A colleague once told me that lamenting the end of a Golden Age is a sign that one is on the way out. Point taken. But what about all the lessons we can learn from the past? I've always thought that our experiences have made us who we are, and strongly influence our decisions about the future. These decisions can make the difference between success and failure. I always have agreed with Isaac Newton's observation that "we stand on the shoulders of giants;" we can learn so much from our predecessors. And sometimes we don't realize who the influential person was, nor which experience or decision changed the course of our journey, until we are well on our way.
When I learned that Ben Ginsberg was closing down his publication, Vending and OCS, I felt nostalgic because it symbolized the end of an era. And that got me thinking a lot about the past, the present and the future – and, yes, the "Golden Age" of full-line vending and modern coffee service. In my eyes, Ben has always been an industry icon; I wanted to learn more about his history and how he became so successful. Admittedly, too, I have always been intrigued by his relationship with my late father-former publisher and cofounder of Vending Times – and how they came to be such friendly competitors. My dad always admired Ben, even though they were competing fiercely for a piece of the same pie. How could this be?
Ben Ginsberg and my father, Vic Lavay, were both World War II veterans. Ben graduated college in 1948 and went on to work for American Bottler, a national beverage publication, while my father found a job at Magazines for Industry after graduating from Long Island University. MFI, founded by Don Gussow, published trade magazines for the confectionery, packaging and bottling industries.
Ben "moonlighted" at Magazines for Industry, and he and my father became friends. My dad also had a reprint business called Publishers Promotion and, according to Ben, Vic used to design ads for him and Ben got the credit. "We were a good team, said Ben. "I sold ads to Red Rock and Buffalo Rock, and your father used to call me the Rock Man."
At that time, soft-drink bottlers were beginning to add candy and cigarette machines to their vending routes. Only one publication, Vend (established in 1946) covered this emerging market. Ben saw an opportunity, and teamed up with Mike Michael (who then worked at Mid Continent Bottler) to pursue it. "Vend was the only game in town," Ben recalled, "so to it made sense for Mike and me to start a competitive magazine."
Three years later, in 1961, Morris "Tiny" Weintraub, another World War II veteran who had gained industry experience with the old Rowe Cigarette Service operation in New York City and gone on to organize and lead two trade groups, the Cigarette Merchandisers Association (operators) and Wholesale Tobacco Distributors of New York (wholesalers), saw a similar opportunity. He and his wife Selma launched Automatic Retailing News, originally as a newsletter mailed to association members. Shortly thereafter, my father partnered with Tiny, and Automatic Retailing News became the monthly magazine Vending Times. The new publication grew steadily, and acquired Vend in 1971.
So, that's the story as summarized for me by a true pioneer, Ben Ginsberg. My father and Ben competed against each other for nearly five decades, but always remained friends, bound by mutual respect for one another.
What I learned from them is that an industry prospers when all its members work to strengthen it, however fiercely they may compete. That calls for playing by the same rules. Mutual confidence among competitors builds professionalism, and helps to shine a positive light on any industry.
Even if today's volatile business climate has changed the playing field, all of us can still learn a lesson from this practice, and apply it toward building a brighter future.