NAMA's Balakgie Keynotes Record-Setting Golf & Dinner Meeting In White Plains
WHITE PLAINS, NY -- Vending industry members turned out in record numbers for the New York State Automatic Vending Association's second annual Herb Luckower golf tournament, dinner and silent auction. The trade group raised an unprecedented $49,000 to help in lobbying efforts to secure Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature on its sales tax exemption bill.
The NYSAVA event, held Oct. 10 at the Westchester Hills Golf Club in White Plains, drew more than 140 vending operators, suppliers, distributors and brokers.
"I have been treasurer for over 15 years and I never saw an event this successful," said NYSAVA treasurer Zane Greenwald of Betson Enterprises. "Many thanks to the golf committee that did a most amazing job getting the word out."
NYSAVA vice-president Carl Gerfo of Vend Rite Vending Corp. (Whitestone, NY), who has headed up the association's golf committee for the past three years, said attendance has been on the upswing. Despite this year's record turnout, however, only 10 operating companies were represented at the event, which he termed "disappointing."
Like most state associations, NYSAVA has been struggling to increase its membership ranks amid pressing legislative issues. "I would like to see more vending companies at our annual golf outing again next year," Gerfo said.
Top of the order at the meeting was an update from NYSAVA president Brian Gill, Next Generation Vending (Canastota, NY), on the status of the tax exemption bill that the association has worked for five years to pass. It would exempt food and beverages sold from vending machines at $1.50 or less from the sales and use tax. The new tax-relief legislation updates a measure that raised the exemption on vended sales to 75¢, enacted in 2000, to assist the vending industry to remain competitive with other retail channels.
The New York State Assembly passed the bill in June, following approval by the Senate of a companion measure. The bill is now at a critical juncture, waiting only the governor's signature. | SEE STORY
"One thing that's very important to recognize is that our bill is cash-negative to the state," said Gill. "We have a roadmap to get the bill through and to ensure the governor's signature; it has to be positioned around jobs, jobs and more jobs. Our message is that we're going to invest in and around the industry to create jobs."
He urged all industry professionals attending the meeting to contact their local assemblymen and senators. "Remind them the bill is about to go to the governor's desk. If they voted 'yay,' call them and say 'thank you.' If your local representatives were 'nays,' schedule a visit or, at the very least, ask them to reconsider our cause," he urged. "We should be asking every representative to put a call in to the governor's office seeking passage of our bill. We are at a pivotal point in the process and we must ramp up our efforts accordingly to ensure our success."
He credited NYSAVA's lobbyists for passage of the bills in the state assembly and senate, and said the association will retain additional lobbyists at this critical juncture. The bill expires at the end of the year.
The NYSAVA president said he and other members of the association recently met with Gov. Cuomo face to face at a political function. "We're a large group and we want to make ourselves known," he said. "We handed out cards with our names and our NYSAVA affiliation and our bill number on them. The governor's office is well aware of who we are and our goals and objectives."
On another front that could have national repercussions, the state vending association and Chicago-based NAMA officials met with New York City Health Department Deputy Commissioner Andrew Goodman and other department officials to inform them about the industry's longstanding efforts to support healthy choices. Prompting the meeting was Mayor Bloomberg's executive order setting strict standards for food, snack and beverage vending machines on city property. Gill and John Murn, Answer Vending (Farmingdale, NY), were at the meeting. | SEE STORY
"We [present] a big bullseye to Bloomberg, and the Health Department knew little about healthy vending; it was a very valuable meeting," Gill said. "We are well [along] the road of making politicians aware that the industry is changing and that we're not just a candy and soda industry."
Murn emphasized to his fellow operators the importance of publicizing healthy vending products and expressed the need for tax relief given the severe economic impact of the new regulations they face. "Go to your state legislators and tell them that we need their help or we won't be here in three years with everything the industry is facing, including ADA compliance and calorie displays," he said. "Send a letter to the governor's office and tell them that the positive changes the industry is making will save money in the long term."
National Automatic Merchandising Association president and chief executive Carla Balakgie keynoted the New York event and discussed how technological innovation and consumers' growing favor for unattended retailing signals a significant opportunity for the industry.
"At the same time, what operators are facing in New York is a microcosm of what's happening at the federal level, and this is creating a substantially more challenging environment," she observed. "The amount of legislation and compliance issues working their way through the channels in Washington are greater than they've been since the Great Depression. The financial crisis generated a lot of federal intervention and regulation."
Compounding the complexity for operators is that regulators "can't write the rules fast enough," so many of the rules are so far-reaching that their implications are unknown.
"Many questions remain because rulemaking has not been finalized," she said. "Some are ambiguous and do not address every detail. We're asking that the rules protect us from frivolous lawsuits and ambulance-chasers if we make a good effort to comply."
NAMA's board of directors recently visited nation's capital for the association's first public policy conference. Members met with key representative to discuss how taxes, nutrition policy, interchange fees and the ADA rules will impact the vending and office coffee service industries.
"We went to Senator [Richard] Durbin's office to make our case about swipe fees and to the White House office of business liaison to showcase Fit Pick and NAMA's longstanding commitment to healthy choices and spread the message that vending is a delivery system and not the devil," Balakgie said. The delegation also pled its case to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the high-ranking Democrat who co-authored the federal nutrition labeling requirements for vending machines.
"We improved NAMA's visibility, voice and relationships on your behalf," Balakgie said. "We will continue to have a powerful, well orchestrated voice in Washington and work with the state for advocacy up and down the issue chain." The NAMA chief stressed that many legislative issues percolate at the state level and then "turn into a bonfire" on the national stage, underscoring the need for everyone to get involved locally and close involvement between NAMA and its state councils.
At the state and regional echelons, current hot-button legislative issues impacting the industry include nutritional restrictions on vended products in schools and on state-owned property, bottle deposits and recycling fees, micromarkets and food safety-related issues and inequitable tax treatment of items sold through vending machines. Balakgie said NAMA and its affiliated state councils have scored many victories through their advocacy efforts, but emphasized that many challenges lie ahead.
Balakgie reported that NAMA's Industry Growth Strategy is helping "build vending's brand and tell its story." It's reached an estimated 674 million consumers through media coverage it's generated since its launch in 2011. Additionally, NAMA's Gratitude events have reportedly engaged nearly 60,000 consumers through hands-on interaction at the mobile vending shows. Balakgie said the next step in the campaign is to showcase vending operators across the country in the national media.
"We will continue to put time and energy into public relations; it gets a lot of eyeballs on our cause and yields great return on investment," she said.
Another major area of focus for the vending association is market and consumer research related to vending, coffee, tea and water service, and emerging opportunities. "We have made a concerted commitment to aspire to create, acquire and republish a broad spectrum of research to provide the industry with resources on best practices, trends and analysis," said Balakgie. "We know we have a big gap to fill."
On the office coffee service front, Balakgie said NAMA's first-ever National Coffee Service Month this September was well received by operators and generated excitement among their customers . The upcoming Coffee, Tea & Water Show, collocated with the International Bottled Water Association for the first time, is set for Nov. 13-15 in New Orleans. It will feature 16 educational events, 125 tabletop exhibits, the unveiling of new consumer research on coffee and ample networking opportunities.
Balakgie also announced that association will host a trip for operators to Costa Rica's coffee-growing regions, Feb. 6-10. It will include tours of two coffee plantations and extensive education.
Photos, clockwise from top left, are:
From left, Jim Priovolos of Kraft Foods Group, Dave McClain of Mondelez, David Henchel of Corporate Coffee Systems (Westbury, NY) and Mark Marciano of Mondelez wind down after golf tournament.
Broker Bob Shindle (l.) of Demitri Chesapeake Sales and Paul Silverman of Snack Time Services (Hicksville, NY) discuss legislative challenges facing New York operators.
Representing PepsiCo at NYSAVA meet (l. to r.) are Art Veino, Wendell Holden and Roger Coale.
Gathering during reception are immediate NYSAVA past president Mike Esposito, Fitzgerald Brothers Vending (Glens Falls, NY); Hershey's Tom Cohen; Pete Moziak of Vistar New England; and Jeff Yannaccone of Northeast Lock.
WELL DONE! At left, NYSAVA president Brian Gill of Next Generation Vending (Canastota, NY) recognizes immediate past president Mike Esposito, Fitzgerald Brothers Vending (Glens Falls, NY), for his leadership and legislative efforts on the industry's behalf. At right, Herb Luckower's son Michael and wife I.D. thank NYSAVA's board for naming the annual event in honor of the vend broker pioneer who was a longtime director of the association. Herb Luckower died in 2011.