The National Automatic Merchandising Association conducted its second annual mid-July Fly-In event in the nation's capital, with a substantial increase in participation over last year's strong inaugural start. We had the pleasure of attending both events. The organizers did a first-rate job of applying their experience with the leadoff 2015 event, enabling participants to make the most efficient use of their time without excessive haste. This always is desirable in a Washington, DC, summer.
The Fly-In is designed to bring NAMA members together for visits with elected officials and their staffs. Many state associations have been doing something similar for decades through annual legislative days, and it has proven an effective method for giving legislators a sense of what the vending industry is and does, and where it fits into the communities they represent. As a national event, the Fly-In organizes its participants into state groups for visits with the legislators who represent them. SEE FULL STORY
NAMA suggested that this year's Fly-In registrants bring younger family members with them, highlighting the industry's local, small-business origins and orientation.
Again this year, Fly-In participants were urged to bring up three topics during their meetings with elected officials and their staff members. One is the importance of enacting the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act of 2015, which was passed by the House in February as H.R. 527 and, as S.426, is now in committee in the Senate. This bipartisan legislation would minimize the unintended consequences of new federal rules by modernizing the present Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980. Specifically, it would empower the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy to establish standards for conducting a regulatory flexibility analysis as part of the process for writing new rules. NAMA noted that this would improve transparency and reinforce President Obama's 2011 executive order on regulatory review.
Beyond urging passage of these bills, the citizen advocates informed their legislators about the industry's long-standing engagement with the current hot-button topics of energy efficiency and the importance of making well-informed dietary choices to maintain health and fitness. As I made the rounds with the group to which we had been assigned -- the Colorado delegation -- I reflected that this industry has a very good record in these areas.
One of the first refrigerated vending machines to appear during the postwar boom was the Fruit-o-matic (c. 1950), which (as the name specifies) was a dedicated fresh-fruit vender. As vending pioneers began placing refrigerated food machines a few years later, they needed appealing items to fill out the display. Fruit was (and remains) one of these. We spoke with operators nearly half a century ago who also offered sliced raw carrots (wrapped in cling film) and portion-packs of yogurt. Their experiences with these early "better-for-you" selections demonstrated that such things will sell in vending, if they're rotated through a varied product mix.
We recalled, too, that the vending industry has sought methods for reducing its "carbon footprint" for a long time, though the goal used to be defined as reducing fuel use. Operators of route delivery services always have been eager to find ways of using less fuel, and the Arab oil embargo of 1973-'74 inspired a great deal of effective experimentation to improve vehicle efficiency; we remember a music/amusement and vending operator conducting tests to determine the amount of head resistance (or "drag") exerted by driving a pickup truck with its tailgate up, and the fuel saving obtained by keeping the tailgate horizontal (and ultimately replacing the solid tailgate with a perforated design). The experience gained at this time stood us in good stead during the "second oil shock" five years later.
Approaching the problem from the opposite direction, this industry always has had a keen interest in improving route efficiency. Operators were striving to avoid "over-servicing" machines on location long before the term "just-in-time delivery" was coined. The development and steady improvement in sales forecasting and, ultimately, remote machine monitoring have provided increasingly sophisticated tools for accomplishing this, and these have found ready acceptance.
Moreover, operators always have been interested in equipment that uses less power. This is an attribute that they can use to good effect when bidding on new business.
With that history in mind, our industry can speak confidently to legislators, regulators and the public about its commitment to wholesome refreshments and sustainable operations. We have a story to tell that's not only interesting, but (as someone once said, in another connection) "also has the advantage of being true."
We're looking forward to the next Fly-In, which is set for July 25 and 26, 2017. We think it is well worth everyone's time and effort to keep the ball rolling.