Distributor of the Year: Nancy Woodham, Vistar Vend Source Inc., Phoenix, Ariz.

It’s the era of technology and Nancy Woodham isn’t afraid to embrace it. As the Automatic Merchandiser Distributor of the Year, Nancy Woodham, Vistar Vend Source, Pheonix, Ariz., embodies the progressive thinker who doesn’t sacrifice the personal service and positive outlook that makes vending a people business.

Initially, for Woodham, becoming a distributor representative was just something to do while her husband worked in California in the 1990s. One of her husband’s associates, Bob Mattias, a partner at Pacific Brokerage, Yorba Linda, Calif., asked if Woodham wanted some work selling products to OCS and vending operators.

“It was a part-time job to keep me out of trouble,” remembered Woodham. She handled mostly small lines, such as Hansen soda, which wasn’t big then since no one cared about natural soda. Her biggest seller was Cheez-It®s, then owned by Sunshine Biscuits and now owned by Kellogg Co.

Woodham enjoyed the experience and continued to represent Pacific Brokerage when her husband was relocated to Arizonia. About that time, Pacific Brokerage picked up General Mills. “That sort of launched Pacific Brokerage,” said Woodham.

MORE NAME-BRAND PRODUCTS ENTER THE VEND CHANNEL

The move from nonbranded products to branded products is one of the biggest changes Woodham recalls over her 12-year tenure in vending. Food companies have consolidated and the big ones focus on the vending channel, so well known products are available to vending customers. “The major players, like General Mills, Masterfoods, Hershey’s, Kraft, Kellogg’s, etc. are the mainstays of the products we sell,” said Woodham.

National name brand products bring value to the consumer, who knows these products and has seen them on the shelves at retail. This makes consumers more confident in purchasing them.

After eight years, Vend Source Inc. based in Phoenix, Ariz. (which has since been acquired by Vistar Corp.), approached Woodham and offered her a full-time job with benefits. She accepted. “It ended up being a great move for me,” said Woodham, “and that was four years ago.”

VISTAR CORP. OFFERS A CAREER PATH

It wouldn’t be too long before Woodham would reach a very difficult personal challenge. Her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Because Vistar Corp. is a major corporation, it offered quality benefits, such as family medical leave and medical insurance.

“They’ve been very supportive, just like a family,” said Woodham, whose husband passed away in the last six months. “This industry has been very good to me.”

TECHNOLOGY BRINGS NEW OPPORTUNITIES

While recognizing the challenging environment for vending, Woodham continues with a positive outlook. According to her, opportunities do exist for vending operators. One of the biggest is the availability of state-of-the-art vending management software. Woodham believes these technologies, by increasing operating efficiencies, will improve the industry.

Woodham also feels it’s a good thing that the “R-factor” is more openly discussed, and with the advent of data collection technology, customers are getting what they always thought they were getting. “I’ve seen commission rates offered to consumers drop significantly,” said Woodham, who attributes this to the increase in telemetry equipment.

One piece of new equipment Vistar is highlighting is the Merchant Six, from Crane Merchandising Systems. Debuted at the NAMA National Expo, the Merchant Six offers 54 percent more spirals (based on configuration) and remote price changes for products via Streamware Connect. “It’s a huge time savings,” noted Woodham.

The idea is that consumers choose a product from a vending machine based on what they are hungry for, instead of price. “The vending machine is an impulse buy,” said Woodham, “not a place people shop for sales.” The preliminary tests show sales have been steady or increasing in the locations with the new machine.

Woodham believes stocking “better for you” products will continue to be critical. Healthy products aren’t just lip service, people are asking for them. Woodham has made sales calls just for this type of product. “Sales (of “better for you”) products have increased, but are they best sellers? No,” said Woodham. “It’s something operators need to embrace and communicate.”

ECONOMY CHALLENGES DISTRIBUTORS, TOO

While vending operators are struggling to stay in the black, distributors are having their own share of challenges. Woodham explains how club stores have become their major competitors as vending operators shop more on price.

However, Woodham has an ace up her sleeve. She has personalized service and detailed reports club stores can’t offer. “We provide wonderful sales data as to how products move, through our system,” said Woodham. She has access to the data by region and even nationally. Detailed reports are available of how a new product is doing in other markets, and she can set up sampling at a vending location. “Sampling new items and foods get their (operators’) clients excited about products,” said Woodham. She helps her clients reach their rebate dollars and assess changes in their business.

Besides quarterly reports, Woodham has run weekly reports for operators who want to re-evaluate a weak product or change their planogram. She’s also used the reports to help operators see how their business was affected when they raised prices. “There’s quite a bit of value we add to the service we provide,” said Woodham.

INDUSTRY OUTLOOK: OPTIMISTIC

For the industry as a whole, Woodham knows it’s the progressive people who will be around in the future. The ones who use the technology to their advantage and figure out ways to tell the vending customer the benefits of vending. “Unfortunately, right now there’s no good way to communicate the convenience, cost savings and value of the vending machine — and that there are healthy items available,” said Woodham.

Figuring out how to efficiently run a business with technology and effectively communicate vending’s value to consumers who are more aware of retail prices versus convenience prices is the biggest job ahead of vending operators. Woodham is proud to assist operators striving to do just that.

Profile: Vistar Vend Source
Headquarters Location: Phoenix, Ariz.
Number of Employees: 50
Exclusive Product lines: Blue Bunny Ice Cream, Jack Links Meat Snacks, Entenmann’s Pastry, Jose Ole Mexican Foods, Eagle Snacks, Dale and Thomas Gourmet Popcorn
Annual Sales: Not revealed

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