He enlisted his wife and children in this effort. His brother went to the University of Florida, home of the Gators. The alligator signified strength. Hence, the name “Gator Vending” won out. But alligators are also mean. So he reasoned he needed a friendly alligator. He hired a professional designer to come up with a cartoon image of an alligator holding a beverage and a snack. “We wanted to be known as a fun company and a professional company,” Arwin said.
The Gator logo adorns his shirt, his Website, his truck and all marketing material.
Being aware of the importance of the Internet, Arwin launched a Website almost immediately.
After six months, he decided it was time to hire a driver so he could focus on finding new accounts. He ran an ad on Craigslist, an Internet Website, and interviewed dozens of applicants before deciding to hire someone. That person quit after three weeks due to the physical strain of the job.
His second hiring attempt was more fortuitous. Arwin came across James Amatuccio, a former vending driver who had left the business but wanted to come back. Amatuccio proved a reliable employee and remains Arwin’s right hand man.
Arwin realized he could grow faster by using bottler loaned cold beverage machines. But he quickly learned that customer preferences vary, and bottler machines limited his product choices. The cold beverage market was becoming more diverse all the time, so he opted to own all his beverage venders. In retrospect, this has proven a good decision, as his beverage sales continue to increase.
Reliance on refurbished machines
He also learned that buying refurbished machines was more economical than buying new ones. Hence, he made it a practice of buying refurbished machines. He has made it a practice of paying for equipment with cash or using equipment manufacturer short-term financing. He looks to recover his equipment outlays in one to one and a half years.
Six months after buying that first route, Arwin was able to purchase a location with 30 machines in various employee areas at the Orlando airport from a business broker. This became his second route, necessitating the purchase of a new delivery truck and hiring a second driver.
The airport location grew over a period of a few months. However, the airport management eventually required that vending deliveries be accompanied by a security employee. This has been an inconvenience. It made Arwin realize that being in vending, he needs to be prepared for unforeseen developments.
Arwin bought some locations from a locator associated with an equipment manufacturer, but quickly decided this was not a financially smart way to grow.
As a rule of thumb, he began seeking accounts with at least 75 people, making exceptions for locations with multiple shifts or close to an existing location. He has not pursued school accounts, largely because of the strict nutrition rules.
He works out of a 1,600-square-foot warehouse in an industrial park. He does all product ordering himself, as well as most of the equipment deliveries and repairs.
Arwin didn’t pick the best time to get into the vending business in Florida. The recession that hit in 2008 was especially brutal to Florida, which relies heavily on tourism. Nevertheless, he learned there is always room for an aggressive service provider committed to good service.
“The big guys can’t provide the same personal service that I can offer,” Arwin said.
Key sales tool: a good Website
He realized in his first year he was getting a lot of service inquiries from his Website. He reasoned that if he had a better Website, he would get even more inquiries. He hired a professional Website designer who also offered some help with search engine optimization. This proved a smart investment as the inquiries increased.
An important feature on the Website is the information request form which allows him to qualify the leads. Most of the two to three leads he gets per week do not result in sales, but he has gained some of his best accounts from the Website.
One of Arwin’s most discouraging experiences was finding that some customers are willing to work with vending operators who don’t have liability insurance and don’t pay sales tax. He said some business owners understand he needs to cover these costs, but some don’t care and only want the lowest possible prices.