There is no question that finding an outstanding route driver like Paul Housman was a stroke of luck for Peninsula Vending Services, a small vending operation in Newport News, Va. But at the same time, Housman, the Automatic Merchandiser Route Driver of the Year, never would have joined the company had its owners not created a working environment that suited his needs.
Housman, an 18-year industry veteran, was impressed by partners Greg Whitehead and Jason Banwart. Their commitment to customer service was a subject that Housman himself has always been passionate about. He recognized that the young owners wanted to build and operate the company based on a reputation for quality, and he saw an opportunity to put his experience to good use.
Whitehead and Banwart believe that to have an effective team it is necessary to create a supportive work environment that allows employees a lot of freedom. For such an approach to work, it is necessary to hire people who enjoy the work and are also committed to the company's success.
So far, the youthful duo has been successful, as the operation has grown from one to four routes over the past six years, all from internal sales. Whitehead and Banwart are presently focusing on strengthening their team and the service it provides before taking on more business.
Partners demonstrate vending offers opportunity
Whitehead, 38, and Banwart, 32, prove that vending still offers opportunity to entrepreneurs willing to learn how to provide excellent customer service. Both men came to vending from other industries. They brought management skills learned in their previous positions and have absorbed the practical lessons from operational experience.
Many veteran vending operators believe the vending industry does not offer as much opportunity as it once did, given the current market saturation. But one's view about growth opportunity is largely based on his or her previous business experience.
In the late 1990s, Whitehead felt frustrated with his career as an investment advisor in the financial services field. He was spending more of his time generating new client leads than he was managing investment portfolios. But the real turning point was the ultimate realization that he didn't want a career sitting behind a desk all day.
Whitehead realized he needed to own his own business to feel fulfilled. He began looking for businesses for sale, and came across J & G Vending Services.
The company was launched in 1996 by two air force veterans who wanted to sell their business because of the declining health of one of the partners. In 2001, Whitehead investigated the company, secured a loan and purchased it. The operation consisted of customers, machines, a truck and existing product inventory.
The company name was changed to Peninsula Vending Services to better represent the company service area.
Learning from experience
As part of the purchase agreement, one of the former owners, Jim Beulow, stayed on for eight months. He taught Whitehead how to service the accounts and manage the business. The former owner spent a lot of time at each account, making sure the machines were clean. He checked the functionality of all coin mechs and validators with every visit.
The former owner went out of his way to talk to the account managers to make sure they were happy with everything. “It's a scrupulous process to do this,” Whitehead observed. “Just filling the machines is only a part of our obligation to the customer.”
The former owner also impressed upon Whitehead the importance of having the best equipment and the best quality and range of products available.
With Beulow as his mentor, Whitehead quickly recognized the need to work hard, never cut corners, and maintain strong relationships with customers. In his prior work experience, he had never realized how important a vending service could be to an employer.