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A Cold Reading On An Industry In A Period Of Great Change

Posted On: 12/26/2010

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bulk vending, vending machine business, vending, bulk vendor, bulk vender, coin-operated, coin machine, coin-op news, small business, fortuneteller, continuing education, Vending Times, Hank Schlesinger

Fortunetellers, psychics and other charlatans often use a technique called a cold reading. There are variations of the system, but it often involves a few bland, nonspecific phrases that can be called "kinda" true. These lead to phrases of more specific detail that give the illusion of special powers while building credibility. Cold readings are difficult to do well, so you have to give the hucksters credit for the skill. (I bet many high-dollar shrinks wish they were half as good at eliciting information.)

One of my favorite cold-reading phrases I've heard over the years is, "You're in a period of great change. A lot is changing around you." What's striking about that particular phrase is that television's economic and political pundits are beginning to sound a lot like sideshow fortunetellers. (I apologize to any carnival or circus folk who are offended by the comparison.) However, the more I watch the pundits, the more they seem to be conducting some kind of mass cold reading. "We're in a period of great change," they say in more words than needed. 

Of course, we're always in a period of change. Just in the past decade, the bulk vending industry has transitioned to higher perceived-value merchandise and elevated price points. It's entered malls and adopted new equipment, including cranes. Going back a few more years, the hottest machines were spirals, and flat vendibles were still considered a small cyclical niche. Perhaps there was some golden age in the past when the bulk vending industry wasn't in some form of transition, but it was certainly before my time. And, to be perfectly frank, it sounds boring.

So, what's the newest normal for bulk vending? In my own research, which is decidedly unscientific, I've seen both the good and bad. We've certainly seen increased professionalism in the industry. A greater number of operators are testing merchandise before buying in quantities. With competition heating up on the street, they also seem to have stepped up customer services. Machines that used to sit three months or more between collections are now serviced regularly.

Change means longer hours and harder work for the operator. It entails more time on the road, and more time for reviewing products and talking to location managers.

Change also creates greater flexibility. Operators are shifting equipment more frequently to maximize earnings. They're downsizing and upsizing equipment mixes to fit the location. The cookie-cutter approach to equipment placement may be a thing of the past as operators seek to get the most from each bulk head.

There is also a downside to change. Locations are opening and closing more rapidly. Long-standing and highly profitable accounts are vanishing. Foot traffic has been trending down in once busy locations, leading to a decline in vends. And the price of merchandise is rising. Sorry to say, there is no silver lining to those particular clouds.

For many operators, the bad more than outweighs the good. Bulk vending has always been a tough business and it's not getting easier. Many operators feel as if they're just treading water when it comes to the cashbox. In the long term, the view is significantly different. All those new procedures put in place to remain competitive will likely remain in place when the economic environment eases. And the industry should emerge stronger and more competitive than ever. After all, we're in a period of great change.