Distributor of the Year: Jim Parsons, sales manager, Vistar NorthWest

Jim Parsons redefines the role of a vend distributor as a candy, snack and beverage specialist. The 2012 Distributor of the Year understands the recent challenges of the vending industry and is proud of how Vistar has evolved to provide information and better use technology in order to remain a value to the operator. “We strive to be an asset,” said Parsons.

Acquired by Vistar

Parsons began his vending career in January 2002 as a sales representative for Vend Products Distributing, a product distributor for the vending channel. He held the sales representative position for over a year when Vistar bought Vend Products in 2003. Parsons stayed on, and was promoted to sales manager in 2004.

Once he became a manager, Parsons saw the need for a change in the distributor strategy. “Previously it was more of a service role,” said Parsons. “(A distributor) kept in touch with customers and kept them happy.” Now Parsons and his team spend much of their time prospecting for new business and honing their business tools.

Parsons’ team in the Northwest, and all of Vistar, has started distributing to other retail establishments such as universities, theaters, concession areas and hotels, but that doesn’t overshadow his commitment to vending.

“There’s a lot of best practice sharing among channels,” said Parsons.

According to Parsons, vending makes up 50 to 60 percent of Vistar’s business. He has strived to make the Vistar NorthWest Website a place for operators to get useful promotions and information, including product information for micro markets. “The micro market revolution will continue,” Parsons said, and Vistar carries a number of items for micro markets that aren’t on the traditional vending ordering guide.

Parson believes that as more data is available from the micro market brands, more operators will add these systems.

Cashless is a big opportunity

Part of the popularity of micro markets is that they offer cashless payment options. In fact, Parsons sees cashless as a big opportunity in vending as manufacturers work to make it affordable to operators.

“People lose the sensation of parting with their hard-earned cash (when using a cashless payment system),” said Parsons. “Vending really is the last retail …that only takes money,” he added.

Part of the local association

In August 2012, Parsons was named to the Northwest Automatic Vendors Association (NAVA) board of directors. It’s a role he’s excited about.

“Having been in this industry for 10 years, and coming from outside of it, I can provide some insights and ideas to help the association along,” said Parsons. Currently, he’s working with the NAVA on a strategic plan for the future of the organization including how to grow membership and create a value to the vending and office coffee channel.

Parsons also graduated the Michigan State University Executive Development Program in 2010. “It was great. I really enjoyed it,” said Parsons. “I’d recommend it to anyone in the industry.

He took the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s certified executive exam at the same time, so he is also designated a NCE.

Vending remains a large part of what Parsons and his team do every day. “We have great relationships in the industry,” he said. He will continue to share his vending knowledge and experience.

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