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There Ain't No App For That

Posted On: 2/25/2013

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TAGS: TAGS: There's No App For That, bulk vending, coin machine, coin-op machine, coin-op industry, vending machine, bulk vendor, coin-op business, small business, vending, vending operating, Hank Schlesinger, Vending Times editorial

"There's no app for that" is possibly one of the most overused phrases in the age of mobile devices. We've all heard it so often that we've come to believe it. Even if we don't say it out loud, we think it. But this expression hit me profoundly recently when uttered by a friend. My friend isn't the type to make grand pronouncements or prone to deep introspection. His true loves are fantasy football, weekends and single-malt scotch. Somewhere on the list are his wife and kids. So when he said, "There ain't no app for that," with a bit of surprise followed by a kind of grim resignation, it resonated with me.

This widely used expression lifted from Apple's ad slogans "There's an app for that" and "There's an app for everything," among other variations, speaks volumes about the times in which we live. It's an age in which there is an expectation of prepackaged solutions to even our most complex problems. We have become accustomed to smart people diving into oceans of data to hand us the answers or at least a clever tool for extracting the solution.

For bulk vending operators who lack the support structure of a large organization, the idea of an "app for that" is particularly seductive. For many of these operators, technology has made them more efficient and streamlined. I'd go so far as to say that technology has kept more than one small operator afloat. (GPS guides their route personnel, small business software runs their offices, and portable devices keep them in touch with customers and suppliers.) Even some of their best-selling merchandise might be licensed from apps or downloadable games.

Unfortunately, there's no app -- or even a suite of them -- for the most important business functions, such as innovation or weighing risk against reward. These are highly individual, hard-earned and very human skill sets. Not coincidentally, they are also the skills that divide the successful and the "success challenged." The expectation that these kinds of skills can be distilled down and marketed in bits and bytes of data processed by clever algorithms is less than realistic.

Still, for young operators, these types of unrealistic expectations remain a very real danger in much the same way those previous generations stuck to the "tried and true" all the way to failure. It's worth noting that they are not dissimilar strategies. Both are heavily dependent on prepackaged knowledge. And in both cases there is the expectation of the easy solution, the quick fix and the effortless strategy.

Sadly, businesspeople, including bulk vending operators, have to function as their own app. Technology can deliver the data -- it does that extraordinarily well -- but analyzing and interpreting really is up to the individual operator. For an entire generation of operators coming into the business, this might not be an easy path to follow. Not only does it require a tolerance for uncertainty, but also such unfamiliar methodologies as conducting their own beta testing.

Younger operators will be challenged to develop new skill sets that might be entirely non-quantifiable, like developing instincts and the ability to make decisions based on "gut feelings." This is not unlike many of the changes older operators have had to make when adopting new technologies for their businesses.

At the end of the day, there is success for those operators who have mastered the skills. And to them I say, go out for a nice dinner. Take a moment to celebrate. Order the steak and pair it with the right wine. Because there is an app for that.