Manufacturer Rep of the Year: Heidi Chico

This manufacturer representative’s passion for the industry kept her learning, and moving up, the positions in the Wittern Group to become president/vice chairman. And throughout her career, she’s kept watch on the trends in the industry, and what manufacturers can do to meet the industry’s needs. This positive attitude has earned Heidi Chico this year’s Automatic Merchandiser Manufacturer of the Year award.

“The industry is moving towards a more interactive consumer,” said Chico. According to her, this doesn’t just mean touchscreens, although that’s part of it. Chico sees growth in creating “unique consumer experiences” whether with new machines or plug-and-play retrofits. One example is Wittern’s automatic door opener. It includes a sensor in the machine that raises the product up to the consumer instead of the consumer having to reach down into a dark hole. “I believe we’ve been pretty adaptive and innovative over the years to meet (the industry’s) needs,” said Chico.

Third generation in vending

Vending has been a family passion. Her grandfather, F.A. Wittern, Sr., started the company back in 1931. The company recently celebrated its 80th anniversary.

After graduating Iowa State University in 1988, with a communications major, Chico went to work at Wittern. She didn’t get a corner office; she worked on the assembly line, making snack machine doors.

“One of the things my father always told me was ‘it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s about the team. You have to learn all the jobs,’’’ remembered Chico.

After learning the manufacturing side, Chico moved up through the sales division. Eventually, she was sent to manage the refurbishing and parts distribution center, located in a different part of Iowa. In 2000, Chico came back to the headquarters to run the entire operation as vice chairman.

“I’m pretty passionate about (the industry),” said Chico. “I believe there’s a lot of growth opportunity in foodservice, but also in nontraditional applications.”

Chico sees expanding usage of touchscreens, ecommerce software and bundling applications that can save the operator money, like certain cashless applications, all playing a bigger role. And it’s not just with upcoming generations, but in all age ranges. “Look at the iPhone,” said Chico. “It started with the younger generations, but expanded…I see a lot of people my age using them, and other smartphones.”

Winning is an honor

“I’m truly humbled by winning this award,” said Chico. She believes it’s the first time Wittern has been recognized with an industry award, and hopes she can deliver on the industry’s expectations in the future.