If we believe the conventional wisdom surrounding bulk vending, then we’re apt to accept that not much changes in the industry. Gumball and capsule machines are simply a sleepy little hamlet of nickel-and-dime commerce. Of course, nothing could be more inaccurate.
The past decade has seen unprecedented changes in the industry. Yes, machines may still look more or less the same, but the products, operators and locations have evolved significantly. All of this brings me to one of my favorite business topics: change. How efficiently a company manages change is just as important as its ability to manage supply chains, marketing or any other core function. Call it “change management.”
What is interesting is that there often is an alarming disconnect between the company and its managers. Managers who seemingly welcome change in all aspects of their lives often shy away from it when it comes to business. It’s a distressing thing to witness. You can compare it to a carpenter investing in a sturdy new hammer for his home workshop, then going to a job site and pounding nails with a heavy rock.
Several years ago an operator sang the praises of a new GPS system, then returned to the office to scrawl out instructions on a legal pad for his new route driver. Similarly, I spoke with an operator who complained bitterly that a potentially profitable account he had been trying land two years ago was now part of a competitor’s route. What had changed? Well, the economy. The account needed the extra revenue stream that a rack of bulk heads and a skill crane could provide.
Up until very recently, I viewed tales like these as isolated incidents. Operator A should have adopted technology while Operator B should have been paying attention to the economic realities in his community. But then my thinking changed. It occurred to me that those operators who are most successful and best manage change are those who accept it as inevitable. The operator who equips his routemen with GPS is more likely to try new product categories, pay attention to financial realities and expand his equipment portfolio. Change and innovation are integral to the way they manage their businesses.
This is the kind of operator who has adopted the daily mantra of “what’s new, what’s new, what’s new, what’s new, what’s new?” To the bane and delight of his suppliers and manufacturers, he may not jump to buy every new-fangled gadget, gizmo and gimcrack that comes down the bulk vending pike, but he’s certainly going to make it his business to look at and evaluate all of them. Seen from a distance, it looks very much like foraging.
What is remarkable: Operators like these have structured their businesses to adapt quickly to change, whether in the office, on the road or at the location. To cite one example, they schedule service calls so they’re able to get the hottest products into machines quickly to take advantage of peak sales periods while competitors’ products are sitting in the warehouse.
That all of these disparate, innovative elements often exist in a single company is both astonishing and perfectly logical. On the other hand, that these are the companies most likely to survive and prosper over the coming years makes immediate perfect sense.