The economy may be in recession, but don’t tell anyone at James Vending Inc. The tight-knit team is too busy chasing new business and delivering the high quality service that state-of-the-art equipment can provide to pay attention to bad news.
Spend a day with the youthful team in Lemont Furnace, Pa. outside of Pittsburgh, and you’ll get a new perspective on what’s happening in today’s challenging economy. That’s because the highly motivated staff has learned that the best products and equipment available have given automatic merchandising a great future.
James Vending, founded in 1973, has experienced exceptional growth since opening its 33,000-square-foot facility two years ago. Under the direction of company founder Jesse J. Risha, the $3 million building was designed to enable operations to function seamlessly. The youthful staff go about their functions, loading 26-foot trucks that pull up to five loading docks, organizing inventory in the massive warehouse, and attending to sales and customer relations.
The custom built facility has enabled Risha’s crew to introduce hundreds of new machines that feature LCD display screens, bill recyclers, and expanded product capacity. These innovations, supported by a highly motivated staff, have resulted in a higher level of service to the area’s businesses.
For Risha, the business has been a constant learning experience that has resulted in a team of managers that share his enthusiasm.
Risha’s journey began in 1971, when he bought a pool hall with borrowed money in his native Uniontown, Pa. while attending college. He expanded into amusement and cigarette machine vending, launching the vending business under his middle name, James, in 1973.
Risha operated the business part-time while he held other jobs before devoting all of his time to the business in 1975.
In the early 1980s, glassfront vending machines were introduced, and Risha recognized the consumer appeal of these merchandisers. It was then that he decided to focus on full-line vending, which he saw as more profitable than amusement machines.
By 1999, he had six full-line routes and made a critical decision to invest in frozen food machines and a dedicated frozen food route. The refrigerated food business was unprofitable, and Risha did not have the volume to provide fresh food competitively.
The dedicated food truck with a built-in freezer proved economical. Food manufacturers were offering better quality precooked products with more variety, and Risha was able to win accounts offering frozen food machines.
Risha acknowledges that not having fresh food puts the company at a disadvantage at some accounts, but he has been able to counter that frozen machines on average carry more food; many refrigerated machines carry a lot of beverages.
“Frozen really is the way to go,” said Risha.
COMPANY CORNERSTONE: MODERN EQUIPMENT
Risha also recognized the importance of using state-of-the-art equipment. An early convert to glassfronts, he has followed the development of glassfront machines in all product categories. The BevMax3 from Crane Merchandising Systems (CMS) has helped the company take advantage of changing cold drink tastes. “They (customers) don’t mind putting a bit more money in a nicer machine,” he said.
Justin Packrone, route supervisor, said the “double gate” on the BevMax3 makes it easy to load different types of packages without using a spacer.
The BevMax3 is easier to load than earlier glassfront beverage machines, Risha said, and has greater capacity. The company owns half of the beverage machines it operates, which allows them the freedom to merchandise the best selling products.
When 20-ounce bottles became available in the mid 1990s, Risha recognized the opportunity to maximize sales and was one of the first operators in the area to almost eliminate canned soda. The 20-ounce bottles have allowed the company to meet the growing demand for non-carbonated drinks in recent years.