The Future Is Present At 2019 NAMA Show

Posted On: 5/3/2019

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LAS VEGAS -- A large turnout and an expanded exhibit area characterized the 2019 NAMA Show, which provided a panoramic view of the vending, micromarket, office refreshment and related businesses offered by the convenience services industry. The event, NAMA's 72nd convention and trade show, took place from April 24 through 26 here at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

   Mike Walsh
Technology's potential for enhancing customer service and interaction was a major focus of the educational program. Setting the stage for this perspective was keynote speaker Mike Walsh, chief executive of the Tomorrow consultancy (London, England).

Addressing the NAMA Show's general session on April 24, Walsh advanced the view that we have arrived at the dawn of what he calls "the Algorithmic Age." An algorithm is a set of instructions for performing a task, allowing (among many other things) very complex questions to be answered quickly and economically by machines designed to do it. An important consequence is that "artificial intelligence," put to work analyzing consumer purchase records, can predict buying behavior with ever-increasing speed and accuracy -- to the extent, he quipped, that the leading e-commerce companies soon will be able to ship merchandise before the customer gets around to ordering it.

Steady progress in this area is affecting consumer expectations, Walsh said, and this is going to continue. "We can stop talking about 'millennials,'" the speaker observed. "They're no longer the future -- they're the present. We should be worrying instead about today's eight-year-olds." They're comfortable with technology, especially mobile devices, and their expectations are being conditioned by the increasing personalization made possible by AI.

"Tomorrow's consumers will expect every experience to be personalized for them," he predicted. Amazon and the Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and TenCent know this, and are working diligently to meet that expectation, Walsh noted. The good news is that vending operators are the retailers who are closest to their customers, and well-positioned to obtain and act on the required data.

Algorithms also have proven essential for automation. "You can automate all sorts of things that people are doing now," Walsh observed. "But what do you do with the people? You shift them from doing the work to designing the work that needs doing. In 10 years, your best employees will have jobs that don't exist today."

The goal, he suggested, is to apply knowledge and skill to reducing work. "Use data to transform the things we do, and the way we do them. When you automate, make desirable changes to what's being done. A 'job' isn't static – it evolves."

The object, he summed up, is to "upgrade your thinking: automate the 'linear' tasks. You now need imaginative thinking.

"Focus on human experience," the speaker urged. "Understanding that is what you, as a human, can do."

The 2019 NAMA membership meeting was held during the show's opening general session. A highlight was the association's presentation of its annual awards. Doing the honors at the ceremony were current NAMA board chair Jeff Smith, All Star Services (Port Huron, MI), and president and chief executive Carla Balakgie.

 Recognized as Operator of the Year is Peter Fetherston, chief executive of Canteen (Charlotte, NC). Fetherston was unable to attend the session, but sent an amusing video depicting himself as a harried vending operator.

Allied Member of the Year honors went to Larry Atnip, vice-president of Atnip Co. (Fullerton, CA) and president of Premier Broker Partners.

Chosen as Industry Person of the Year is Heidi Chico, president of U-Select-It (Des Moines, IA) and NAMA's immediate past-chair. | READ MORE »

IN THE LIMELIGHT: NAMA honored long service and noteworthy achievements with its annual awards, presented during the association's annual membership meeting at the 2019 NAMA Show in Las Vegas. At left, association president and chief executive Carla Balakgie (left) and current board chair Jeff Smith, All Star Services (Port Huron, MI) present Industry Person of the Year Award to past-chair Heidi Chico, U-Select-It (Des Moines, IA). At right, Allied Member of the Year Larry Atnip (center) accepts award and congratulations. Operator of the Year Peter Fetherston was unable to attend the meeting, but sent a cordial appreciative video.

The 2019 NAMA Show was preceded by three pre-conference educational opportunities, available on Tuesday, April 23 by separate registration. These offered in-depth exploration of three much-discussed current topics.

Franki Chamaki of Hivery (Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia) described the application of artificial intelligence in vending operations analysis to optimizing the mix of product, space and price for each machine in the field. It identifies and factors a small number of data variables to make recommendations that maximize profit.

Vic Pemberton, chief executive of The Pepi Cos. (Dothan, AL) led a seminar on "the formula for a great place to work." Pemberton, who has three decades' experience in vending, is a certified executive coach. In this session, he detailed the steps involved in interviewing, hiring, "on-boarding" and retaining personnel in the context of creating a corporate culture that encourages productivity by maintaining a positive work environment.

Tom Steuber, president of Associated Services (San Leandro, CA) facilitated a discussion of the opportunity presented by pantry services and the operational considerations in providing them. Participating in the conversation were Jon Holden, All Star Services (Port Huron, MI); Judson Kleinman, Corporate Essentials (Parsippany, NJ); and Greg Sidwell, G&J Marketing and Sales (Palm Harbor, FL).

The NAMA Show's formal business-session curriculum got under way the next day. It led off with five concurrent sessions: Leveraging Technology to Increase ROI, moderated by Hannah Davies of Greenhithe Software Solutions (Albany, North Shore, New Zealand); Beverage Consumption Trends Impacting Convenience Services, presented by Meghan Liefeld of Danone North America (Denver, CO); The Changing Workforce: Getting the Most out of Your Employees, facilitated by Chris Stave, Parlevel Systems (San Antonio, TX); Succession Strategies to Protect and Perpetuate Your Business, presented by Larry Oxenham, American Society for Asset Protection; and Fruit at Work,  conducted by Chris Mittelstaedt, The Fruitguys.

These were followed by a second round of five concurrent seminars. Evan Jarecki of Gimme Vending explored tools that operators can use to build efficient teams. The importance of including tea in office refreshment services was emphasized by an expert panel that included Allison Slater, The Tea Co. at Unilever Food Solutions (Englewood Cliffs, NJ); Abbe Kuhn, Unilever; Linda Appel Lipsius, Teatulia (Denver, CO); and Vanessa Dew, Health-Ade Kombucha (Torrance, CA).

At the same time, Alan Munson of Parlevel Systems joined Chris Cosentino, Take-a-Break Vending (Bakersfield, CA) and Dennis Laing, NWA Fresh Vending Micro Markets (Rogers, AR) to explore the concepts and processes that lead to success with micromarket operations.

How to Recruit and Retain the Next Generation was examined by a panel moderated by Elyssa Steiner, USA Technologies (Malvern, PA); Mike Hoeft, Bunn (Springfield, IL); Jim Versical, 365 Retail Markets (Troy, MI); Lee Mondol, Canteen of Coastal California (Oxnard and Bakersfield); and Kari Hatt, Culture by Choice (Lake Geneva, WI).

Completing the second round of business sessions on Wednesday morning was an overview of on-the-go nutrition and how to "sell healthy" in today's fast-changing market. The presenters were Bryan Crowley of Soylent (Los Angeles, CA); and Jean Terminiello, Glanbia Performance Nutrition (Downers Grove, IL).

Topping off an event-filled morning was the last series of five concurrent seminars. Streamlining Office Logistics with Technology was pondered at a panel discussion moderated by Anant Agrawal, USA Technologies and featuring Duncan Smith, All Star Services; Jared Detwiler, One Source Office Refreshments (Pottstown, PA) and Bradlee Whitson, K&R Vending (Bridge¬ton, NJ).

A concurrent session, titled Going Green: What the Transition to Green Refrigerants Means to Your Business, was led by Doug Drenten of Crane Merchandising Systems (Williston, SC).
Digital Advertising for Business Growth was the topic for Matt Harlos, Gimme Vending (Atlanta, GA) and Neil Swindale, VendCentral (Pleasanton, CA).

Crane Merchandising Systems' Ben White offered an overview of Sketching a Vision for the Future. This involves setting attainable goals and designing measurements to gauge progress toward them.

Kellogg's John Hostetler and David Grotto brought the audience up to speed on growing their businesses through occasion-based eating and on-trend nutrition.

Activities on Thursday, April 25 led off with the annual state council officers breakfast, with updates on government relations issues at the state and local level around the country. It was emceed by Eric Dell, NAMA's senior vice-president for external affairs.

The 2019 NAMA Show curriculum resumed on Thursday morning, with a choice of a Small Operator Round Table and a panel discussion of technician training for the 21st Century. The latter addressed the need to train personnel in the installation, adjustment, cleaning, maintenance and repair of today's sophisticated coffee brewing equipment. It was moderated by Karalynn McDermott of Bunn and featured Drew Dutton, Royal Cup (Birmingham, AL); Brian Cook, Associated Services (San Leandro, CA); Frank Baron, Cafection Ventures Inc. (Québec, QC, Canada); Maurits  de Jong, De Jong Duke (Sliedrecht, The Netherlands and Taylor, MI); and Tim Spencer, Bunn.

The last two concurrent business sessions were a panel discussion of What's Trending in Convenience Services, moderated by Michigan State University's Dr. Michael Kasavana, NAMA Endowed Professor Emeritus. Panelists were Maeve Duska, USA Technologies; Paresh Patel, PayRange (Portland, OR); and Carly Furman, Nayax (Baltimore, MD).

At the same time, Sylvia Rowe of SR Strategy LLC (Washington, DC), past-president of the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and IFIC Foundation, facilitated a discussion of "On the Horizon: Nutrition and Wellness Trends," which dealt with topics ranging from "better for you" product positioning to consumers' food label literacy.

The pre-conference and morning business programs were further supplemented by three Thursday presentations at the NAMA Learning Lab in the exhibit area. The first was the presentation of a study conducted by Michigan State University in partnership with USA Technologies which offered a detailed look at the spread of cashless payment options for vending machines in today's economy, including a first-ever look at the effect of a cashless payment option on equipment in low-traffic locations. It was presented by USAT vice-president of cashless development Jim Turner and MSU's Dr. Michael McCall, the NAMA Endowed Professor of Hospitality Business at the university's Eli Broad School of Business.

The second was delivered by Joe Davis, group director, customer and commercial insights for Coca-Cola North America. The presentation offered a look at forces and trends at work in today's marketplace, and perspectives on "navigating change" in the present economy.

The third, a discussion of leveraging artificial intelligence to make better business decisions, was conducted by data scientist Matthew Robards, a cofounder of Hivery, and that company's U.S. business development director Sharyn Kolstad. This session doubled as a follow-up for convention-goers who had attended the AI session in the pre-conference program.

As always, the NAMA Show provided a wealth of opportunities for networking and the exchange of ideas. Highlights included receptions by NAMA's Emerging Leaders Network and Women in the Industry, the festive NAMA Jam on Wednesday evening and an international networking event.

Next year's NAMA Show is set for Music City Center in Nashville, TN, from May 6 through 8.