History Repeating

Posted On: 1/4/2017

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TAGS: Vending Times, Vending Times editorial, vending industry, coin-op, vending machine, coin machine business, office coffee service, vending machine operator, micro markets, Alicia Lavay

Alicia Lavay, vending, Vending Times

As we come to the close of another year, it's natural to reflect on what we've accomplished, where we are going and whether we've stayed on course. While this industry has experienced a profound upheaval over the past decade, its structural underpinnings remain unchanged. And we're in an interesting period right now. This is true of the publishing business, as well.

We need to persuade suppliers that the vending industry is not stuck in a time warp, but is alive and growing. The sense of a mature, contracted market seems to stem from the events of a decade ago. Many midsized to large full-line operations had found themselves in a pretty stagnant market early in this century, and then got hammered by the global financial collapse. This led to their acquisition by larger companies: consolidation. And there are a lot of very small companies, which suppliers unfamiliar with history don't regard as attractive prospects.

This process has happened before, and it always has opened up opportunities for smaller firms that want to grow, once the economy gets back on track.

This seems to be happening right now. Our editor told me about a casual conversation he had overheard between two operators at the Atlantic Coast Exposition. One was telling the other that, in his market, one of those large conglomerates was doing a poor job of servicing many locations, which were beginning to look around for alternatives -- and he proposed to be one of them.

There are at least two kinds of very small "mom and pop" operations. One kind has attained a size at which it is making as much money as mom and pop need, without their having to work too hard. This kind (often a single route) will not get any bigger because it doesn't want to. This can be a rational and fruitful decision.

But the other kind does want to get bigger, and it will. That sort of operation does require hard work and close attention. While it does not presently need much in the way of information technology, high-tech venders and warehouse automation, those needs will begin to appear as it adds a second and third route.

Expansion always is a touchy process for small operations, since costs increase all at once while revenues take a while to catch up. While grappling with this, the need to streamline delivery and service for peak efficiency becomes evident. And all the while, new types of client come along, asking for different things and presenting new logistical challenges.

If I were a product or service provider, no matter what I was selling, if a vending operation could use it, I'd want to keep it in front of small, as well as large companies. The "aha!" moment can occur unexpectedly, when the owner is invited to bid on a large, attractive account that simply can't be accommodated by existing routes and procedures.

Route operation of merchandise vending and coin-op entertainment equipment, and provision of related services to the locations served on these routes, is in fact one industry. Each segment's priorities and concerns will vary with geography and over time, but many of the same people are active in more than one of them. As operators continue to expand their office refreshment services and work to meet the demand for an ever-wider range of allied products and services, their demands for new products and better management tools will increase in step.

If you're a supplier to this industry, you'll take good care of your existing large customers, but I would not overlook those elusive small operations -- which may not always be small. The emergence of businesses that converge on vending (like office coffee service, pure water service and micromarkets) has never been more apparent than it is today, and their need for profitable new products and tools has never been greater.

As long as this trend continues, Vending Times will continue to speak to readers in companies of all sizes, stay the course and support the industry it has served for more than 55 years. Our editorial format has always been designed to encourage the exchange of ideas among vending, coffee service, micromarkets, coin-operated entertainment or bulk vending.

Once again, we will print 12 issues in 2017 because we know that up-to-date information is essential to running a business, and consistent time to market and editorial continuity are valuable to readers.

VT's interactive initiatives are also growing rapidly. We continue to invest in new technologies that will benefit readers and advertisers alike and we hope you will do the same with your business to keep pace with this dynamic industry. Indeed, the more things change the more they stay the same, so stay true to your core business values -- but always look for ways to improve. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.