The Southeastern Vending Association's 11th annual convention brought more than 250 industry professionals together for three days of education, networking and recreation. By all accounts, the event was a success in spite of torrential downpours that pushed events originally planned for the beachfront and poolside indoors.
Organizers of the SEVA conference, which was held Aug. 9-11, hailed its move to the beachfront Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in Miramar Beach, FL. The new venue is near the Sandestin Resort, where the SEVA convention had been held previously, but its event facilities are centralized and more convenient for group activities. The organizers also credited McLaughlin-Garner Group (Jackson, MS), which took over planning and management of the event last year, for stepping up the programming and executing it without a hitch.
"SEVA 2016, beachside at the Hilton Sandestin, exceeded our expectations," said SEVA chair John Eastlack, regional director for Canteen (St. Petersburg, FL). He explained that the venue's more centralized facilities, the excellent programming and a number of new social events maximized the quality time available to participants for mingling and networking.
PHOTOS: Pictured, from left, are, John Eastlack, Pat Hagerty, Sheree Edwards, Gene Marks, Scott Carbonara and Jim Breuer.
Eastlack reported that more than 50 operating companies were represented at this year's conference and, in total, SEVA operators represent over $400 million in sales volume, 1,500 routes and 60,000 machines. "I cannot wait to see how SEVA 2017 builds on this year's event," he summed up.
The group that grew into SEVA originated in 1981 when three National Automatic Merchandising Association affiliated state councils organized a joint annual conference. Today, the conference is sponsored by six state councils: the Alabama Vending Association, the Georgia Automatic Merchandising Council, the Mississippi Automatic Merchandising Association; the Tennessee Automatic Merchandising Association, the Vending Machine Operators of Louisiana and the Automatic Merchandising Association of Florida.
Professional development sessions were held over two mornings. They included an industry update by National Automatic Merchandising Association chairman Pat Hagerty, chief executive of Vistar Corp. and vice-president of its parent company, Performance Food Group. NAMA regional legislative director Sheree Edwards discussed key government-related issues impacting the industry, including calorie-disclosure rules taking effect Dec. 1, new overtime standards for white-collar workers, GMO labeling rules and taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.
A panel of vending equipment and technology experts discussed how operators can leverage cashless payment, loyalty programs, touchscreen displays and real-time data to more effectively and profitably serve a new generation of consumers. Scott Plaisted of Southern Refreshment Services (Tucker, GA), who will be installed as 2017 SEVA chairman in October, moderated the discussion; panelists were Kevin Caid of Crane Merchandising Systems, Cecil Ledesma of USA Technologies, John Van Horn of U-Select-It and Ashley McPhaul of Cantaloupe Systems.
Guest speaker Gene Marks, a Washington Post columnist, gave a briefing on current events at the national level. He reviewed issues from tax legislation to the federal budget that could impact operators' businesses. He also discussed employee trends, from minimum wage legislation to overtime pay, and described some of the principal mobile, social, cloud-based and collaborative technologies that many successful companies are using.
Another speaker was "leadership therapist" Scott Carbonara, who offered some tips on navigating change. He urged vending operators to increase their personal engagement as leaders, and to maximize that engagement with their teams, in order to improve the culture they share with their customers.
"Many people commented on how dynamic and informative both of these speakers were," Eastlack said. "Both speakers injected soft humor throughout their sessions, which kept everyone entertained while learning."
SEVA participants came together in the afternoons for recreational activities, including the Wilbur Langston Memorial Golf Tournament, with most teams braving the rain to complete nine holes before the worsening weather prevented further play. The rained-out beach volleyball game between the state associations was replaced by a cutthroat "murbles" tournament (loosely based on bocce and influenced by marbles) inside the hotel.
Evening festivities included the opening night reception and SEVA's annual silent auction and dinner, at which the crowd was entertained by celebrity comedian Jim Breuer of Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central fame. A sponsor showcase on the conference's closing night gave operators an opportunity to speak with suppliers and learn about new products.
ASK THE EXPERTS: Bringing SEVA registrants up to speed on equipment innovations to engage a new generation, from left, are Kevin Caid, Crane Merchandising Systems; Cecil Ledesma, USA Technologies; Ashley McPhaul, Cantaloupe Systems; John Van Horn, USI; and moderator Scott Plaisted of Southern Refreshment Services.