Once again, we're asking our operator readers to fill out and return the questionnaire for our annual Census of the Industry issue. I will risk the accusation of beating a dead horse, and repeat that this is a very important thing for everyone to do.
The modern world demands statistics, and Vend magazine began to collect them shortly after it was founded in 1947. In those days, there weren't many companies identifying themselves as vending operations, and there were relatively few products vended. As the industry grew, Vend's methodology became more sophisticated, and we adopted it when we purchased Vend in 1971. We started to track music and amusement sales in 1978, in response to the swift expansion and other changes that the video game revolution caused.
We always have mailed our Census questionnaire to a large random sample of our subscribers. In recent years, we've sent questionnaires to about 6,000 operating entities (that is, individual operating companies with one office, and branch offices of regional and national operations). Our return has averaged around 6%.
Now, that's a pretty good return. We want (at least) to maintain it, and we'd like to improve it. Larger samples are becoming important because there are more variables now than in the past. Fewer and fewer product categories have "dedicated" machines, and machines can sell an ever-wider range of products. Many mainstream independent operating companies have merged into larger groupings, while new firms are starting up.
To encourage greater participation, we've decided to break the questionnaire into two shorter ones that are more specific to industry segments. The first one, for full-line and "four-C" vendors, foodservice operators and coffee services, appears in this issue between Pages 18 and 19. The next, for amusement and music operators and bulk vendors, will be bound into our April issue.
VENDING TIMES always has regarded these different enterprises as parts of one industry. Our reason for doing so is the relative ease with which an operator engaged in any one of them can move into any of the others.
Today's merchandise vending industry, in general, grew out of bulk vending, on the one hand, and jukebox operation, on the other. But there are full-line vendors who began in food, often mobile catering.
In the '60s, many companies newly engaged in full-line vending continued to run music/amusement and street cigarette operations, and there was frequent crossover from one to the other. The logic was that the company already had trucks on the street and people who knew how to repair coin mechs, and it made sense to sell things to people at work and at play.
Coffee service began in the mid-'60s, and from one perspective, it can be seen as an operational solution to the "marginalizing" of locations that began when the postwar boom lost steam, gasoline and other commodity prices began to increase, and the offices that had been an important market for vending in the '50s became impossible to serve profitably with vending machines. A substantial number of pioneer OCS operators had vending backgrounds; others entered from the bottled water business. Many (perhaps most) companies that once specialized in coffee service now have expanded into vending and/or pure water.
During the past decade, a number of companies that started as video game operations in the late '70s continued to diversify into other types of route business, often four-Cs and full-line vending.
For all these reasons, we don't believe that vending industry performance can be gauged accurately by creating artificial distinctions. While this is encouraged by the old Standard Industrial Classification system, we continue to insist that a company describing its primary activity as (say) operating games often does enough vending (packaged or bulk) to mandate its inclusion in any study of total vending sales.
We've often demonstrated this. I'm taking this opportunity to ask our operator readers to help us continue to do it.