When I learned that Alan Kronenberg of CompuVend had died, I felt a sadness that has become increasingly familiar. We have lost so many industry pioneers recently -- or does it just seem that way because I'm getting older? When we lose someone who has been part of our lives and affected them, it's only to be expected that we reflect on the past, the present and the future. I've always been fascinated by the history of our industry and eager to learn more about how the imaginative, enterprising men and women became so successful. Surely they had challenges just like we do...
I reached out to Alan's son, Mark Kronenberg, who has been president of CompuVend since 2009. Mark worked closely with his dad for more than three decades, just as I had done with my father. We grew up in the industry together, and I wanted to express my condolences and learn how he was doing -- especially since I know what it's like to lose a father and a mentor at the same time. Mark shared his father's story with me, and I found their business-building partnership so inspiring that I wanted to share it with our readers.
I had not realized that the family's history in vending dated way back to 1937. Mark told me that his grandfather, Sidney Kronenberg, started Alamat Vending in Birmingham, AL, and Alan was born in that same year.
Alan's mother Harrie was also involved in Alamat, and both of his parents sat on the board of NAMA -- Harrie was the first woman elected to the association's board of directors. Alan worked for the family business, and operated vending machines on the side while attending the University of Alabama. But when his father died suddenly in a plane crash, his mother sold the business to Automatic Retailers of America (now Aramark).
After graduation, Alan moved to New Orleans and went to work in his wife Kay's family business. But vending was in his blood, and 18 months later he left to start his own vending and foodservice company. ARA purchased that business several years later, and Alan continued working for them, selling and managing accounts.
According to Mark, his dad landed and set up many accounts throughout the South; this kept him busy, often away from home and seldom able see his family. But family was always important to Alan, and so in 1968 Alan and Kay started a sandwich shop in the city's central business district. A year later, he started Food Management Corp., also in New Orleans, which provided vending, industrial foodservice, cafeteria management, catering and office coffee service. One of FMC's accounts was Avondale Shipyards, the largest employer in the state of Louisiana. Mark shared some stories with me about his dad's remarkable achievements in those days, but due to space constraints, I'll have to save those for another time.
By 1978, Mark had taken some programming courses in school, and Alan asked him whether he could write software for FMC. Those were the days before IBM introduced its first personal computer; at the time, the only generally available desktop computers were the 8-bit Apples and Tandy/Radio Shack TRS-80s.
Mark and Alan teamed up, and began to design their own software for the TRS-80, initially for managing commissary production and then their vending operation. Over the next few years, other operators heard about what they were doing and began asking about it. Mark and Alan had designed their programs for their own particular operational needs, so they began visiting other operating companies and researching how they might deepen and generalize their management software. This led to a major rewrite and upgrade, and in 1982, they took a booth at the NAMA show in New Orleans to demonstrate it. So CompuVend was born.
Among CompuVend's early landmark achievements were a direct interface between a computer and a coin counter, and in the late '80s, a series of handheld route computers to replace paper route tickets. They quickly saw the value of the DEX standard in accelerating this process; they pioneered technology enabling machines to transmit their sales data to the driver, making routes more productive.
It was evident to Mark and Alan more than 30 years ago that vending operators could use technology to improve the efficiency of their companies, and they began by using it to improve their own.
As Alan increasingly turned CompuVend over to Mark, he spent more time consulting, sharing the insights he had gained. He had a real talent for modeling complicated systems elegantly and explaining those models clearly. Perhaps this will be Alan's Kronenberg's legacy.
Every generation gets the opportunity to define itself in response to the challenges and opportunities it faces. I wonder how the next generation will recall our attempts, and I hope we live up to the standards set by leaders like Alan Kronenberg.
Ira Alan Kronenberg died on Sept. 10 in New Orleans. He was 75.