Scott Halloran and Michael Calkins give new meaning to the term ‘friendly competitors.’ In 2011, after successfully running their own vending operations for years, they merged their companies and became an 11-route operation with 40 micro markets, serving the greater Richmond, Va. area.
“We were two like-minded local companies using technology,” said Halloran. To him and Calkins, it seemed better to become partners than stay competitors.
Merging allowed Trolley House to take advantage of route driver efficiencies and additional locations. It also helped the operation survive the Great Recession. “It [the recession] drove two or three other vending operators out of business in our area,” said Calkins. Trolley House, however, emerged strong and prosperous.
Better hours in vending
Halloran began his vending company, Fresh Direct, in 1995 as a way to make money while he was in college. He had four drink machines in Richmond and serviced them on weekends. After college he worked in the restaurant industry briefly before getting married and realizing vending offered him better work hours. That’s when he dedicated himself to growing Fresh Direct full-time.
Sometimes Halloran can’t believe how different business was then. “When I started in 1995, there were just…12-ounce cans, small chips, candy, cookies and pastries…no website, no marketing plan, no cell phones…we were working off pagers and an answering service,” he remembered. As Fresh Direct grew, Halloran adapted to these new technologies, including the need for vending management software, which he added in 2006.
After a number of acquisitions, he also decided to rebrand the company to better incorporate new and old routes. In 2009, he changed the name to Halloran Refreshment Services.
Always with an eye to the future, Halloran knew he wanted to grow and was looking at new product delivery methods in the industry, which sparked the next chapter in his vending operation — a merger and micro markets.
Employee turned owner
Calkins started with Vending Services of Richmond in 2006 after a career in sales and business management. He was attracted to the business after closely watching his brother-in-law build it over 28 years. “The company always managed to do well and seemed like an excellent opportunity to own a business,” said Calkins. “There are not many businesses you can own that bring a smile to someone’s face,” he added.
In 2008, when his brother-in-law wanted to sell, Calkins found an interested partner, and bought the company. Almost immediately, he started making changes that would help the operation expand. The biggest change was to add vending management software to the entire operation. “It [vending management software] helps to give you control of the business,” said Calkins.
Wanting control of the business, and using technology to get it, was one of the things Calkins and Halloran had in common. They met in 2010 to discuss the latest exciting trend in vending — micro markets. As they talked it became obvious Halloran and Calkins valued the same business principles and were headed in a similar direction. “We both had Streamware, did OCS, vending and were going to jump into micro markets,” said Halloran. “It seemed to make sense to become partners instead of remain competitors.”
On July 1, 2011, Halloran Refreshment Services and Vending Services of Richmond merged to become Trolley House Refreshments. Halloran and Calkins appointed themselves managing directors and Calkins’ old partner went back into corporate America.
Micro markets take off for Trolley
Before the merger, both Halloran and Calkins wanted to explore micro markets. They had each installed four Avanti Markets within a year and were seeing great success. Within two years of becoming Trolley House, they’d added 32 additional markets.