Mike Lawlor knows more than most people about vending technology. As the former senior vice president of sales for the largest provider of cashless vending, remote machine monitoring and energy management technology, he had a "bird's-eye" view of the evolution of these innovations.
A vending technology pioneer
Lawlor, who began his vending career at Pepsi Bottling Group in Dallas, Texas, played a developmental role in what are now some of the fastest growing technology products in the industry: the e-Port® and the VendingMiser®. Helping bring these technologies to market was exciting for the energetic Lawlor, to say the least. But as invigorating as it was, he was no less anxious to put these benefits to use in his own vending business.
In his role as a corporate marketer, he realized the opportunity was going unmet in the field, big time.
In June 2003, Lawlor left his position as senior vice president of sales at USA Technologies Inc. to go into the vending business for himself. His company, Apex Vending Services in Paoli, Pa., is now one of the fastest growing independents in Greater Philadelphia. Thanks in no small measure to vending technology, like e-Port?, the VendingMiser?, and his own personal commitment to customer service.
A need in mid-tier accounts
Some might wonder why someone would quit a company that was setting sales records year after year. In his role at USA Technologies, Lawlor noticed that it was mostly the larger locations taking advantage of new vending technology. He saw an opportunity to apply these benefits to "mid-tier" accounts.
Apex Vending Service's point of difference -- technology -- has proven an effective selling tool. In less than one year of operations, the company has placed about 65 machines in 25 locations. Lawlor is well on his way to reaching his three-year goal of $1 million in revenue and his five-year goal of $2 million.
Originally focused on a corporate career
Lawlor never intended to go into business for himself when he was studying marketing at the University of Texas in Arlington. "I was very much corporate oriented," he said.
After working for the university's foodservice operation while in school, he joined Pepsi Bottling Group (PBG) in Dallas upon graduating.
It was in his years at PBG that Lawlor became familiar with the vending industry and emerging vending technologies.
In the 1980s, he witnessed the growth in bill validators. In the early 1990s, remote machine monitoring systems were being introduced, and larger vending organizations such as PBG were the first to test them in the field.
One of Lawlor's fellow Pepsi executives, Steve Herbert, moved to USA Technologies shortly after that company was formed in 1994. At the time, most of the technology was still in its infancy.
In 1996, Herbert asked Lawlor to join him as director of sales for USA Technologies' Western division. "I always had a lot of interest in technology," Lawlor said.
At the time, remote machine monitoring was much more expensive than it is today. In addition, vending machine manufacturers had not fully developed uniform data transfer standards, known as DEX, to support the transfer of data from machines to data collection software.
Nonetheless, Lawlor and other industry observers knew that the vending industry was destined for change.
When he first joined USA Technologies, the company was mainly focusing on the hospitality industry on a self-serve business center known as BusinessExpress®. Lawlor sold business centers that allowed hotels to provide business services to their guests, 24/7, with the swipe of their credit or debit card.
The e-Port® debuts
Lawlor was among the team that developed the e-Port? cashless transaction solution for vending, which the company first demonstrated at the NAMA National convention in 1998. The e-Port? enabled the vending machine to remotely report sales data and enabled vending purchases with a credit and debit card.