The vending industry is at the precipice of a renaissance. There are emerging technologies in communications, payment systems and point-of-sale delivery platforms that are creating quantum change in the way vendors engage consumers. Our industry has experienced these types of innovations before. Dollar bill acceptors and handheld computers are examples, but never has there been so much change so fast.
While any one of these innovations on its own would be disruptive to the channel, we are currently experiencing a convergence of all of these technologies creating huge opportunities but also adding complexity and risk. Self-checkout micromarkets are a great example of the technology converging to create an entirely new delivery platform. Unattended retail is here to stay. Operators are challenged to not just understand these technologies, but also to build a supporting business model for profiting from the technology. The industry will look much different in five years.
NAMA is committed to being an industry-leading trade association and has embraced the changing environment as an opportunity to redefine itself. As such, the board of directors has embraced a simplified strategic plan committed to providing value through three synergistic initiatives.
First, NAMA must be a strong advocate for the industry. This means the association must work to enhance the industry's image not only with consumers, government officials and business organizations, but also internally with operators and suppliers.
The association should lead the way by creating programs to generate excitement. We have seen the first steps of this with the recently completed Gratitude Tour and the ongoing "Vend.Love.Win." social networking initiative. Both of these programs are part of the larger NAMA-sponsored Industry Growth Strategy. The board of directors has identified the support and facilitation of industry growth as a primary goal of the vending association.
Second, NAMA will become a world-class government affairs organization. The vending association's biggest opportunity and therefore top priority is the delivery of a powerful and effective government affairs department.
For the past several years, NAMA has been working to create key relationships with legislative leaders and regulatory bureaucrats, playing a key role in several lobbying efforts, and most significantly, helping the soft drink bottlers kill the sugar tax proposal.
Successes like this one are demonstrative of the value NAMA is creating through government affairs, and in 2012 the association will develop and administer an even more robust government affairs program to support both national lobbying efforts and also provide organization and infrastructure at the regional, state and local levels.
NAMA is in the formative stages of this program and there is much more to come. The premise is simply this: Our industry must speak with a unified message to multiple constituencies. It is comprised of many family-owned and operated businesses, which create jobs and support local community programs. We are the backbone of American free enterprise. Our story makes a compelling case and NAMA is committed to telling that story in a way in which two initiatives combine to create a sum greater than its parts.
Our industry is not a large economic power and, by extension, NAMA has limited resources. By making hardworking, family-owned businesses the face of our industry, we can create value in Washington, and with state and local governments. We also create a wholesome image of our industry with consumers and business partners. A standalone lobbying effort with no image support will be less effective than one supported by a strong industry image. Likewise, a strong industry image with no face or purpose will deliver little value. Uniting both elements creates real value. Which elected official will not support family-owned, locally operated businesses?
Third, NAMA must continue to deliver and enhance the OneShow, building on this brand to create value extension. It will work to improve the show while using the OneShow platform as a mechanism to support the other two key initiatives of industry advocacy and government affairs.
The future is brighter now that NAMA has named Carla Balakagie president and chief executive officer. After meeting with Carla, I am excited about her leadership. I have been in meetings with the new chief executive, and can report that her energy, intelligence and passion are impressive and provide her the ability to influence and persuade. But just as impressive are her listening and negotiating skills. Our new chief comes to NAMA at a time of change and opportunity. She has a clean slate to recreate the vending association by defining the focus and identifying priorities for the future. I am excited to work with her, and I am very proud to have her as the lead spokesperson for our industry.
These are exciting times for NAMA and our industry and the opportunities seem almost limitless. Joining the association today provides a seat at the table. Going forward, NAMA will help define our industry's image and will lead its government affairs initiative. Membership provides a seat at the table to not only participate in these initiatives, but also to help define and build them from the ground up. This is a unique window in time, for not often do we have an opportunity to develop and support initiatives that will help define our industry for the next 10-plus years.
Through the years, I have heard many operators complain about the value (or lack thereof) that NAMA delivers. Most operators want consumers to see our industry in a better light, and without exception all want world-class government affairs, and I'm here to tell you that NAMA has made the commitment to deliver on both of these initiatives.
For NAMA to succeed, however, we need operators to not only join but to actively participate. NAMA has taken the first step by committing personnel resources and substantive dollars to building a better industry, and there is no question that membership in the association has never offered a better opportunity. The train has left the station -- change is coming. The only question is: Will you get on board? Operators have a chance to help define our industry's image and build our government affairs program. It is both exciting and rewarding to work with NAMA. The financial commitment is 100% reinvested into the industry.
There will never be a better time to engage with NAMA. If you are not a member, join. If you are a member, get involved in supporting key initiatives. Call (312) 346-0370. Dean Gilland heads up coffee, tea and water; Joann DeNardis can assist with education and certification; and LyNae Schleyer can answer questions about the OneShow.
MARCUS "MARC" WHITENER is chief executive of Refreshment Solutions LLC (Norco, LA). He was previously president and owner of Whitener Snacks and Marc's Quick Mart. The 19-year veteran of the vending and coin machine industries serves on the board of directors of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, and is a NAMA Certified Executive. In 2006, he was chairman of the Southeastern Vending Association. Active in community affairs, Whitener has been a boardmember of the River Region Chamber of Commerce and Norco Community Economic Development Foundation.