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FFM Launches College Foodservice Program, Prepares For Expansion In Manual Feeding, OCS And Water As Second Generation Takes Helm

Posted On: 9/25/2001

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LONGWOOD, FL - Fisk Hayden is looking forward to spending more time racing his sailboat as he passes the leadership role of Florida Food Management on to his son, Steve.

Fisk is a familiar face in the industry. He is immediate past chairman of the Automatic Merchandising Association of Florida, and served as chairman of AMAF's VendSouth trade show for a number of years.

"Steve will need a right arm here. My idea of retirement is not to never come here again," said Fisk. "I want to provide support, whether it's one, two or three days a week. Now, every morning, I come in and take directions from Steve. I've learned the importance of keeping my mouth shut; I'm not real good at it, but I'm getting better."

Fisk, an avid yachtsman, has taught Steve to be a team player since his boyhood, when Steve joined him in the three-man boats that he raced. "I liken sailboat racing to running this business. Both require working together under physical and mental stress," Fisk told V/T. "Steve grew up as part of a team, and contributed more as he got older and better. That carries over to our work and business relationship. We strive to excel, to win, and to do it by being organized and working with other people , by tolerating their shortcomings and appreciating their strengths."

Another key player on the FFM team is Steve's wife, Angie. Their three-year-old son Jeffrey has become the in-house candy expert, and Steve is hopeful he'll represent the business's third generation some day.

Steve has been in business with his father since shortly after the elder Hayden began the vending business 12 years ago.

Fisk's experience in the industry began as a management trainee with ARA Refreshment Services (now Aramark). He honed his skills at schools, colleges and B&I locations, eventually assuming the position of director of food and nutrition at St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, NY. In 1979, he left ARA for the same position with Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he was employed for 10 years.

"I initiated the vending division for four Orlando hospitals, and I really saw the potential," recalled Fisk. "I decided if I was ever going to do it myself, I had better do it then, or I'd be too old to put up with the headaches, so I made the move."

He began by purchasing a small vending company. At the time, Steve had just graduated from Florida State University with a business management degree, and had applied to law school.

"He heard me singing the blues about how overworked I was, and he bailed me out. I'm very lucky that he's been here with me ever since," said the senior operator. "As soon as Steve came aboard, we were able to grow the company as a team."

With the management team thus reinforced, FFM was able to bolster its position in its market area by selective strategic acquisitions. Steve has served as president for the past three years, and runs the company's day-to-day operations. These are changing in breadth and scope at a rapid rate.


FFM took a big leap this fall when it opened a brand new deli and cafeteria at DeVry Institute of Technology's Orlando campus. FFM has provided vending services to the school since it opened last year.

"The college chose us because they wanted personal service. We pride ourselves on the fact that they are talking directly to the owners, and they like that accessibility to the decision makers," said Fisk.

He added that he has had much more experience with manual foodservice than with vending, and is excited to expand the business in that direction. DeVry Orlando is growing rapidly, and expects its present enrollment of 500 to triple within three years.

"We're really the only small vending company that can compete in both arenas. It pits us against 'Goliath,' which has much deeper pockets than 'David.' But manual foodservice is an area we're looking to grow, and we can do the job. We'll be able to demonstrate that with the college," added Fisk.

He attributes FFM's ability to remain competitive with "the big guys" to its attention to detail and the high caliber of its staff.

"We instill in our drivers that they are the main contact, our first line of customer service," Steve explained. "And my dad and I are out visiting customers as much as possible. We promote ourselves as a small, locally owned company; we cut the red tape because we can make on-the-spot decisions."


Steve added that Florida Food Management hopes to open a commissary in the near future and that the new business at the college may help pave the way. The operators attended a recent workshop presented by NAMA on opening and operating a commissary that further inspired them to move ahead with their plans to expand both their catering and manual foodservice.

Currently, FFM fills one-third of its refrigerated food machines with fresh salads and sandwiches from a local delicatessen. The vending company also provides its customers with catered platters from the same deli.

FFM has not yet entered the frozen food market but the operators expect to purchase frozen food machines in the near future to stay competitive.

While FFM's vending accounts include hotels, schools, colleges, and business and industry, a large percentage of the company's business is in Orlando's tourist attractions on International Drive and in theme parks, most of which are so busy that they require daily service.

The high concentration of outdoor venues, frequented by tourists in the year-round warm Florida climate, makes for brisk sales of 20-fl.oz. beverages. FFM believes glass-front vending machines add significantly to patron appeal in certain venues. Bottled water and "Gatorade" are among the top sellers in FFM's market.

"We're also lucky that we can have our beverage machines outside year-round," commented Fisk. "In New York, they would freeze up in the winter."

On the flip side, the Florida climate poses a challenge for snack machines in some locales. To address this issue, the company places temperature-controlled CMS/National Vendors "All Temperature" snack machines.

The success of the National indoor/outdoor vender has led the company to consider other temperature-controlled equipment. Steve observed that the company serves a high-volume theme park that seems ideally suited for a branded, chilled machine like that offered by M&M/Mars.

Currently, all machine menuing is left to the drivers' discretion, but Steve recently attended a category management seminar presented by Hershey and is planning to implement a planogram program. LSS packages are very well received in many of FFM's machines, and Steve is inclined to dedicate the whole top shelf to them when he designs his planogram.

"We are fortunate to be here in central Florida; it's a growing market with plenty of business to go around," said Fisk. "Hotels seem to go up on every corner, along with new office buildings. Having lots of two- or three-machine accounts in one office building can be very profitable."

And, according to Steve, emerging markets in FFM's region include the growing Latin American communities throughout the region, as well as corporate headquarters that are springing up along the I-4 corridor. The company serves clients within a 100-mile radius in Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake counties.

Maintaining a dedicated workforce will be vital to the company's continued success as it expands, and the operators have been fortunate thus far. Through its acquisitions, FFM has added a number of experienced individuals, the majority of whom have stayed with the company.

"The people who have left our company have done so for personal reasons, not because they don't like us," said Fisk. "We invite our employees to our home and on family outings. We pay higher than the Southeast average, and we go the extra yard to take care of those who are essential to the success of our company. I would rather share the profits, through higher wages and benefits, because in the end it comes back. I had the same philosophy in our ARA days."

The operators, their drivers and a full-time service manager stay in constant contact with the "Nextel" two-way radio/cellular phone/pager system, with the objective of responding to all service calls within two hours. Both Fisk and Steve make field calls and run routes as needed to assure prompt service.

"We try to get all route people trained to clear jams, and to diagnose many problems and fix them before they call the service manager," added Fisk. When the service manager is not in the field, he applies his skills in FFM's shop to refurbishing equipment to like-new condition.

The last company FFM acquired, three years ago, used Rutherford & Associates software; so the operators integrated it into their operation. "It's been great for scheduling, accountability and inventory as our staff has increased, and it is essential to maintaining control as we continue to grow," Steve told V/T.


Looking to the future, in addition to its primary focus on expanding manual foodservice and opening a commissary, FFM plans to steadily expand its vending activities while placing more emphasis on increasing its OCS and point-of-use water filtration business.

"We don't have a full-time salesperson to solicit new accounts and line up new business," said Fisk. "We rely on our Yellow Pages advertising and any leads that we or our employees find. We've grown steadily, but at a slower rate than some vending companies. We've always been profitable, so we haven't felt the need to grow more aggressively. A steady upward trend is what's important."

To accommodate its growth to date and to prepare for the next stage, FFM is consolidating its operations, formerly conducted from three separate facilities, into one larger site.

Fisk and Steve remain actively involved with the Automatic Merchandising Association of Florida, which applied for affiliation with the National Automatic Merchandising Association in June. "We have competitors, literally right up the street, who are quality operators. AMAF keeps us all friendly and gives us a forum to work together for the good of the industry. Our paths cross and we compete, but we consider ourselves friends," said Fisk. "AMAF's political action committee is also very valuable. It gives us a presence in Tallahassee to protect our industry's position and rights and to push hard for beneficial legislation."