AMERSFOORT, Netherlands — Among the small-but-growing number of suppliers in the European bulk vending industry, Idea Vending B.V. is one of the largest. A distributor of equipment and merchandise, the Netherlands-based Idea services an operating community throughout Western and Eastern Europe. VT recently sat down with the company’s Bram Aartsen for an update on their business and the European bulk vending market.
VT: Could you describe Idea Vending’s business – the countries it services, the types of products it supplies and the machines it sells?
AARTSEN: We were founded about 16 years ago and are now one of the largest European wholesalers for bulk vending supplies in Europe. We’re located in the Netherlands, and from a logistics point of view it’s a good place to be because it’s quite central. Distances from north to south to east fall in a radius of 2,500 kilometers, and we’ve got some good harbor facilities to supply mainland Europe. At the moment, we represent North American companies like Beaver, Oak Leaf and A&A Global Industries. We also carry some products from SportsBlaster.
How would you compare the European bulk vending market to the market in the U.S.? Is the market as large there as it is here?
The market isn’t as large here. Going to the U.S., I’m still surprised at how huge bulk vending is in North America, and for that matter, vending in general. Vending isn’t as well accepted in Europe as it is in the U.S. There is growth in Europe, but it’s not so professionalized or as well-organized as in the U.S.
How is bulk vending advancing in Eastern Europe compared with Western Europe? Are the tastes in products and the types of locations the same?
With more countries joining the European Union, exporting to these countries is made easier. For one thing, it means there is no more border paperwork to be dealt with. So yes, we see far more demand from Eastern European countries. We’re also seeing investors coming into these countries and developing large supermarkets and shopping malls. I’ve seen some and have been really impressed.
There aren’t as many licensed products in Eastern Europe. They don’t have the coinage yet (the euro), so the value of their coins is still quite low. But in 2008 or 2009 we’ll see more countries adopting the euro, such as Poland and the Baltic countries, like Estonia.
So the growth in vending is parallel to the growth in the EU – it opens new territories as they get the euro coinage, which makes it easy for the coin mechs. And borders are slowly disappearing. For example, two years ago Hungary had an import duty on gum of 70% – and now it’s zero.
Because Europe has the euro coin, is there a wider range of merchandise than operators find in the U.S.? What types of products sell for †1 in Europe?
For vending we use the equivalent of 20¢ and 50¢ vends, as well as †1 and †2 vends. The exchange rate today for †1 is $1.32. It starts with regular items like gum, then 2-in. capsules containing licensed items or generic products, such as sticky items or Spongebob products, sold for †1. And there are also some 3- and 4-in. capsules with small plush items or larger licensed products for †2.
Is bulk vending growing in Europe the same way that it grew in the U.S., with operators entering the industry part-time, or are you seeing a lot of full-time operators?
You don’t see huge operators in Europe, because they tend to stay in one country. The typical operator has an average of 250 to 500 machines. Of course, there are people with 10,000 machines, but there aren’t many of them. But very often it’s a full-time business – you don’t see people doing it just on Saturdays.
What can U.S. operators learn from Europe and European operators?
We have a great benefit and that’s the coin. You already see the differences between Canada and the U.S. But there isn’t much to learn. We are in a fortunate position because we have good coinage.
At present time, Europe doesn’t have the NBVA. Is there a plan to start a bulk vending organization in Europe?
In Germany, for instance, there is a kind of national bulk vending association called BWA (Bundesverband Warenautomaten). There is also a section at the ATEI show in London that hosts a concentration of bulk vending operators. But it’s nothing like the experience of the National Bulk Vendors Association show in Las Vegas.