What Makes The Difference?

Posted On: 3/27/2017

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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, F2FEC, Differentiate F2FEC 2017 conference, Face 2 Face, Rick Iceberg, Ben Jones, George Smith

Alicia Lavay, vending, Vending Times

Who has been your greatest inspiration and why? What one thing in life would you like to have a "do-over" for? These were two of the thought-provoking questions that were posed to the "best in class" industry members during the "Differentiate" F2FEC conference, in a game called "vulnerability." The conference was held from Feb. 21 through 24 at the Chateau Elan Winery & Resort in Braselton, GA.

What does vulnerability have to do with business? I'm glad you asked. Our industry always has been blessed with many operators eager to share their successful and unsuccessful initiatives. Most of these operators have been leaders in their respective market areas. The strong can share freely; the weak strive for secrecy and concealment.

F2FEC is a "Face 2 Face" educational event for operators, manufacturers and suppliers in the family entertainment center business. This year's was the third in the popular series, which is the brainchild of Rick Iceberg, CJ Barrymore's; Ben Jones, Live Oak Bank; and George Smith, Family Entertainment Group. The trio collaborates as "The Three Amigos." The Amigos set out to bring together the best and the brightest industry professionals in order to stimulate their curiosity, pool their knowledge and share their passion. They've succeeded.

The organizers practice what they preach, sharing information about their top-earning games and other performance metrics in their facilities. They added that other operators have disclosed similar information, which has helped them to make better business decisions.

One of the many benefits of being "in the room" is receiving information that is shared freely, but exclusively with other F2FEC registrants. That includes pre- and post-conference data such as registration lists and the Top Games roster.

While the conference addressed a variety of entertainment concepts ranging from immersive experiences such as virtual reality and "escape rooms" to changing patrons' emotional states, the "differentiate" theme pervaded all the presentations, and the participants were asked to focus on what the term means to them. How do you break new ground, transcend conventional wisdom and remain relevant? And how can differentiation be made sustainable?

For me, differentiation has always been about authenticity, transparency and (surprise!) vulnerability. Those of you who know me or follow this column know that I enjoy sharing experiences and information with readers. I have been accused by my colleagues of sharing too much information at times (but some people enjoy it).

Authenticity is not only a guiding principle for me, but also a fundamental value for Vending Times. What differentiates Vending Times is credibility, integrity and relevance. Truth is essential for professional journalism, and since people pay attention to what we report, credibility and integrity are critical guiding principles of our team culture. The only way to display values is to act in accordance with them. A value is only authentic if people truly strive to guide their conduct by it. If we want our businesses to be viable, it's essential to listen to one another and look out for everyone's best interests: our customers, our employees -- and our competitors. Short-term success not grounded in sound core values doesn't last. There are only so many ways to run a particular kind of business, and anyone in that business will understand what others in it are trying to do. No one benefits from concealment. As a leader, there are times when you need to share yourself, show them who you are. If you tell the truth and do things the right way, others will want to follow you, not because you drag them along, but because they see the value in aligning with you.

The F2FEC experience resonates with me because it encourages industry leaders with proven track records to share openly. Prerequisites for attending are intellectual honesty, ability to be both teacher and learner, and checking one's ego at the door. It takes courage to be vulnerable. Sharing information with others, with the goal of elevating the business for all its members, takes a special kind of strength. The most committed people end up being the most consequential. I think that those who participate in the F2FEC conference are making a difference by living their truth. Kudos to the Three Amigos and the presenters for sharing their stories and words of encouragement. If you are not true to yourself and don't march to your own drum, the people who can recognize your qualities won't be able to find you.

What does "differentiate" mean to you and your company? How does the experience you offer stand out from what's offered by your competitors? Those who can answer this are the ones who will endure.

If this resonates with you, I encourage your attendance at the 2018 conference. It's still in the planning stage; information will be posted at the Three Amigos' website -- f2conference.com -- as it takes shape.