How did a pair of newcomers manage to build the biggest vending operation in the nation’s second largest city in their first 10 years of business?
There is no simple answer. But the fact that brothers Matthew and Ryan Marsh are taking a pioneering role in solar energy demonstrates independent thinking, dedication to operational excellence and self confidence. These qualities partly explain how the Marshes, co-owners of First Class Vending Inc., Bell Gardens, Calif., became the dominant player in greater Los Angeles at a fairly young age. (Matthew is 40 while Ryan is 37).
The brothers’ ability to work well together undoubtedly plays a role in their success. Matthew, the president, oversees customer relations, sales and equipment purchasing while Ryan, the vice president, handles operations, route management and product purchases.
While both brothers caught the entrepreneurial bug at an early age, they never intended to work together until the opportunity presented itself early in the company’s growth.
Both Matthew and Ryan point to their father, Steve Marsh, a self made garment manufacturer, as their personal role model.
Matthew, who began the business in 1994 fresh out of San Diego State University by purchasing a 1-route operation, credits some advice he received early in his career from a business consultant. The consultant told him if a competitor is doing something, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.
Conversely, if a competitor isn’t doing something, that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do.
By 1996, Matthew had built the company to four routes and was aggressively studying the business. He came across a fairly young software company called Streamware. Streamware’s software included item level product tracking and category management, features that were then new to vending management software.
Streamware’s management software improved the company’s efficiency and encouraged Matthew to try to grow the company. “A good software system is mandatory,” Matthew said.
As a novice operator, he participated in Automatic Merchandiser’s vending manufacturers’ conference in Chicago in 1996. His role at the conference was to provide an operator’s perspective of Streamware’s category management software.
Acquisitions support growth
Acquisitions have played a big role in the company’s growth.
The company made its first major acquisition in 2003 when it bought one of the oldest and largest Los Angeles operations, R.J. Bradberry Co.
In 2008, First Class Vending acquired many of the routes formerly owned by MAB Services Inc. of Los Angeles.
The Marshes expanded into San Diego in 2008 by acquiring Take A Break Services Inc., followed by the acquisition of BREC Vending Inc.’s San Diego branch in that market in 2009.
This past year, the Marshes expanded into Las Vegas, Nevada. They rented a building and hired Kevin Grundy, a vending veteran, as manager.
Matthew noted First Class Vending gained some strong management talent from the acquisitions. Key managers are: Steve Foitle, executive vice president; Richard Cassel, executive vice president; Miguel Calderon, route operations manager and client relations manager; Keith Ahern, manager; and Charles Ringled, manager.
The company has three dedicated sales people and 14 route supervisors.
The Marshes believe they have been able to maximize their profitability by having only three operating facilities (Bell Gardens, San Diego and Las Vegas) and minimizing middle level management.
The solar energy installation is part of a larger sustainability initiative for First Class Vending that began in 2000 with cardboard recycling and has grown to include hybrid fuel vehicles, Energy Star certified vending machines, vending machine energy sensors, fully recyclable beverage bottles, and more.
In 2000, Matthew grew concerned about his company’s trash bill. He needed to have the trash collector make extra trips to the company’s building. He found a company that was willing to pay him for cardboard by the truck load.