When I left for Christmas vacation in late December, our executive editor reminded me that I had forgotten to submit my Upfront column for the issue you are now reading. “Go away and relax,” he said. “Maybe you’ll be inspired to write something while you’re gone.”
The day before I left on my trip, I read a story in Long Island Newsday about Coinstar closing the Folz Vending facility in my home town of Oceanside, NY. Even though it didn’t come as a surprise, I had a lump in my throat as I read the article. To me, the closing of the Folz plant marks the end of an era. I worry that the energy and imagination that characterize people like Roger Folz are qualities that are becoming more unusual all the time.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the story, here is some background.
Roger Folz set up a bulk vending route in 1949 with $600 and 15 machines (as Roger likes to say, with a “lucky penny”). By 2002, he had built it into a national enterprise generating $55 million a year. Folz Vending at one time was the world’s largest bulk vending business.
In 2003, Folz was purchased by American Coin Merchandising Inc. In 2004 Coinstar purchased ACMI, and acquired Folz Vending as part of the transaction. Roger continued working for Coinstar following the acquisition, and the Folz headquarters remained in Oceanside, NY. By the time you read this story, Coinstar will have closed the Folz plant and moved its operations to Colorado.
“He’s going to walk away with a pile of money,” said one of my colleagues after I emailed him the Newsday article. What’s money got to do with it? I thought. “Some people climb a mountain and then wonder what to do when they reach the summit,” he continued. But I would bet that in Roger’s mind – despite all his successes – he hasn’t reached the top of that mountain. In my humble opinion, for men like Roger, it is more about the journey than the destination.
One of Roger’s greatest long-term contributions to the industry was his effective lobbying. In 1965, New York imposed a sales tax that applied to toys, without regard to price. Through his persistence, eloquence and talent for making friends, Roger was able to persuade the state to exempt sales through vending machines at 10¢ or less. He went on to win similar exemptions in other states – and then did it all again years later, when inflation made it important to raise the minimum price to 25¢.
Roger successfully championed the bulk industry when it was under attack by the Food & Drug Administration, and he secured property tax and excise tax exemptions for operators in many areas where his company did business, from New York through Illinois to Texas. He won kudos from the National Automatic Merchandising Association and the National Bulk Vendors Association for his long, productive fight to defend fair treatment and a level playing field for vending as a retail channel.
Always an enthusiast for bulk vending, Folz is known for his firm belief that the industry has the potential for reaching a much wider audience by taking advantage of its ubiquity in high-traffic locations to offer products that people away from home often need. Advances in technology and market evolution may yet prove him right.
Even though it no longer impacts him directly, Roger is still very concerned about the future of the vending business. He was an early adherent to the Coin Coalition, and worked tirelessly to secure the reintroduction of a circulating $1 coin. During one of our recent conversations, he talked about how we could promote wider use of the $1 coin – and reduce the public appeal of the $1 bill to the extent that it can be phased out, as has happened in every other industrialized nation – by making a concerted effort to encourage people to pay for purchases with $2 bills (yes, you can still get $2 bills, if you want them). He expressed great disappointment that others don’t seem to share his enthusiasm, and still feels that this approach should be pursued diligently by industry association leaders. (It’s worth pointing out that vending equipment now can pay back banknotes in change, and so it would not be at all difficult to get them circulating in vending accounts, as has been done for a long time with $1 coins.)
This is a man whose passion has greatly benefited our industry – someone we all can learn from. For Roger Folz and many others of his generation, success is about your life’s work, putting your stamp on the industry and leaving a legacy that will inspire others.
I’ve had the good fortune to know Roger Folz, personally and professionally, for many years. He was a contemporary and long-time friend, neighbor and business associate of my father, the late Victor Lavay. I know him as a generous soul with a huge heart. Besides the tremendous impact he’s had on the vending industry, he always has given much more than his fair share to the community.
In 1967, he joined the Oceanside Rotary Club and donated $1,000 a year for 10 years to South Nassau Communities Hospital. The Rotary Club used his warehouse to store pallets of groceries for its annual food drive for nearly 20 years. In 1988 he was the first major donor to the Jewish Community Center (where my mother presently volunteers her time). Each year he gives $17,000 to the Oceanside High School’s Scholarship Fund; and, most recently, he commissioned a memorial to the Oceanside residents killed in the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
Our local newspaper, the Oceanside/Island Park Herald, recently ran an affectionate article about him, his company and the end of a local institution.
I see Roger Folz as part of a generation of practical visionaries, the generation that built today’s vending, music and amusement industries. I think it’s important for today’s younger operators to understand the achievements of that generation, and to recognize that “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” And, as I write this column while flying home from vacation, I am inspired by his story. The holiday respite has allowed me to spend time thinking about the people who have touched, and continue to touch, my life, and who have made a difference in our industry and in their communities. The “downtime” has given me a chance to reflect on my own accomplishments, and has made me ponder how I might make a difference and how I will one day be remembered.
If I achieve even a fraction of what Roger Folz has done with his life’s work, I will have lived a rich, rewarding life. Thank you, Roger Folz, for all you’ve done for our industry and the community, and for all you continue to do for those whose lives you touch every day. Please keep your boots on, Roger. You remain an inspiration to us all.