Rod Nester is CEO of Smith Vending, a Canteen franchise, in Southwest Iowa, Southeast Nebraska and Northwest Missouri. In the vending business since 1988, Nester has built a brisk business in the region, with more than 80 percent market share.
Nester clearly enjoys the vending business. “Vending is in my blood,” he said. “In 1988, I went to work for Lyle Smith, who owned the company. I was the sole employee. He said that if I’d stick with him and help him grow, I could own a piece of the company. I worked hard and here I am today, owner of Smith Vending,” he said.
One thing Nester is not: a coffee drinker. “Plain and simple, I’m just not a ‘coffee’ guy – so much so, I struggled with developing my strategic plan for selling coffee. In fact, up until recently, I thought seriously about hiring someone to sell coffee since I thought I just didn’t have the passion for the segment,” he said.
“Broadly defined, I’ve been ‘in’ the coffee business for 20 years. But our approach had been entirely reactive. If a customer asked for coffee, I’d supply it. But I didn’t have the personal motivation to sell the product.”
For Nester, the turning point came in February of this year in one of the coffee capitals of the world: Costa Rica. “Being on the NAMA Costa Rica trip was truly a moving experience – to see how the coffee farming families live, it’s amazing. The location was beautiful. It was eye-opening and I absolutely have a deeper appreciation for the product.”
“The NAMA trip educated me, inspired me and motivated me,” he said. “It was an incredible opportunity to see the amount of effort it takes to maintain the farms, take care of the coffee families, collect the beans and transport it to the U.S. I am in awe that we can actually buy coffee for the prices we can.”
However, for Nester, the most important element of the trip happened as he shared information with his colleagues. “I gained so much by talking to my fellow operators on the trip, the leading people in this business,” he said. “You just can’t buy that kind of intelligence and industry information. It isn’t written in any manual.”
“The trip paid off for me in so many ways. Not only did I solidify my thinking about coffee and how I could implement a sales strategy in the longer term, since I’ve been back [from Costa Rica], I’ve already sold an office coffee account.”
“Looking ahead, what excites me about our industry is the rapidly changing technology -- cashless payments, telemetry and more. As a fundamental driver of our business, I really enjoy being hands-on with technology. Overall, I feel fortunate that I look forward to work every single day. I can honestly say I love this industry and I love my job,” he continued.
Nester’s advice for younger operators or those new to this business: get involved with NAMA.
“The key for success in my mind is the power of NAMA; the advocacy, research and education is so important to our success. People have to get involved in NAMA – not just for their own sake, but for the success of the industry overall,” he concluded.
“As for the the future, both my kids have joined our company. With their help and a wonderful staff – 16 employees – I think we’ll continue to grow. We’re expanding vending into micro markets and now coffee. We’ve worked hard for our success and have had double digit increases every year since 2009.”
“The main thing is this: we’re here to take care of our customers. As long as we focus on them, we’ll get our company where we need to be. I’m sincere about that…and I love this industry.”