To succeed in vending in today’s challenging economic environment, operators need to be at the top of their game. This means investing in state-of-the-art equipment, new technology, and the products consumers demand.
Sandusky, Ohio, a medium size city about an hour west of Cleveland, is a community in transition. Once a prosperous automotive economy-based community, this area, known as “Firelands,” has its fair share of abandoned buildings, but revitalization is evident as well. New construction is a more common sight, and the roads are busy.
Firelands Vending, housed in a 29,000 square-foot warehouse/office building in an industrial district in Sandusky, encapsulates much of this transition. The 15-route vending and foodservice operation grabbed a leading market position years ago, based on good customer service.
When the automotive economy took a hit, the company employed several new technologies to improve efficiencies and offer new customer conveniences.
As a result, Firelands Vending, founded by owner Steve Hall, Sr. in 1993, has enjoyed high single-digit revenue growth every year for the past six years. This in a geographic region that has shed nearly a third of its vending operators.
Firelands Vending has experienced strong growth in a challenging market by winning accounts from competitors and maximizing its sales per location by offering new products and services.
A reputation based on customer service
The company’s story is typical of many medium size operations. Founded by an entrepreneur who started out as a machine technician, Firelands Vending built a reputation for reliable customer service based on strong personal interaction and high technical competence.
What has set Firelands Vending apart from the pack in recent years has been its willingness to use new technologies to improve its efficiencies and offer new products and concepts.
Hall was one of the first operators in the area to offer glassfront vending beverage machines in the early 1990s. The company used the glassfront machine’s expanded capacity to offer more product variety.
Since then, the company has invested in DEX handhelds to improve its product mix in all categories, and has offered cashless transaction capability in close to a third of its accounts.
A story of two generations
Firelands Vending has been able to meld the experience of the past with the promise of the future due to the strong father/son relationship of Steve Hall Sr., 57, and Steve Hall, Jr., 27. Steve Sr., aided by industry veterans Tom Ries and Ron Baum, is well versed in the practices that created success in the past. Fortunately, all three have been open to the suggestions of Steve, Jr., who has immersed himself in new vending technology.
Steve Sr. worked in the maintenance department of a local vending company in the 1960s after attending vending technician training for one of the major machine manufacturers. He managed machine repairs at an auto plant.
In 1993, the company he worked for was acquired by another vending company. Then in his early 40s, Steve Sr. decided it was time to strike out on his own. The economy was growing, and he was able to land a 150-person metal plating account. In his first year, he had 20 accounts.
Steve Sr. worked out of his garage, and Steve Jr., then 13, helped his dad move machines and repair equipment. The small company provided snack, cold drink, hot drink and cold food machines.
It was two years before the Halls were able to move out of the house and rent a 4,000-square-foot warehouse. With three routes, they hired a full-time driver. This was a turning point for the company. Steve Sr. was able to devote more time to sales.