Kathy and Al Smosny always knew their son, Adam, would make them proud. As a teenager, Adam started a landscape maintenance business while attending school and working part time at McDonald’s. But they never expected that by the time he was in his early thirties, they’d be working for him.
In 13 years, Adam Smosny built Imperial Vending Co. in Cleveland, Ohio from two machines to four and a half routes, offering vending, coffee service and janitorial and sanitation supplies. The company employs all four members of the immediate family, a sister-in-law and two full-time route drivers.
Smosny’s enthusiasm is obvious to everyone he meets. He tries to emulate his role model, Jack Welch, one of many business authors whose books line a bookcase in his office.
It’s easy for people in Cleveland to feel depressed, given the area’s high unemployment. But spend a few minutes with Smosny, and his upbeat attitude gives you a whole new take on what’s happening in the local economy.
“Cleveland’s a good city,” Smosny proudly affirms from his office in the company’s immaculate warehouse in an industrial park in Middleburg Heights, a Cleveland suburb. “People don’t grasp how much manufacturing there still is in the city.” The marker board in his office lists the sectors of the economy that are growing: manufacturing, aerospace, health care, printing, polymers, non-profits and services. He’s done his homework on the local economy as he pores over the company’s marketing plan with his sister-in-law, Kelli.
Smosny proves that an ambitious individual can still make it in vending. Given that he has at least 30 more years ahead of him, there’s no telling how successful he will eventually be.
Smosny was exposed to vending as a child when his dad worked as a route driver for a large independent vending operation. The owner of that company became friends with many of his employees, and the younger Smosny had the opportunity to spend time with his father’s boss. This experience motivated Smosny to want to own his own business some day. He had no idea it would be in the same business.
Smosny didn’t think much about vending for a while. One day, while still in high school, he saw some empty vending machines in a bicycle shop.
He asked the shop owner what the machines were doing in the store, and she told him she wanted to sell them to someone.
Smosny was already running a small lawn maintenance business, but he wanted to do something else since he suffered from plant allergies. He told his parents about the vending machines for sale, and they offered to help him buy the machines.
Smosny and his brother, Al Jr., rented a pickup truck and bought the two machines. They knew very little about the business as they went knocking on doors in search of a location for the machines. Their first nibble came from a machine shop with around 30 employees.
There was one caveat. In addition to the snack and soda machines, the machine shop wanted a hot drink machine. Not knowing where to find one, they went to the phone book and saw a listing for D&S Vending Inc., the Cleveland-based aftermarket company. This was the start of a key business relationship.
Don Greene, owner of D&S Vending, sold the Smosnys a used hot drink machine and told them they could get water soluble coffee for the machine at VSA (forerunner of Vistar). The brothers were delighted.
In retrospect, Smosny would not provide a hot drink machine in a location with 30 employees. “I had no idea,” he said. “It was a shot in the dark.”
Nonetheless, after a few weeks, they saw they would recover their investment in the equipment and product in a few months. They were encouraged.