“It really puts us at the location when we service the machine more at a time when we need to be there,” he said. This has allowed him to eliminate two routes.
ON THE HORIZON: REMOTE MACHINE MONITORING
Matthews isn’t finished exploring more efficient ways to operate. He is presently testing InOne’s remote machine monitoring software. “When we get done integrating that, we’re going to have a huge leap forward as far as efficiency goes,” he said.
Matthews echoed other operators in noting the personal fulfillment he feels running a family business and having a love of the industry. “I’m having the time of my life,” he said.
Dave Heaton, co-owner of Enterprise Vending in Cincinnati, Ohio, said having a cash business is a great advantage. He also thinks it’s advantageous being able to focus his resources as he sees fit, such as adding more sales people when necessary to grow the business.
Heaton would not discourage his kids from getting into the business if they so choose.
Dominic Finelli, co-owner of Custom Vending Inc. in Silver Spring, Md., likes the excitement the industry offers. “Every day is something new,” said the 62-year-old veteran. “It’s never a set pattern. I’ve enjoyed myself.”
Finelli thinks that over the years, the industry has become more professional, and he thinks that there is room for new players who are committed to excellence.
Many operators noted that those who invest in long-term growth will succeed.
However, one of the most somber assessments came from one of the most progressive operators in the country, Marc Whitener, owner of Refreshment Services LLC, a 41-route operation in Norco, La.
The fact that one of the nation’s most progressive operators does not present the future in glowing terms underscores the seriousness of the challenges facing the operator community.
Whitener has been a leader in investing in vending technology and is a driving force behind the Sprout initiative, a partnership between Cantaloupe Systems and the Vend Marketing Institute (a nationwide coalition of 17 operators serving different geographic markets) to embed technology, improve operational efficiency and develop interactive consumer programs for vending locations.
While Whitener is an industry pioneer, he was one of the few operators interviewed who said he would not choose vending if he had the option of reliving the last 20 years. “Our performance over the last 20 years hasn’t been very robust,” Whitener said, comparing vending to some other industries, including some that vending operators compete against (fast feeders and c-stores).
Whitener believes the industry can change its direction, which is why he continues to take a leadership role in Sprout. “If we continue to focus on cost and splitting up business among ourselves, it’s not good.”
Richard Harvey, president of A & R Services in Monument, Colo., another operator who has taken an aggressive role with vending technology, offers a similar assessment. “I’m not extremely optimistic about the industry as a whole if it doesn’t change,” said Harvey, who is president of his state vending association.
NEW DIRECTION CALLED FOR
Harvey points to the changing role that c-stores and other competitors have taken in recent years and believes that vending also has to change in order to remain a viable industry. “We need to start getting into something else beyond soda and snacks,” he said. “We need to get to the point where we’re selling things that are more expensive.”
While some operators lament the pressures on profitability, others worry that there isn’t enough pressure to weed out those who cut corners to offer low prices and high commissions, which make it harder for good operators to succeed. Harvey is among those who wish it were harder to get into vending.
Many operators noted that the industry has some unique advantages. One of the most common being that it’s a cash business. There are no receivables in vending.
While sales fall for businesses in general during a recession, the problem is compounded for those that have receivables. Receivables force many into bankruptcy.