The vending industry has demonstrated remarkable resilience and flexibility throughout its history, attributable almost entirely to its ability to engage the attention of remarkable individuals. Recent news items about two of them illustrate this point. We shall present the good news first.
Those who have followed the progress of the public high school-level vending repair course designed and taught by James Clark know it was launched in 1989 with the cooperation of the Philadelphia School District and the Pennsylvania Automatic Merchandising Council (now part of the Tri-State Automatic Merchandising Council). The course is presented at the Philip A. Randolph Career Academy, and continues to receive strong industry support through an advisory committee chaired by Bud Burke, Thayer Distribution (the former Anpesil Distribution Services, in Gibbstown, NJ).
A year ago, we reported that Clark was preparing to retire after almost a quarter of a century, and the program was confronting challenges in funding the recruitment and training of a successor (see VT, March 2012). Happily, the industry and the school district are making steady progress. A candidate, Pat Donnelly, has come forward; he has toured the shop with Randolph's principal, Darryl Overton, Burke explained. Donnelly is completing the background checks required for qualification as a teacher; plans call for him to spend one day a week working with Clark through the end of the school year.
Although Clark's formal retirement will begin in June, he will return periodically during the next school year to serve as a mentor. Burke added that the National Automatic Merchandising Association has made a generous commitment to help defray the costs of the transition, which the school budget could not accommodate.
As we see it, the vending industry today is putting the finishing touches on an arduous two-decade transition from a cash-based method of delivering a limited menu through isolated, dispersed points of sale controlled with paper records to a networked merchandising, delivery and control system able to conform to today's swift changes in consumer product and payment preferences. For all that, vending's success still depends -- or depends more than ever -- on keeping the machines "clean, filled and working," and technical skills never have been more important. We salute Jim Clark for his tenacity in developing a program that helps meet the need for proficient vending technicians, and communicates the career opportunities that the industry presents. We think the program is a model that other school systems around the country would do well to study.
As for the bad news: we were saddened to learn of the death of David Satel, the founder of David's Vending Sales & Repair (Burbank, CA). We had the pleasure of visiting that company (see VT, June 1989), and we think the story of its inception and growth is indicative of this industry's receptivity to talented, sociable people who are good at what they do.
Born in Canada, Satel grew up in southern California and graduated from Burbank High School in 1968. He always had a talent for making machines work and, after completing his military service with the U.S. Army, he went to work as a mechanic for a small, local vending company. That business failed; the owner turned over his client list to Satel in lieu of back wages, and Satel went out to find other operating companies in the area to serve those accounts.
This introduced him to the regional vending industry, and to operators with unserviceable machines that they were eager to sell. Initially working from his garage, he repaired and resold them, and developed an operator clientele. David's Vending Sales & Repair was established to put this business on a more formal footing.
Satel's success as a local vender refurbisher and independent vending technician led to some unusual opportunities. Among the old machines he purchased were a number of classic refrigerated bottle venders, especially Coca-Cola machines. Rather to his surprise, he found that many people in the greater Los Angeles area were eager to have one for their rec rooms. He tracked down the authentic paint (and a craftsman who actually had applied that paint, when the machines were new).
This all attracted attention, and his private customers came to include luminaries of the motion picture industry. He found and rebuilt a Coke delivery van of the correct vintage (motor vehicles were another specialty of his), and was able to locate a bottler in the center of the state who still could supply the beverage in 6.5-fl.oz. glass bottles. This enabled David's Vending to offer his "carriage trade" route delivery and pickup of The Real Thing. And Satel became known as a resource in the film community; among other novel commissions, he provided the genuine 1955 Pepsi-Cola machine for the 1985 movie "Back to the Future."
Satel is survived by his wife of 41 years, Sandy, and children David and Lisa. He will be missed, and no one ever will do quite what he did, but his example should inspire imaginative young mechanics.