Foxes adorn more than the logo at Fox Vending Inc. in Bridgeview, Ill. Three of them guard the lobby and remind the staff that it takes cleverness to start a business and keep it running. The operation has survived more than half a century through dedicated customer service and an eye on profit margins. Under the founder James Fox to second generation president Jennifer Fox, the company has grown to service a 50-mile radius around Chicago and swelled to 18 routes. Fox Vending’s success stems from launching into new types of services and never compromising profits to get new business.
One machine started it all
James Fox worked as an Aramark vending route driver in 1961 after being discharged from the army. He loved his job — the hours, the independence, the idea. He was lured away by better pay and tried other delivery jobs, but Fox decided he preferred vending. He started his own business, A-OK Vending, in 1962 with one cigarette machine on the Southside of Chicago. His main point of difference was he never operated on credit.
“In building this business, I didn’t borrow any money,” explained Fox. “If I didn’t have the money, I didn’t buy it.” Fox even owns the building in Bridgeview and rents it back to the operation.
Fox Vending also adopted money saving strategies early on that would be considered green now. Fox added skylights to the warehouse roof in 1993 and now no electric lights are required, even in winter. Around the same time, the company added a cardboard compactor that condenses all the boxes into pallets that Fox Vending sells.
Assuming a new name
In 1975, the Fox Vending name became available and James Fox decided to personalize his business. He also added the image of a fox to the logo for the purpose of marketing. Adding his phone number and name to the top of downtown delivery vehicles was also part of his marketing strategy.
The company grew organically and through acquisitions, some of which brought office coffee service opportunities. Fox Vending got into Keurig single cup brewers when it purchased All Seasons in January 2004. While the management likes the quality and flexibility of k-cups, they are also investigating other cartridge-style single cup coffee in order to remain competitively priced. In 2005, it purchased Park Manor Coffee, which added two dedicated coffee service routes. Fox Vending doesn’t roast its own coffee, but instead partners with local roasters.
Technology was the next major change for Fox Vending. Fox added handhelds and vending management software in 2009 to improve route efficiencies and cash accountability.
Going second generation
In 2000, Fox wanted to step back a bit from the everyday challenges of being an operator, but wanted someone at the top he could trust. His daughter, Jennifer Fox, had just graduated with a graphic design degree and was trying to get a job. He asked her to try out the vending business. Having grown up around the company, calling the long-time service technician ‘Uncle Charlie’ and riding on veteran and award winning route driver Jim Milton’s product cart, Jennifer knew the industry, but had plans of her own. Still, she couldn’t say no to her father.
“I never intended to stay,” said Jennifer. It’s now 13 years later, and she’s the president of the operation.
Jennifer likes to keep Fox Vending unique and interesting, so she recently launched the company’s first micro market after investigating them with the help of a friendly competitor. She chose the Breakroom Provisions market and it has exceeded her expectations.
“One great benefit of having a micro market is the ability to pass on the sales tax to the end user,” said Jennifer. On some products, the sales tax can be 9.75 percent in the Chicago area and consumers don’t realize it’s included in the vend price. Adding it separately in micro markets has been a win for Fox Vending. Jennifer also likes that micro markets have a greater flexibility in what can be sold, since there’s no coil to fit into.