Marketing and running a business is challenging. Colin Walsh learned this first hand while working at his father's vending company, Coin Café. Majoring in graphic design, Walsh had wanted to try new selling strategies, but was unable to implement them while handling the operations side of the business. It would take more than 20 years before he could bring his marketing expertise to the forefront.
He went to work for Hometown Suburban TriCity Vending when it bought Coin Café in 2008, and it's been a winning strategy for everyone. Since Walsh's appointment, the company has achieved double digit growth. Walsh admits he takes pride in customizing color presentations that wow the client and identifying specific programs for a location, but it takes the managers, like Ken Daly, Ken Martin, and Bob Daly, to make his promises a reality.
Hometown starts small
In 1986, two brothers decided to start a vending business, Suburban Vending, Oak Lawn, Ill. The arrangement was simple, Ken Daly ran the business due to his experience working for various local vending companies as a driver and service technician. He also kept his job as night auditor for a hotel chain. Bob Daly invested in the business, and, being a CPA, maintained the finances while keeping his job at Walgreens. They borrowed their father's van and ran the business out of the garage. They had one route.
Growth by acquisition
"It's hard to grow in this business without a dedicated marketing person," said part-owner, Ken Martin, "Until Colin, we grew mostly by acquisition."
In 1987, the brothers decided to buy another single route operation, called Hometown. They put the two operations together and Ken Daly began working full time at the company, now called Hometown Suburban Vending. "We kept both names," said Bob Daly, "to make the transition as smooth as possible."
In 1993, they hired a good friend, Ken Martin, who was employed as a vending repair technician for another company. "Kenny and I ran the routes," said Martin.
It soon became apparent that Martin was putting in just as much time as Daly, so the brothers offered him a share of the business, and he became a partner.
In 1996, Hometown Suburban acquired TriCity Vending to its company, and name. "We were looking to grow and Jack (the owner of TriCity) was ready to sell," explained Martin. TriCity was based in Peru, Ill., 90 miles west of Oak Lawn, giving the company another geographic area and room to grow between its two locations. Martin moved to Peru to manage that branch, while Ken Daly manages the Oak Lawn facility. Hometown/TriCity lost many accounts in Peru when news of the merger was announced, but due to Martin and Walsh, Hometown/TriCity is back up to 80 percent of that market. "Colin went in and showed them what we could do," said Martin, "That won a lot of them back."
Operations and marketing were too much
Walsh reinvigorated his vending career at Hometown/TriCity, but his selling strategies evolved much earlier. Walsh had ideas about how to market a vending business back when he went to work for his father's company, Coin Café, in 1983. He had just graduated college with a graphic design degree, so he created selling materials and graphics for the Website. He now does this for Hometown/TriCity. One of his projects was the company's Website. It is very informative and filled with professional graphics of location managers touting the quality service of Hometown/TriCity to special snack and food programs. The text links to information about the different services Hometown/TriCity offers. There's also link to a video on YouTube showcasing Hometown/TriCity's vending area treatments and flash animation.
From the time Walsh went to work for his father, he struggled to balanced marketing as well as handle day to day operations at Coin Café, which his father started in 1955. One thing Walsh did while at the company was get the attention of local media. As vice president of the Illinois Automatic Merchandising Council, he was instrumental in a 1997 public relations campaign the council continued until two years ago. The campaign earned TV interviews about vending.