BRYAN COLLEGE STATION, TX - Of all the jobs required of a bulk vending operator, sales is among the most difficult and the most vital. For the vast majority of bulk vending operators, selling new locations on their services is the lifeblood of their core business, serving both to expand existing routes as well as replace lost locations.
Nobody understands this better than Terry Stanley of Precision Vending (Bryan College Station, TX). Over the years, Stanley has not only perfected his salesmanship in order to expand his own sprawling, Texas-sized route, but also shared his hard-earned knowledge with other operators through tapes and seminars. His taped series, "The 31 Secrets to Securing Great Locations," has assisted operators in honing their salesmanship skills for several years and his seminar during the recent NBVA convention in Orlando was one of the best attended on the schedule.
There are "born salesmen," blessed with the ability to instinctively approach a prospective client and close a sale as naturally as they breathe. For the rest of us, however, the sales process is one that is learned over a long period of time and through many mistakes. Stanley's goal is to impart his knowledge of sales to others by pointing out common mistakes and offering "tricks" he's picked up along the way.
According to Stanley, the most common mistake operators make when approaching a new location is to go in with a canned presentation that is too generic in its appeal. "It's along the lines of passing out a business card and saying, 'If you need anything, give me a call,'" said Stanley. "It doesn't reach out and grab someone where they are and pull them out. What's given me the most success is talking about things they, the decision makers, are already thinking about, things they already want. Operators should go in and start dropping comments having to do with the subject matter that these decision makers are concerned about and thinking about. And you address those kinds of things and then your vending concept brings the solution."
These "things" are those topics directly related to the location owner's primary concerns. "One thing is customers," explained Stanley. "I'll go in and show them a picture of a machine or I'll talk to them about having vending in their store and then I'll turn the conversation and start talking about their business and their customers. They are interested in their customers, and they'll immediately perk up. I might say something like, 'Wouldn't it be great if the kids had something to do rather than just run around and go crazy?'" This line of conversational salesmanship, said Stanley, gives decision makers a reason to put the machine in other than doing the operator a favor.
"Nobody cares about how great your machines are. And nobody cares how long you've been in business," explained Stanley. "Nobody cares about the service you promise or how great you are or how shiny your vans are. All business owners care about is themselves and their businesses. They want to know if you can add to and complement what they already care about."
Money, of course, is another draw for location owners and decision makers, particularly in the current economic climate. Store owners are obviously expecting a commission. "What I tell locations is that if they are going to make money and increase their bottom line, they are going to have to spend money in some way," he said. "That usually means investing in inventory or purchasing some kind of equipment to make them more money. But with the vending concept, they don't have to do anything. There is no investment, no capital they have to outlay to increase their bottom line."
DECOR WINS STORE
Another tactic Stanley uses is to reacquaint potential customers with today's new and better looking types of equipment. "The dÃ©cor is a real big deal, so I talk to them a lot about that," he said. "Machines look a lot better than they did 15 or 20 years ago. There are more choices and different kinds of machines. The first thing I do is show them a picture , so they can see what this is all about. I have a sales notebook that has a whole variety of different machines and I'll pick the page out that I think will look best in the store I'm walking into."
In addition to matching machine to dÃ©cor, Stanley also suggests adding value by customizing machines to match the location. In many cases, this doesn't involve special order from the factory, but rather a professional looking "do it yourself" enhancement. "Now with desktop publishing, there are all kinds of artwork you can do in your own office," he said. "I put store logos on a machine. I'll get their card, scan it and I can make a banner and print it out on my computer or take it to a copy shop and have it printed on card stock. Then I can actually put it inside the machine, for instance, as a banner that runs around the top to try to make the machine look like it fits in the store." This approach inexpensively adds value to the machine for the location owner.
Another sales tactic Stanley uses is to explain that the products offered are unique and available only in bulk vending. "I'll bring samples of stickers and capsuled merchandise," he said. "And I'll explain to them that the items in the machines are extremely trend driven and that one of the things we do is that every time we come by the store we change the merchandise out and put in fresh product based on the trends, which can change really fast. I'll tell them how the kids can't get these products anywhere else, but the machines. When you communicate to the store owner that these are items that are highly sought after and highly trend driven and will not only boost traffic in the store, but also bottom-line revenue, you get eyebrows raised."
Stanley sees this process, focusing on the store owner's primary concerns, as pulling "emotional triggers. "If you pull the trigger, you are going to get a response that is positive from them," he said. "Money, customers, dÃ©cor are all emotional triggers for location owners."
However, according to Stanley, even if location owners like the idea of what you are telling them, and they would like to do it, they still might be afraid. Overcoming this fear, he said, is another area where operators make a mistake by asking for too much, too soon. "You have to gently ease people into a deal with little steps," he said. "You have to establish trust. Say for example, if I'm working the phone, I never try to go for a close. The only thing I try to accomplish if I'm working the phone is to let them allow me to come out to just look at the machine. Seven out of 10 people will do it. And once you actually show up, they see you and remember they talked to you on the phone, you've built a little trust with them. If I drop in unexpectedly I may say, 'Can I come by some time to have you take a look at the machine?' And then when I show up with a machine, it's never a commitment. I say, 'Hey, why don't we leave it for a week or two and see what you think about it?' It's very non-threatening."
PICK YOUR SPOT
Another strategy that Stanley has learned is to overcome the most common objections to bulk venders early on. "One simple trick that has gotten me into a lot of accounts is dealing with one common objection. People always say they don't have enough room," he explained. "When I walk into a location, I always pick the spot where the vender will go before I talk to anyone. When they say, they don't have room, I can say, 'Look, there's a little spot right here.'"
And once an operator has the location, the sales job doesn't stop. Expanding equipment variety within a locations is, according to some, as important as expanding routes to include new sites.
"I really feel that once I get a machine in a location, that the owner and I are a team. It's a joint venture," said Stanley. "So we look at all the possibilities together. If I sense that they don't want to expand, then I'm fine. One of my primary reasons for expanding within an existing account is to prevent the competition from doing it for me. So, if they don't want any more machines in there, as long as they know I'm the next guy in line, I'm cool with that. But, if I really feel the account needs more equipment in there, because of the volume or the traffic, I'll show them the numbers these machines are doing in other locations."
Stanley's strategy for expansion is to start early on, when the location is still excited about the equipment and the money it's earning. "I can show them projections of what their probable net increase is going to be," he said. "A lot of times I'll start out with bulk and if it's a hot location I'll try to get a crane in there. I usually wait three months. If you wait too long, the equipment becomes a door-stop to them and they're not as excited. When you give them that first check or two, they're excited. That's when you go for more equipment in my opinion; I always talk to them about new equipment, when I'm handing them the money."
However, even though the bulk veteran begins the process of expanding early, he does so cautiously, measuring the customer response to those first machines in order to get a read on the demographics and traffic. "Typically I'll start out with a rack of stickers and capsules and I'll watch what's selling," Stanley explained. "If the toys are selling, I may try to go with high bounce balls and more capsuled merchandise, but if I can tell it's a teen location and get a lot of play on the sticker machines, then I'll try to go with a crane."
While Stanley refers to his sales techniques as "tricks," they are far from deceptive but rather a call for more sensitivity toward the location owner's primary concerns and a better understanding of the location's key demographics. These are vital components since bulk vending operators are not just selling their machines into a location, but selling a partnership that will hopefully prove mutually profitable.