Goodbye, and a message for a better tomorrow

In the two decades I have edited Automatic Merchandiser, this has been the most difficult column I have written because it is my last. I have accepted another position at Cygnus Business Media, the parent company of Automatic Merchandiser and VendingMarketwatch.

I leave the editor’s role to my highly capable managing editor, Emily Refermat. Emily has assumed much of the hands-on editorial management in the six years she has worked with our staff. She has taken on increasing responsibility in selecting and editing news stories for Vending-MarketWatch.

Emily has also assumed more responsibility for writing feature articles for Automatic Merchandiser as her industry relationships have grown. Emily, being a Gen Y-er, brings a valuable perspective to automatic merchandising as it enters an exciting era.

What was once a very backward industry is becoming a highly-dynamic and leading-edge retail channel. Vending is becoming a more interactive buying experience for consumers and as such, it assumes far more importance to product manufacturers who want to reach consumers at all times of the day in a variety of settings – at work, leisure, or school, while performing routine shopping, or attending to specific tasks like getting their cars serviced.

The industry is still in the early stages of the biggest transformation it will make in our lifetimes. It’s an exciting period, especially for the younger members who will reap the greatest benefits from the new capabilities borne of technology.

Technology’s promise

In the past year, technology leaders such as Intel Corp., Cisco Systems and Google have invested serious money in learning about automatic merchandising and the unique ways vending machines can interact with the public.

These forward-thinking companies have formed relationships with some of vending industry’s established product, equipment and technology providers and in some cases, they have initiated joint projects to expedite automatic merchandising’s capabilities.

Micro markets, meanwhile, are playing a growing support role in two ways. First, they bring a new marketing tool to the vending industry that allows a more dynamic level of service. Secondly, because of the marketing programs they offer, they are making vending operators aware of loyalty rewards and promotional programs they can use in vending machines. Many of the young and young-thinking operators have seized these tools and are in the forefront of change.

Yesterday is gone forever

For those of you who aren’t on board with the new paradigm, time is not on your side. There is no place for business practices that aren’t focused on improving the consumer’s buying experience. Those days are gone.

The investment needed to bring new capabilities to market leaves no room for location commissions. Big public access locations will be the last major holdout for commissions, but in time, even these customers will recognize that dynamic, interactive communication at the point of sale delivers greater benefits than traditional dollar and cents commissions.

The last two decades have been exciting, and I have enjoyed every minute. I regret losing my front row seat to the greater days that are unfolding for the rest of you.