If you’ve been reading my columns for the past year, you have probably noticed that I often comment on the changes taking place in the world, and attempt to understand how these relate to the transformations we see happening in our industry.
I’ve talked about the way outsourcing has dispersed the industrial workforce, and how this has affected the traditional vending market. I’ve suggested that social and economic developments have changed the old “blue-collar” customer mindset, modifying the business model for vending operators. These same developments, working in different ways, also have given rise to new opportunities (and new challenges) for coffee service and music and game operators.
And I’ve often said that in order to be successful, we all need to change with the times; if we’re not moving forward we may actually be moving backwards. The slogan of the late ‘70s was, “When you’re through changing, you’re through!” This is just as true today as it was then – maybe even truer. Comfort and stagnation can be very dangerous to any business, but at the same time, risk can be very scary.
Well, now it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is and take some risks of my own. Vending Times has been a successful publication serving a diversified readership for the past 45 years. We’ve watched the industry evolve, and paid close attention to what operators were actually doing, regardless of what marketers unfamiliar with the industry wanted them to do. We have always contended that route operation of merchandise vending and coin-op entertainment equipment (and the provision of related services to the locations served on these routes), constitute a single industry. As some of you may know, we’ve caught a lot of flak because of that.
To me, this opposition is misguided, for reasons that extend beyond trade publishing or the vending and amusement industry. General-interest publications have lost favor in popular culture, giving way to a belief in targeting readers with a special interest. Advertisers have been advised to “use a rifle, not a shotgun.”
As a generalization, that isn’t a terrible one. Obviously, if you are selling estate jewelry, it makes sense to confine your marketing efforts to people who are fond of collectible antique ornaments. But our industry is far too multifaceted and volatile to narrow its target market as this metaphor proposes. For example, we are accused of “diluting” our readership – with vending operators, if someone is selling amusements advertising against us, or with music and game operators, by those competing with us in the merchandise vending.
We always have argued that these groups defy rigid categorization. Recent history has convinced the world of something we recognized in 1970: that classical office coffee service and full-line vending represent opposite ends of one service spectrum. And, as vending’s location base has fragmented into more sites with fewer patrons in each, more OCS operators are finding themselves in the vending business – if only to meet customers’ demands, and vice-versa. The evolution of the workplace market also is driving the overlap of pure-water services with operations providing OCS and vending.
The question of music and games in relation to vending is a bit less straightforward, but not much. Many merchandise vending companies began as jukebox operations, then added cigarette machines to accommodate requests from existing locations, and expanded into full-line vending when the demand for vending accelerated. Others began as specialist operators, often of then-novel hot beverage machines; still others were sandwich houses that saw refrigerated food venders as a logical expansion path. Anyone with trucks on the street and technicians able to unjam a coin mechanism found it easy to enter a parallel market segment, whether jukeboxes or cold drink venders or merchandise cranes or bulk vending machines. Over time, some companies stayed active in all these segments, while others got out of one or more (and sometimes got back in). For example, I just heard from AMOA president Howard Cole, Cole Vending (Weaverville, NC), who has acquired a vending business. He regards vending as a stable profit center that can offset the ups and downs of his leisure-time services.
The point here is that our diverse readership consists of alert operators who know their market areas and are prepared to meet a perceived upswing in demand. It is very likely that any of them will expand into a parallel route service business. So it makes sense for advertisers to present their products to a group that either can use those products today, or may well see the need for them next week.
For these reasons, we have remained loyal to our diversified readership for 45 years. It is you, the reader, who dictates the coverage you see in the pages of Vending Times. We also recognize that our industry is always changing, and it will continue to do so as long as there are imaginative entrepreneurs who see an opportunity and find a way to pursue it. The editorial content you see in Vending Times will continue to reflect these changes.
While we will remain true to our heritage and address the needs of our diverse readership, there is a continuing need for a fresh approach to the way this news is presented. I recently had dinner with a customer who told me that, although he loves our publication, he thinks it’s high time for me to put my own stamp on Vending Times. While I think of myself as the inspirational coach of a talented and loyal team – and the inheritor of a great tradition – I suddenly realized that whatever happens to us (the team) will represent “my stamp.” I have to take charge of change.
I have some ideas, but I’d very much like to hear from you about what you’d like to see in Vending Times. In particular, I need insights into the relationship between print and online media. What do you want to see more of (or less of) in the magazine? What would make our website more useful? Please send your comments to me at Alicia@vendingtimes.net.
Rome was not built in a day, so let’s consider this month’s column the “foundation for change.” I’ve got a job to do, and that’s to continue delivering the most current and relevant news to help your business be more successful. Your success is Vending Times’ success, so let’s help each other.