SCOTTSDALE, AZ - Shhhhhhh' Lauri Logue is one of those "quiet trailblazers." Since co-founding Brand Imports more than a decade ago, she's not only become a bulk vending icon, but has led the way for women in the industry. Although not the first woman in bulk vending, she might be called the First Woman of Bulk Vending. Certainly she has become one of the most successful, if not the most visible.
Starting out as an operator prior to entering the supplier side of the business in 1992, Logue and her then-husband are generally credited with creating a revolution in the flat vendible segment of the market. Not only did the firm's line of stickers appeal to young consumers, the consistently high quality products it produced significantly raised the bar on value and creativity for other suppliers. It is fair to say that the company led the way in bringing the once niche segment of bulk vending into the mainstream.
"Since I had previously been a female operator for five years before becoming a supplier, I understood the industry, especially from an operator's standpoint," said Logue. "I was able to talk to operators about their routes and our products, but I was also fortunate enough to bring the first temporary tattoo to the vending industry. So I had a product people were excited about, and operators were willing to try it. When it 'blew' out of their machines, that's what initially put Brand Imports on the map in this industry."
Those with memories in the industry will remember well the flat vend segment prior to the introduction of higher-quality artwork and the new concepts that are today's flat vendible standards. The artwork was typically second-rate with crude cartoonish renderings featuring the most generic of designs. Not surprisingly, consumers were less than thrilled and stickers were subject to huge swings in popularity. The common perception, which sadly happened to be true in many cases, was that stickers were a "boom and bust" item best left to the specialty operators who knew how to run the machines and to the operator who had a peculiar taste for risk.
"Quite honestly, available products on the market were just not all that exciting," recalled Logue. "Operators used to be able to keep the same sticker in their machines for two or three years and often needed to, because the variety was not available. Quality was our motto then and has continued to be and it has contributed greatly to our longevity in this ever-changing industry."
Indeed, the advent of high-quality stickers in the industry not only flew out of machines, but also encouraged equipment sales. New equipment began flooding the market, bought by operators willing to risk a bust cycle because of the booming sales. But the bust cycle never came, partly because the influx of machines in the market had built up an infrastructure that attracted more suppliers who in turn helped provide a steady flow of high-quality merchandise.
Brand, of course, remained among the most visible and successful of the suppliers, despite the steadily growing competition and demise of many of the "old line" sticker companies.
Of course, entering the bulk vending industry as a woman was no easy task, even when equipped with credentials as an operator. Women were still relatively scarce on the supplier side, but even more rare as business owners. "Actually, there were already some women on the supply side," said Logue. "But I was a newcomer to the industry and trying to break in to the 'club.' I had also just sold my vending route in California and had already been importing to the giftware industry for many years. I had a lot of experience as a business owner prior to entering this industry, which also really helped."
Of course, being a woman did offer some advantages, Logue admitted, in terms of product design. With young girls making up a large percentage of flat vend customers, Logue had something of an inside track. "I think it is more helpful to try and understand what the young consumer is looking for and the current trends," she explained. "I am female, which helps some, but I was also a trained color consultant in my early years and I have a good eye for color and quality in design."
Logue, however, is also sensitive to trends. For instance, she confirms that the trends for female patrons probably cycle through faster than those for young males. "Yes, I do believe that's true," she said. "But an even more interesting trend we're now seeing is that female consumers are beginning to want some of the more traditionally male items. Girls are now just as often purchasing a 'boy' item as a 'girl' item. This may just be a temporary trend or maybe a long-term cycle. It seems teenagers today are more androgynous than previous generations in their tastes. I played with dolls, not toy soldiers."
Needless to say, the anticipated "bust" that was predicted to follow the sticker and tattoo "boom" never arrived. With so many machines out on location by the late 1990s, and so many companies competing to supply them, operators were rarely at a loss for high-quality creative product. And, more importantly, consumers stayed interested as product continued to expand the demographic of the sticker customer from pre-teen to teen and adult.
Temporary tattoos also thrived as the larger pop culture embraced the tattoo statement, expanding its image beyond sailors and bikers into the realm of rock stars and actors. Inspired by the modern, innovative designs of real tattoos and the continued mainstreaming of the concept, temporary tattoos took off. The once niche seasonal item became a year-round favorite with young consumers.
However, as the new millennium approached, the flat vend companies, including Brand, found themselves faced with increased competition and a growing price war among suppliers. It was then that Logue began transitioning the company to the next level. She summoned up her extensive expertise in importing to move aggressively into the capsuled merchandise arena when she took over the company. The expansion of the firm's product line would eventually make Brand a one-stop shop for operators beginning in April of 2002.
The launch of the new product line has significantly increased Brand's visibility in the marketplace. "We entered the bulk market to target the same audience we've been designing flat products for," she explained. "We are still learning as we speak about what works and what doesn't; it has been a lot of trial and error. Brand Imports spends a great deal of energy on our product development, trying to develop the best quality, best design, at an affordable price."
Working with her new husband and business partner, Dax Logue, they've managed to establish Brand as a highly visible presence in the capsuled merchandise arena in an impressively short period of time. The firm's line now includes merchandise in all price ranges and virtually all categories, from generic trends such as "sticky hands" to exclusive items. In large part this can be credited to Logue's extensive experience in importing as well as a broad and detailed knowledge of bulk vending's core customer base.
Surveying the bulk vending industry today offers a significantly different landscape than when Logue first entered the business. Women can be found at every level of the industry as well as in the National Bulk Vendors Association. "From an operator standpoint I believe there are a lot more women now involved in the buying of products and route operations on the operator side. With our customer base we have many, many women doing the bookkeeping and the product purchasing. This is particularly true with the small- to mid-size operators," she pointed out. "In addition, many of the larger corporate operators have women in positions to purchase products as well. I would say that is a growing trend in recent years."
According to Logue, so many women have entered the industry in the past few years that their presence is no longer viewed as an anomaly at any level. "I definitely think women are here to stay in this industry and have a lot more acceptance," she said. "And a perfect example of that is the numbers of women that currently serve on the board of directors with the NBVA, myself included. That was not the case just a few years ago."