To these traits, Marx adds the importance of good communication and marketing skills. He thinks the vending industry continues to suffer from poor skills in these areas.
Communication is an area that several veterans cited as important, both in relation to the customer and the staff. “You have to take time to invest in seeing the client and building a relationship with them,” said Tony Goodman, president of Goodman Vending Service in Reading, Pa. To this end, his company has become proactive with social media in addition to its print newsletter.
Goodman said a well rounded education is more important than a focus on any one area of business.
Employee assessment to be key
Greg Breland, president of Ocean Springs, Miss.-based Gulf Coast Canteen, said the demands required by automated management systems require managers to be more adept at identifying critical employee skills. While data management is highly automated using today’s software, the data input requires attention to detail. A longtime operator, Breland said it is very hard to pre-qualify an employee’s awareness of the importance of detail.
Breland seconds those who noted the importance of motivating employees. “If you can’t get your people to buy in, you’re doomed,” he said.
Another important trait, according to Breland, is self assessment. Most vending owner/managers are strong in some areas and weak in others. A successful leader recognizes his or her strengths and weaknesses and delegates accordingly. “You can hire someone where you’re not good,” he said.
Some observers are hopeful that today’s exciting technology will bring people from outside the industry with better marketing and management skills.
“We need people from outside the industry,” said Jim Dillingham, who operates Dunbarton, N.H.-based Vend-ucation, which educates schools about vending. He is a longtime vending operator and equipment distributor. “The same old mentality is the problem. Inside the industry, we just have too many assumptions that are no longer accurate,” he said
Dillingham maintains the industry is rife with bad business practices, such as offering customers high commissions, dishonest sales reporting, and promising unrealistic benefits without delivering on the promises. He agrees with those who say financial and technology backgrounds will be important for future operators.
Dillingham said future leaders will have longer return on investment schedules due to the higher investment required for state-of-the-art equipment and technology. He said unique technology affords a window of opportunity for negotiating realistic and profitable vend prices. New technology can place a vending proposal outside the framework of a perceived commodity, he noted.
Tom Whennen, a former vending operator who now operates a business consultancy called The Entrepreneur’s Source in Oak Park, Ill., said future vending operators will be more focused on the bigger picture.
He said vending companies will be more “customer centric,” meaning by using technology they will create a more positive consumer experience at the point of sale and post sale. He said people with college business backgrounds are more likely to understand this concept than those without it.
One thing that everyone agreed on is that a strong work ethic remains important. New tools are creating new capabilities, but there is more training needed and supervision remains as important as ever.
Paul Tims, owner of Imperial Companies in Tulsa, Okla., thinks technology raises the bar, and in doing so, requires stronger marketing and communications skills. His company is proactive with many vending technologies. Tims is adamant that it is easier to find people with strong technology backgrounds than with good marketing skills.
The need to educate customers about health and wellness issues has brought even new demands to the game, Tims noted. “It takes a smooth, more clearly capable person to communicate all the health and wellness (information),” he said.