Vending Operator of the Year John Diodata

John Diodata, president of Morning Start Services Inc. in Langhorne, Pa., has never lost sight of the fundamental mandates of successful vending: provide the best equipment, offer top quality products, give good value, and always stay engaged with the customer. That attitude has kept his company on solid ground through the recession.

Diodata, the 2010 Automatic Merchandiser Vending Operator of the Year, feels fortunate to have learned the basic tenets of success working for one of Philadelphia, Pa.'s largest independent operations, Blue Ribbon Services Inc., prior to that company's acquisition by Canteen Vending Services Inc. in 1995.

Diodata and his wife, Natalie, are the first couple to individually share People of the Year honors from Automatic Merchandiser. Natalie won the 2003 OCS Operator of the Year award.

Humble Beginnings

Before Blue Ribbon was acquired, Natalie launched an OCS business in the early 1980s to supplement her day job as a cosmetology teacher. That OCS business provided the foundation for the vending business when John left Blue Ribbon Services.

Through his contacts at Blue Ribbon, John Diodata came across an opportunity to service some city schools in 1995. From there, the Diodata's vending/OCS business expanded by word of mouth.

One of their sons, Adam, soon joined the company following military service.

The Diodatas were one of the first OCS operators in the 1990s to recognize the benefit of single-cup brewers, which proved a strong selling tool in greater Philadelphia. They placed about 50 Crane System 7 single-cup machines in 1995.

In 2004, John was approached by a school account that was unsatisfied with its manual feeding service to take over the manual feeding. His daughter, Amanda, had just graduated from school and was looking for a job. She came on as the foodservice manager for that account.

After learning manual feeding, John began looking for other manual food accounts, and eventually landed a hospital, some more schools and an industrial account. To maintain the best possible service, he hired a dietitian.

Once the manual feeding operation was up and running, John used the kitchen to make fresh food for his cold food machines. This became the foundation of a commissary.

John Diodata insists his vend food business has never been a loss leader.

Vending Provides Good Consumer Value

He recognized early in his career that vending offers consumers the best meal values they can get. Because of this, he believes the recession has actually benefitted vending. "People can't afford to go out for a sub and a soda," he noted.

He has always kept an eye out for innovative equipment. He is currently finding great success with bill recyclers and the Crane Merchant 6 machine, which has expanded capacity and allows him to showcase the blister pack gum, which is popular with consumers.

Ongoing focus On customers

One reason he was able to sustain his business during the recession is because he understands that it is counterproductive to only focus on success and profit, without emphasizing the foundation of that achievement: his customers.

Over the years, John has kept a long lasting relationship with his customers. He still personally visits all his customers. Not only to make sure things are going okay, but also to chat about their families and have a conversation with them on a personal level.

Two years ago, Joe Malkowski, a veteran from Braintree, Mass.-based All Seasons Services, joined Morning Start Services as operations manager.

With seven vending routes, Diodata realizes he needs to invest in a vending management software system. He has been studying different systems.

He believes that the economy is slowly improving, evidenced by the growth he has witnessed in the past two years.

"It's still a fun business," he said. Every day is different, he noted, and "you're constantly meeting people."

John Diodata has proven that the basics remain the cornerstone of success in automatic merchandising, and that vending continues to offer an important worksite convenience to consumers.

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