12.
The perennially popular day-long Quality Coffee Certification Program, held on Wednesday, was sold out for the 17th consecutive time. Registrants learned the history of coffee, its progression “from the bean to the cup” and the factors that influence the quality of brewed coffee. The ability to provide consistently excellent coffee is a skill that can help distinguish QCCP graduates from their competitors.
Asked to grade the workshop on a scale of 1 to 5, participants’ overall rating was 4.78, Mathews reported. “This is truly outstanding and a tribute to the highly professional presenters,” he commented. The ongoing program also will be offered at the National Expo in Chicago.
Also on Wednesday, Brad Bachtelle and Gary Terrell of Bachtelle & Associates returned by popular demand to repeat their in-depth seminar on category management, initially presented at the NAMA National Expo in Orlando last fall (see VT, December 2006). At the session, Bachtelle and Terrell discussed the fundamentals of category management and explained in detail how operators can apply its principles to improved merchandising in order to maximize sales from every machine on location.
The convention program formally got under way on Thursday, with the opening general session welcome address delivered by NAMA chair James H. Terry II, vice-president of national sales for Coca-Cola North America. He reminded participants that today, as never before, “the consumer is king,” a fact to bear in mind while touring the trade show exhibits.
Terry emphasized the importance of taking the time to access real-world data on consumer purchasing preferences to make the decisions necessary for successful retailing. “We’re in charge of ‘vending stores,’ and we need to market to the consumer and deliver convenience day in and day out,” the Coca-Cola executive urged.
The speaker stressed the importance of convenience to the vending consumer, citing consumer research conducted by Harris Interactive for NAMA that ranked convenience and value as the primary drivers of the consumer vending experience. The results of the study, first presented at NAMA’s National Expo last fall (see VT, November 2006) with a repeat session held during the Spring Expo, also confirmed the long-known importance of branded product in guiding consumers’ purchasing decisions at the vending machine, Terry pointed out.
Critical to the industry’s future success is its ability to stay in step with a swiftly evolving market. “You have to keep your fingers on the pulse of today’s workplace,” Terry continued. “Manufacturing is down, but there is great opportunity in education, healthcare and professional and business services.”
Likewise, operators must rethink their one-size-fits-all approach in order to cater to the various sectors of an increasingly diverse consumer base. “There’s an enormous Hispanic market that keeps growing; you have Baby Boomers moving into later retirement,” the speaker instanced. “We can’t just sell what’s easy; we have to sell what consumers want to buy. We need to shift to a more consumer-first strategy in marketing and category management.”
Terry pointed out that dark chocolate is “having its day in the sun” and that consumer research indicates fresh fruit is among the top healthy items in demand. “You have to get the right mix to satisfy these demands,” the speaker emphasized. “Study NAMA’s Balanced for Life materials and use the consumer marketing materials available to reinforce the positive role of vending.”
Vendors must also take initiative in bringing consumers up to speed on the available technological advances that enhance the vending experience, Terry advised. Harris International’s survey determined that consumers have only a 15% awareness level of new technology in vending.
“The application of available technology can dramatically increase purchases, and research confirms that customers are more willing to use cellphones and credit cards for purchases,” Terry noted. “Incorporate cashless technology, and tell consumers that it exists – or we’re sending the message that we’re behind the times and are a less-worthy shopping option.”
Terry introduced Larry Felix, director of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, who led off his keynote address by crediting NAMA for voicing the industry’s concerns about changes to U.S. currency and initiating the close collaboration between the Bureau and payment system manufacturers that has smoothed the transition as new currency rolls out.
“NAMA reached out to us and has been a great partner, and we look forward to deepening our relationship,” said Felix. “We have the mutual goal of facilitating commerce by making transactions as seamless as possible.”
The BEP director explained that the Treasury has accelerated the pace of banknote redesign, and that this trend will continue. “In the past, we didn’t have color copiers and scanners that could faithfully duplicate any printed image in any home,” Felix commented. “A counterfeiter’s level of technological savvy had to be much higher in the past than it is today. Digital photography is driving technological sophistication into the home. People today readily manipulate photos – this process used to require a highly skilled graphic professional,” he remarked. “Cellphones today have built-in cameras, and your average consumer has image acquisition and processing capabilities that once were possessed only by professionals with years of training.”
The most insidious contributor to counterfeiting, he added, is the Internet, which enables counterfeiters to conspire, share information and purchase supplies without leaving their homes. In the past, counterfeiters had to purchase large quantities of toner and specialty paper stock face to face with a store clerk, which aroused suspicion. Law enforcement depended upon store management to bring these “red flags” to their attention. The Internet has moved counterfeiters off the radar screen.
“All of this is forcing the Treasury to redesign at a faster and faster rate,” Felix pointed out. “These frequent changes will have a significant cost impact to you, which is something that can’t be helped, but I’m committed to making each of them work the first time, every time.”
Currently, the BEP is planning a new $5 banknote that will be unveiled to the public in the fall and enter circulation next spring. “Based very much on NAMA input, we weren’t planning to redesign the $5 note at all, but the counterfeiters started lifting the ‘$5’ off and replacing it with ‘$100.’ The security strip on the $5 note was very close to where it is on the $100 strip, so when clerks held it up, it looked OK,” Felix explained. “The note will change and this will have a cost to you, but we intend it to remain a ‘legacy’ note from here on out unless its integrity is compromised.”
BEP designed the new $5 notes specifically for interaction with machines, with hard lines and easily recognized features that facilitate authentication. “You’ll have the software six months before the notes are issued, and we’re open to continued discussions with NAMA as we move ahead,” the speaker assured audience members.
At the end of 2008, Felix added, the BEP will unveil a newly redesigned $100 note.
To the benefit of operators of vending machines and other unattended point-of-sale devices, the BEP is currently looking into the feasibility of applying a protective coating to banknotes that would extend the useful life of the notes and facilitate their acceptance.
The BEP director recalled that 25 years ago, efficiency was the driver of currency production, while today the focus is on flexibility to quickly adapt in order to safeguard the integrity and ease of use of U.S. currency. As a result, the BEP is upgrading its production capabilities with new presses for all of its notes. “There is a possibility that there will be slight modifications to the inks, and we hope your machines recognize them,” he noted. “We will provide notes to machine manufacturers as we move ahead, and will reevaluate our approach should any issues arise.”
A looming concern to the BEP, and one with potentially serious implications for the vending industry, is the lawsuit filed by the American Council of the Blind against the U.S. Treasury Department (see VT, December 2006). In his decision, Judge James Roberston of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia found that the U.S. system of banknotes discriminates against blind Americans because all notes are the same size and otherwise indistinguishable by touch. He has ordered the Treasury Department to begin discussion of possible remedies for this discrimination, suggesting that these might include different sizes of note for different denominations, raised numerals and/or perforations.
“The Treasury is concerned about the blind community and is looking for ways to help them to more readily identify their currency,” Felix concluded. “Tactile features don’t work in bill acceptors and won’t help the blind or the industry, so we are looking for a better approach. If the judge rules against the Treasury, we may have to produce currency in different sizes. If it does happen, NAMA will be involved as a very important stakeholder.”
Next to take the podium was master raconteur Dr. Dale Henry, who established the upbeat tone for the show with a rousing presentation entitled “How To Get Your Whack Back.” Participants were energized by Henry’s humorous approach to identifying the warning signs of being “out of whack” and knowing how to restore it in order to help team members perform better, have more fun and improve communications in their businesses and personal circles.
An expanded repertoire of educational offerings began Thursday afternoon with a presentation on the findings of the comprehensive vending consumer research project conducted by Harris Interactive for NAMA. The first consumer study on the vending industry in more than 10 years, it provides the latest data on perceptions, expectations, usage patterns and habits, barriers to vending machine use, pricing and awareness of alternative payment systems and new products.
Concurrent sessions on Friday morning included the Coffee Service Forum, with Newco Enterprises’ Steve Hyde moderating a panel of industry leaders who fielded questions covering OCS sales, service, operations and route delivery.
During “What America Drinks: Trends in Beverage Consumption,” Beverage Marketing Corp.’s Gary Hemphill offered a detailed overview of current beverage trends and predictions for the future (see Page 1).
NAMA Endowed Professor Michael Kasavana led a discussion by a panel of experts on “Understanding Remote Machine Monitoring.” Panelists included Mandeep Arora, Cantaloupe Systems; Bill Lockett, Crane Streamware; Gene Ostendorf, inOne Technology; and Warren Phillips, Validata Computer & Research. They offered updated overviews of their respective remote data collection and remote machine monitoring applications, using wired and wireless networks as well as Web-based interactive analysis.
Rounding out Friday’s educational agenda was a presentation by Bachtelle & Associates’ Brad Bachtelle and Gary Terrell on “Managing For Improved Profit: An In-Depth Look at Your Financial Decisions.” The industry veterans examined vending’s profit history and the opportunities available for operators to manage their businesses to deliver better profitability.
“Hot Topics” presented at the NAMA booth in the exhibit area included “Energy Star: Selling Energy Efficiency” by Shawn Shaw of The Cadmus Group; a presentation on NAMA’s new Foodservice Operating Manual, created to assist members in operating onsite foodservice, by NAMA Knowledge Source Partner Jerry McVety, McVety & Associates; “Everyone Profits with Better-For-You Choices in Vending,” led by Lori Valencic, Med, RD, LD, another NAMA Knowledge Source Partner and advisor to the Balanced for Life program; and a presentation by Larry Eils, NAMA senior director or technical services, on the association’s Crisis Manual, which takes operators step by step through developing their own plans for survival and recovery in the event of disaster.
Plans are underway for the NAMA National Expo, which will be held Wednesday through Friday, October 10 through 12, at the Lakeside Center at McCormick Place in Chicago. Information is available online at vending.org.