The vending industry is different than it used to be. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, believes Jeff Leider, president of Tri-R Coffee & Vending and winner of the 2013 Readers’ Choice Vending Operator of the Year. His enthusiasm, dedication to service and ability to not only embrace change but to fight for a better vending image sets this 20-year veteran operator apart. Together with his brother, Scott, Leider has helped Tri-R grow 30 percent in 2012 with projected growth of 50 percent in 2013. He remains passionate about the industry and optimistic about a future that looks much different than the one in which he grew up.
Leider was first introduced to the vending industry as a boy. His father ran a vending business with a partner in Chicago, Ill., during the 1970s. After one harsh winter, Leider senior decided he had had enough of the Midwest. He sold his share of the operation and moved his family to warm, sunny California. In his new state, he chose to focus on OCS and in 1984 started Tri-R Coffee. Leider helped his parents as they built the company in the San Diego area. And he remembers asking his father why he didn’t do vending. “Vending is a young man’s business, my father always said,” explained Leider. He and his brother were convinced vending had potential for Tri-R, so in 1991 as partners, they launched vending operations and Tri-R Coffee became Tri-R Coffee & Vending. “Although maybe it was just that we loved the candy more than coffee,” Leider joked.
Leider and his brother serviced accounts themselves, then would change clothes in the van and head out to sell new locations. “We worked second jobs when starting, but always intended to go full-time into vending,” said Leider. “I love vending.”
Vending has changed
Over two decades, Leider has seen vending change. He recalls how new products were introduced to locations mostly via samples, whereas now, customers know about and request products before they are even available in vending. “We are the last channel to get new products,” said Leider, adding that he hopes that within 10 years, micro markets will change that. “Micro markets are truly the ultimate in technology for this industry,” he said. Leider didn’t put in his first one until the end of 2012, but already has 11 micro markets at different locations, with more planned. He hopes to use displays similar to the endcaps in retail to support new products and consumer requests, which were not available in vending. He also loves the variety of products he can offer in micro markets – 1,500 SKUs.
Tri-R treats each market as a custom design, which is part of Leider’s passion for good service. “No matter what new products are introduced and how high tech the industry gets, we’ll never lose sight of service,” he said. Early on, Leider and his brother learned that the layout and products selection of micro markets needed individual attention. “Our very first micro market, we thought we would put everything in,” said Leider. It had too many coolers, racks and products and the space didn’t flow. “My brother has a talent for design and we envision everything before we put it in.” The proper flow of the space is very important, he believes.
Despite his positive view of micro markets, Leider doesn’t believe they will ever make up 100 percent of his business. “Not everyone is going to have a micro market,” he said. “Vending is often the most convenient food option available to employees.” Therefore, Tri-R is investing in credit and debit card readers for vending machines, as well as telemetry. That will give the operation the ability to prekit as well. The technology additions are scheduled to be on 100 percent of the machines by the end of 2014. “We try to see technology as an opportunity,” said Leider. “How can this help us and then help our customers?”
Larger operations, high prices
Leider sees further consolidation of the industry in the future, with fewer small mom-and-pop operations that, in the past, have undercut prices and failed to pay insurance, he said. In addition, he is also working to overcome the industry’s fear of fair, competitive pricing with retail.
“We need to price products like the convenience store,” Leider said. He believes vendors need and deserve a profit margin that allows for growth. He argues it will even improve the industry’s reputation. Higher prices will produce better margins, which will allow operators to place newer machines faster. “We would be thought of in a different way,” Leider added. “Cheaper products come at a price – older machines.”
Matching his enthusiasm for the vending industry of today was Leider’s feeling when told he had received this award. “We couldn’t be more thrilled,” he said. “It’s fantastic to be recognized – that industry people do notice, because we’re all so busy.” With an optimism and passion, Leider looks forward to new opportunities in vending.