Bulk vending was never a business that required an MBA or a college degree. Reading Diderot in French or knowing the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks were never job requirements. All that was needed to succeed in bulk vending was a small investment and a lot of drive. Basic business and service skills could be acquired while running a route.
Oh my, but times have changed. A stubborn recession combined with rising merchandise prices and increased competition have cut profits, leaving very slim margins for error. More bulk vendors are struggling with increasingly complex organizations to manage.
The businesses many operators started a decade ago or more are not the same today. Changes are both internal and external. The economic climate has certainly changed, but so have myriad other things, including pricing, equipment and locations. And there are the new tools available to business owners that can cut costs and boost efficiency. Business expertise has never been more important in the industry than it is right now.
To be blunt, the common wisdom of bulk vending as an "almost anybody can do it" profession has not served the industry well over the past few years. Like nearly every other business, it has grown more complicated and less tolerant of mistakes. The rough and tumble street entrepreneurship that was once a point of pride among bulk vending professionals may now be a liability. That's not to say there's anything wrong with either rough or tumble, but without focus they tend to drain valuable energy and resources to little or no benefit.
What I'm talking about is upgrading skill sets through continued education. In a word -- school. For all the recent talk dedicated to educating our young people, precious little time or discussion has been extended to the need to educate America's entrepreneurs. Not only are they facing enormous challenges, the vast majority of them are doing it on a shoestring.
Interestingly, at no point in history have more educational opportunities been available to small business people for so little cost. Everyone from the Small Business Administration to community colleges is offering programs for little or no cost. This isn't Diderot in French, but education that goes to the bottom line. A quick look through the smallest community college brochures shows classes in accounting, graphic design, marketing, basic business management, among other subjects. And there are alternatives; Apple Stores, for instance, offer free seminars on computer products. The idea is to gather as much knowledge as possible and use what you need.
Paradoxically, few bulk vendors appear to be taking advantage of the opportunities offered. For some of them it's a point of pride. They see going back to school as tacit admission that they don't know the business they've spent a decade or more running. But this argument doesn't hold up, and in a rapidly changing business environment, it might prove to be fatal for a firm.
The concept of updating skills among key employees isn't new or unique. Large corporations regularly send executives back to school for refresher courses. They're not doing it out of the goodness of their multinational hearts -- they do it so that the new generation of C-level employees arrives on the job with fresh ideas and skills. The need is no less important for bulk vending operators. The only difference is that bulk operators are on their own to seek it out the way they do the latest products or new locations.