Thursday, January 18, 2018 | Today's Vending Industry News
UPFRONT: "We have to sell what consumers want to buy. The consumer is king." --James Terry

Posted On: 6/10/2007

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Looking back at the recent National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) Spring Expo in Las Vegas and the Atlantic Coast Exhibition (ACE) in Myrtle Beach, SC, I'm encouraged by the number of new exhibitors and the surge of positive energy I felt at both trade shows. I hope the energy is contagious, and will adjust the attitudes of the prophets of doom who always pipe up during periods of rapid change.

There's been a lot of hype about a book called The Secret, in which the author asserts that positive thoughts produce a positive outcome. This is not a new idea, and to some extent I agree with it. However, in my humble opinion, it takes more than "thinking" something good to make it actually happen, although thinking isn't a bad place to start. But the reverse surely is true: Negative thoughts do produce negative outcomes.

My point is that thinking trade shows are a waste of money and not worth attending is contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Similarly, believing industry functions are valuable adds to their value. Most of the exhibitors (and many operators) I ran into in Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach said, "We heard this show was going to be slow, but it turned out to be a worthwhile trip." I wonder what provoked that "slow" prediction -- probably the belief that industry consolidation, increased lodging prices, travel hassles, etc., would impair traffic.

I've been attending trade shows all my life, and professionally since 1988. On the basis of that experience, I've concluded that "traffic" is overrated. There have been shows so crowded that you couldn't get through the aisles, but selling activity was practically nonexistent. There have been others at which, most times, you could have rolled a bowling ball across the show floor without hitting anybody, but the exhibitors got to speak with six or seven key buyers and wrote a lot of orders.

Well, the traffic at the spring shows was good, and so was the business. So spread the word! Shout it out loud! The vending and OCS industry is alive and well!

There are boatloads of innovative products out there. So, my operator friends, who will jump in the water first? With risk often comes reward. Not always, of course -- that's what makes it risky. But if you don't try something, you'll never know whether it works.

And what's the worst-case scenario? You end up in the same place? Not so. You end up having learned something, and probably with a few new ideas and insights. Learning what doesn't work can be valuable, too -- just as long as your plan includes a provision for a graceful exit.

I saw a lot of exciting things at the NAMA Spring Expo and ACE. Product-wise, there was a host of innovative cold drinks with "functional" properties, like the promise of added energy. This is your chance to market these items to the "energy generation" and get a fair price for them! To quote NAMA chairman James Terry, Coca-Cola North America, during the Spring Expo's opening session: "We have to sell what consumers want to buy. The consumer is king."

I ran into an operator at ACE who was absolutely gaga over a new yogurt smoothie by Whitney Foods called Yo on the Go (he offered me a sample, and I share his enthusiasm). He plans to vend it in a YMCA, and he came to Myrtle Beach to look for a small-footprint refrigerated vender that could handle the product -- which he had discovered in the new-exhibitor pavilion at the NAMA Expo. (Non-exhibitors: are you listening?) He told me that he already had an upscale countertop coffee machine in the location that was earning well, and so, he reasoned: Why not introduce a high-end healthy beverage with a long shelf-life to complement the gourmet coffee?

Speaking of coffee, if you haven't embraced single cup brewers, what are you waiting for? Starbucks has already done the work for us, so I hope you are riding on their coattails. Of course, there is still a place for traditional brewers, but what about new locations? How are you getting in the door? If you can get past the gatekeeper, the product sells itself. I know there can be valid reasons for not expanding into a new type of business, but that decision has to be made on a factual, real-world basis -- not on the unquestioned assumption that "people away from the coasts won't spend money on premium coffee."

Even if you didn't make it to Las Vegas or Myrtle Beach, the National Beverage and Products Association trade show in Atlantic City this February was a great place to learn about marketing coffee, and also to see some new ways of brewing and dispensing it.

Another comment I've been hearing (and am having difficulty understanding) is, "My locations tell me they want 'healthy' food, and then it doesn't sell." Have you actually tried it and failed? I remember that when I was in college, the best I could do from our campus vending machines was an apple or a container of yogurt. I would have welcomed a grilled chicken salad with some baked chips on the side, but I had to settle for Roy Rogers in the student union -- and thus gained the inevitable freshman 15 pounds (the beer had nothing to do with it). Healthy product doesn't have to mean tasteless or even low-calorie; it really just means fresh, wholesome ingredients. How are you marketing these products, and are you providing the right product mix for the location?

At the NAMA show, I sampled some great new panini sandwiches that rivaled the fare I've had in local Italian restaurant chains. The Yo on the Go smoothie was absolutely delicious, and those energy drinks helped me through my afternoon trade show slump. (I'm sorry if I didn't taste everyone's offerings, but you get my point.)

I haven't even tackled the topic of cutting-edge technology available to operators today. If you've been paying attention for the past decade or so, you know very well that the application of technology can dramatically increase sales from vending machines. Customers are more than willing to use cashless media -- cards, cellphones -- to purchase products. If you're reading about this for the first time, then you owe it to yourself to get out and talk to your fellow operators, suppliers and manufacturers -- and attend a trade show. If you're still singing the blues without having gone to any of the spring conventions to look for remedies, then shame on you.