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.