What’s a former national hotel executive doing in the rough-and-tumble, work-a-day vending business in Orlando, Fla.?
Gary Arwin is leveraging the skills he acquired in nearly two decades of business management in the hospitality industry to provide a good living for himself. He enjoys the challenge of sales, he is fascinated by technology, and he likes the one-on-one contact he has with his customers. He particularly appreciates the chance to be the master of his own future, something the vending industry gives him.
“I like that aspect of it,” Arwin said. “Basically, you control your own destiny.”
As the vending industry changes, newcomers like Arwin are finding ways to get ahead in the business that weren’t available several years ago. Vending technology and mobile broadband tools have evolved, creating new ways for operators to provide good service.
Astute newcomers like Arwin, who bought a small operation six years ago, have been able to take advantage of new tools. But they also learn, as their predecessors did long ago, that there are no short cuts to success in vending. Operators have to provide good service to succeed, and to do this, they must be willing to listen to customers carefully and respond to issues at the drop of a hat.
Arwin’s company, Gator Vending, a 2-route operation serving the greater Orlando area, has grown steadily in the time Arwin has owned it. He has learned from his mistakes, and his commitment to good service has yielded some large customers, including some airlines and national name retailers.
With two full time employees, Arwin wears many hats as owner/manager, which makes for long work days. But as owner/manager, he has been able to provide the type of attentive service that some of the area’s most demanding customers have not been able to find from larger vending operators.
Arwin, the son of a Yellow Pages advertising salesman and a teacher, always wanted to own his own business. A good student all his life, he applied himself to business studies in college. He never imagined he would some day be in the vending business.
Growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., Arwin was enamored with luxury hotels. He studied hospitality management at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., and spent 12 years as a controller and general manager for a hotel chain.
He liked the hotel business, but as his children got older, he didn’t like getting transferred to different cities every few years. He wanted his kids to have the experience of growing up in one place, as he himself did.
Having never lost his desire to have his own business, when the opportunity presented itself, Arwin teamed up with some partners in a hotel supply/renovations company in Orlando.
The company grew, but early on, problems emerged among the partners. Within seven years, the business folded. Arwin, convinced it was time to be a sole business owner, contacted a business broker in Orlando. The broker showed him various businesses for sale, including a vending company with 68 soda and snack machines in Titusville, Fla., near Orlando.
Arwin met with the owner of the company, R.J. Vending, visited some of the locations, and decided to buy the company. To Arwin, vending seemed to be a “cut and dry” type of business, one that provided a tangible value to the customer. Vending struck him as a business tailor made to a person like himself with a good work ethic who enjoys customer service. In retrospect, he admits he had little idea how complex and demanding the vending business is.
Learning from the ground up
In addition to the stops, the company came with an employee and a delivery van. Arwin opted to service the locations himself for six months to learn the business from the ground up.
Arwin’s hospitality background had instilled in him some strong marketing skills. One thing he realized right away was that the company needed a better name.