I've always believed in being proactive. For one thing, it gives me something to do (consider all the angles, plan, take action, etc.) For another, it usually is better to be the one bringing up a topic, rather than the one caught unaware. There are many examples of this in the vending industry. One of the most recent appeared in our October issue, hitting mailboxes soon. It deals with micro markets and working with the local health inspectors. Many areas don't yet have a label or appropriate license for a micro market, and operators are faced with a dilemma. Be proactive and talk to the health department about the micro markets, or use their vending license until told differently.
I find that one of the problems with being reactive is what it does to your outlook. Being reactive to new licensing requirements or even a violation from the local health department can cause anger towards the organization and the situation. The success of an operation is now influenced by the local environment and feels beyond control. Being proactive, on the other hand, allows for preparation and discussion. An operator can show the health inspector how a micro market is different than a convenience store in how it offers food -- no open hot foods like hot dog rollers, for example. After analyzing their own data or forecasts, the micro market operator can present a case for an appropriate license fee and inspection schedule. If done right, the health department will view the operation favorably, working with the business and asking for insight and information. A reactive approach could be seen as sly, a company trying to get away with something until being caught.
Choosing vs. blaming
I believe being proactive does take more time. After all, to anticipate something you must look at the current situation, your goal, ways to achieve your goal and potential outcomes (including the negative ones). It could be risky. It would be far easier to sit back and wait for events to happen. Then learn about possible solutions from others, choosing one in haste. It may work out. Or it may be an incomplete solution full of bumps that drives away frustrated customers. It could be equally risky, and less productive.
Another area I find where operators differ in their approach is in meeting consumer trends. From providing healthy vending products to offering bean-to-cup office coffee service solutions, there are proactive operations and reactive ones. Some operators started swapping out low selling products with healthier alternatives before any regulations were put in place. Some companies have gone right to branding the entire machine as healthy, like the recent Hello Goodness vending machine initiative from PepsiCo as an example. If there had been more of this, would there be less "requirements" for vending operators to follow that dictate a product's fat, sugar and salt content and what percentage of a machine these products must represent?
I've spoken to bean-to-cup manufacturers who ask an operator why they want to offer their equipment. It seems like such an odd question, but it helps manufacturers understand if the operator is proactively seeking single-cup drink options for the workplace of the future or reacting to competition without really believing in the need of the system or high end drinks, which will come with a higher price tag.
Obstacles, problems, opportunities all come daily. And then it's time to make a choice. Perhaps it's between two painful outcomes or risky new products, but it is still a choice. And there is always another choice to make or action to take which produces an industry that is never dull.