As we reported (with great sadness) in May, industry pioneer, Roger Folz is gone. He was a prominent figure in my home town, Oceanside, and when the Folz Vending headquarters there was closed by Coinstar seven years ago, an era ended for many of us.
There is much to admire about Roger Folz. He was a generous soul, dedicated to the industry and eager to inspire the same enthusiasm in his customers (and even his competitors) that he always displayed himself. His optimism about the unlimited potential of bulk vending is much needed today, and it is essential that we not forget him.
His story is similar to that of many members of the greatest generation. Roger Folz set up a bulk vending route in 1949 with $600 and 15 machines (as he said, 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.
One of Roger's greatest long-term contributions to the industry was his effective lobbying. In 1965, the state of New York imposed a sales tax that applied to merchandise, including vendible products such as toys, without regard to price. This was not unusual for a sales tax, but it made life difficult for operators of bulk capsule machines. Through his persistence, eloquence and talent for making friends, Roger was able to persuade the state to exempt sales made 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 essential to raise the minimum-price exemption to 25¢. This proved very beneficial to all vending operators, not just bulk vendors. And he took an active part in successful industry campaigns against ill-conceived regulations like the Food & Drug Administration's plan to forbid "commingling" gum and charms in bulk mixes.
Roger also helped to secure property 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 campaigns to procure fair treatment and a level playing field for vending as a retail channel.
Always an enthusiast for bulk vending, Folz was known for his firm belief that the industry has the potential to reach 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 toward the end of his career, Roger remained very concerned about the future of the vending business. He was an early adherent of the Coin Coalition, and worked diligently to secure the reintroduction of a circulating $1 coin. During one of our many 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 did not seem to share his enthusiasm, and felt that this approach should be pursued by our trade associations.
Besides the tremendous impact he had on vending, he always gave more than his "fair share" to the community. In 1967, he joined the Oceanside Rotary Club, which used his warehouse to store pallets of groceries for its annual food drive for nearly 20 years. He was a generous contributor to the South Nassau Communities Hospital and, in 1988, he was the first major donor to Oceanside's Jewish Community Center, where my mother presently volunteers her time. Each year, he would give $17,000 to the Oceanside High School's Scholarship Fund; and he commissioned a memorial to the Oceanside residents killed in the World Trade Center's Twin Towers on Sept.11, 2001.
Roger Folz was part of a generation of practical visionaries, the generation that built today's vending, music and amusement industries. Like many of them, he saw clearly that his own long-term success depended on the continued growth and prosperity of his industry, his community and his country; competition is not a zero-sum game. He was a fierce competitor, but he believed that robust competition kept everyone honest, and that entrepreneurship does not benefit from an "every man for himself" attitude. Folz Vending was a remarkable achievement, from which the whole bulk industry learned a great deal.
As I've said, 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. Roger was one of those giants. Everyone we have known has played its part in shaping us, and Roger was a very good person to know, and his memory can inspire all of us.