Millennials Can Catalyze Industry Growth

Posted On: 11/22/2017

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We received several comments and inquiries regarding last month's Vending Times cover story on millennial executives. Some thought-provoking questions came from people in businesses outside the classical vending industry, suppliers who wanted to learn more about how to attract a new generation of employees and keep them. This demonstrates the crossover between our readership and the way in which our comprehensive content aids the exchange of ideas.

The article was a report on a seminar presented at this year's National Automatic Merchandising Association OneShow. The presentation was organized by members of the association's Emerging Leaders' Network, many of whom are millennials themselves. Over the decades, we've often been told that there are real advantages to an operator's regarding the employee as a kind of customer. The NAMA millennials' presentation cast new light on this identity. Everyone wants loyal customers, and everyone wants loyal employees. Are there ways in which the distinctive social forces that have shaped today's rising generation have created wants and desires that are common to our patrons and our staffs?

There are some key similarities in the way successful businesses manage their young staffers, and these practices can offer great advantages to vending, micromarket, coffee service and amusement operators. This concept has been addressed before in VT's pages, and we believe there are a lot of opportunities for operators to benefit from addressing the needs of millennials in the workplace, whether they are there as workers or as patrons.

Specifically, the panel said, these younger citizens want an environment that suits their lifestyle, and this includes a breakroom with a variety of (sometimes unusual) food and beverages. Many of today's most admired employers, striving to make their workplaces attractive to people who are well-compensated for working long hours, also facilitate creative idea exchange during breaks by offering things like pinball machines and jukeboxes. If people are being asked to blend work and leisure, that task can be made easier and more enjoyable.

Attracting millennials by offering more flexible working environments and a wider range of at-work refreshments can help with employee retention. Ambitious employees want the opportunity to make a difference. In order to do so, they need an atmosphere that helps inspire vision and motivates them to work hard and excel. Such an atmosphere provides creative freedom, collaborative learning opportunities and ultimately, the chance to do meaningful work. The more an employer does to enhance the intensity of workers' learning and growth experience, the more likely they will be to remain members of the team. Why would they leave?

This has two implications for an operator. First, there is value in demonstrating the operation's ability to help clients enhance a location's appeal to its employees, which can involve becoming more familiar with contemporary workplace design, and certainly will involve understanding and providing products that millennials want, many of which are dramatically different from past generations' at-work fare.

Second, savvy companies that strive to understand what younger workers want, and find ways to deliver it, can apply this knowledge to identifying a wider range of market opportunities. Today's entertainment centers can benefit from modern vending, coffee dispensing and self-service micromarket systems to deliver all kinds of in-demand items, from cold brew coffee to locally sourced organic food choices, and accept everything from cash through card to mobile payments so patrons can pay with whatever is in their pocket. And management can collect and analyze information on buying habits and preference trends, for use in designing effective promotions and tailoring product offerings to the specific audience. Our robotic retailers do all these things without asking for wages (let alone overtime) - but they need skilled, motivated workers to keep them clean, filled and working.

Younger workers are good for businesses; they challenge us all to make our workplaces more meaningful and innovative. Companies that rise to the challenge will thrive; those that cling grimly to conventional labor retention strategies will stagnate. The sooner that managers master the millennial-friendly workplace, the better off we'll all be.

Although route service companies are different from digital industry titans, they can benefit equally from showing employees an attainable career path, encouraging them to work collaboratively to attain team goals, and recognizing their unique worth as individuals. In fact, this very well may prove to be a good idea for employees of all ages - and for managers, too. All of us are limited only by our imaginations.