Vending Operator of the Year: Barry Frankel, Family Vending Co., Sunrise, Fla.

After 30 years in vending, Barry Frankel remains optimistic. He embraces the newest technology to help him run his business and sees a positive future for vending. As part of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) board, the 2012 Vending Operator of the Year has helped change the image of vending in the media, and revitalized it in the minds of the next generation of consumers.

From OCS to vending

In 1982, a friend who worked as a coffee roaster gave Frankel the idea of starting an office coffee service business. Frankel borrowed $500 and launched Electro Brewed Coffee Service. He sold coffee and allied products from a used van with a broken air conditioner and put all his money into equipment for new locations. When he finally won a large location, Eagle Distributing, part of Budweiser Distributing, he had mixed feelings. “It doubled my business,” he said. “(But) every week I was afraid they’d cancel their service.” As it happened, this large location would change the direction of Frankel’s company.

When the owner of the Eagle Distributing location called Frankel into his office, he was full of nerves. Nerves turned to surprise, as the owner explained that he wanted Frankel to put in vending machines that only sold Eagle Chips, a company Budweiser had recently acquired. The owner would arrange a good wholesale price and Frankel would get the profits. Unfortunately, Frankel didn’t have the capital for the vending machines, so the owner agreed to purchase the machines for him.

It was Frankel’s big break and he took advantage of it. He went to other distributor locations and said, “Hey, I’m the Eagle chip vendor.” He added four additional locations, but had to sell his OCS business to finance the snack machines. He became strictly vending in 1984.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Frankel added coffee to his list of services again. Now the division is headed by his daughter Charisse. She has launched promotional campaigns around the service and added janitorial supplies. “It’s been great for us,” said Frankel. In 2013, he plans to offer an extensive array of office supplies through that division as well.

Belief in technology

When using DEX in vending was first introduced, Frankel was an early adopter. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as promised. After working closely with the company, Frankel finally started seeing the benefits. Currently, Frankel uses MEI for his data and vending management. He admits he’s been a little slow to adopt wireless and pre-kitting, but he plans to incorporate those technologies into his operation soon.

Frankel has already adopted micro markets. He has 12 Avanti systems and is planning to add more. “They (micro markets) are putting some energy back into this industry,” Frankel said.

Frankel is also looking at how technology can offer non-traditional opportunities. In 2012, he launched a retail Website, shopfamilyvending.com. Customers can log on and purchase any of the 10,000 items on the site.

Another unique opportunity Frankel is testing is using a card reader on a vending machine to pay for minutes on rechargeable cell phones. It’s currently popular in Mexico, but Frankel believes there’s a market in the U.S. as well.

Active in the industry

Frankel has been a long time member of the Automatic Merchandising Association of Florida (AMAF). He was made president in 2006 and then joined the NAMA board of directors. The association was facing big challenges at that time. Operators were going out of business and the obesity epidemic in the country was being blamed, to a large degree, on vending. “As a board we had to come up with strategies to revitalize the industry,” said Frankel.

In the coming years NAMA would take multiple steps. It created the Fit Pick program to counter claims the industry wasn’t addressing obesity. It hired an outside research company to discover if vending had a future. What the research found gave the board new hope, according to Frankel, because it showed Generation Y preferred to interact with machines instead of people.

“We felt we needed to go in that (Gen Y) direction,” said Frankel as NAMA searched for a new CEO. “We wanted to go with someone who understood that a little better.” Therefore, in 2011, the board asked Carla Balakgie to lead NAMA into a new era.

Gratitude tour is marketing win

Frankel knows the Gratitude Tour, which launched in 2012, had mixed reviews from the industry. However, he believes it achieved its goal. “What we were trying to do was get positive press … without spending money on advertising,” explained Frankel. With all the negative media focus, Frankel and the NAMA board were afraid vending machines would be attacked and removed, like cigarette machines.

The Gratitude Tour allowed a couple thousand dollars to be transformed into massive, positive, media coverage. “Every where they took it, the press was fantastic,” added Frankel. He also likes to point out there are not as many negative comments about vending in the news anymore.

Frankel has been doing vending his whole life, the future still excites him. However, the best part is the people. “Here, at this company, it’s a whole family that works together toward each goal,” said Frankel. “It’s so much fun to come to work here.”

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