Distributor of the Year: Lynn Robles Wholesale candy, snack and beverage specialist, Vistar of Southern California

One of the most important aspects of Lynn Robles’ job as a distributor is watching trends. Robles, the 2013 Readers’ Choice Distributor of the Year, said with the increasing use of micro markets and better-for-you products, this is an exciting time for the vending industry. She is proud of the opportunities she has to educate operators to think beyond the machine and emphasizes to her customers the necessity to stay ahead of the curve. “I always tell operators, ‘Let’s try something new,’” said Robles.


Focus on better-for-you products

Robles became a vending operator in 1987 when she and a partner bought a vending company from a friend and began supplying full-line vending in ten U.S. post office locations in California. After selling their business 5 years later, Robles joined a small vending distributor in Anaheim, Calif., as a sales representative. “Now that I am a distributor, I tell my clients that I’ve walked a mile in their shoes, having had experience myself as a vending operator,” explained Robles.

In 2001, Robles began working with customers who had vending machines and distributions in southern California school districts. It was here that she found her passion working with healthy, better-for-you snacks and beverages. Many of Robles’ customers and manufacturers insisted healthy snacks were never going to work, and predicted that within a year they would be a thing of the past. Robles embraced the challenge and found a few manufacturers who were willing to try a change. “It was not an easy task,” she recalled.

From then on, Robles expanded her learning into OCS, but always kept her passion for the promotion of healthy foods in vending. In 2004 Robles joined Classic Foods, Inc. as director of vending sales, specializing in healthy snacks. This experience gave her the opportunity to travel the country and promote better-for-you products. In 2007 she was approached with an opportunity to work with Vistar of Southern California. “This was a dream come true,” said Robles. “I have been able to bring my knowledge and new ideas to all the classes of trades Vistar currently services, including micro market, vending and OCS.”


Educating operators

Keeping operators updated on market trends is one of Robles’ most important job responsibilities. She recently has found that during work hours, a growing number of Americans choose to eat lunch and snack at their work desks. She is now trying to bring into offices the brands and selections consumers have, in the past, enjoyed outside of the office. “There has been a higher demand for non-traditional vending and OCS offerings,” said Robles. “This opens the door for our industry to provide more retail-based and freshly-made selections to customers.” It has also increased profit margins for the operators, she added. This trend change has diversified her role as a distributor to one as an educator as well.

Robles said her task now is to educate operators to think outside the box when it comes to vending and micro markets. “Information is key,” said Robles. “We all have to change.” Now, Robles’ job is more than assisting the operator; it is making sure each of her clients has the information they need to be successful, including all of the updates on new consumer trends.


Change is good

With almost three decades of work experience in the vending industry, Robles has seen many changes, but recognizes that change is good. She said that micro markets have pushed operators to have an improved working relationship with their consumers. That, in turn, has changed her role as a distributor.

With the slow recovery of the economy, Robles believes the vending and OCS channels have rebounded and will continue to grow. “I continue to see more crossovers: vend operators moving into OCS and vice versa,” said Robles. “They realize they have more expertise than they have ever had before. They also recognize that their customers are looking to partner with successful, progressive companies.” Robles, herself a trendsetter, will continue to push for healthier options in vending, while educating her clients in an ever-changing industry.