Distributor of the Year Jeff Rawlins

July 22, 2014

Many company managers insulate themselves from their customers with a host of electronic filters and people blockers. At Vend Catering Supply in La Mirada, Calif., management wants all customers to have access to whomever in the organization can make things happen for them.

"Our team consists of management, sales, customer service, and drivers," said Jeff Rawlins, sales director and the 2010 Automatic Merchandiser Distributor of the Year. "Everyone's job is centered around the customer. Our electronic tools from customer data to monitoring time sensitive products help our team in fast and accurate decision making."

In his 30 years in the vending and OCS industry, Rawlins has observed the key consumer benefit of vending and OCS has not changed: convenience. Because of this, and the fact that new technology is creating ways to offer better service, he feels confident that the industry has a great future.

"The most precious commodity we all share is time, and time for everybody is limited. Because of that, there will always be a place for vending in the work place. If we as an industry can capitalize on time being so precious, I think we'll all succeed," said Rawlins.

Rawlins began his career in the mid 1970s in operations when he joined Servomation, a West Coast vending and OCS operation that was eventually acquired by Service America Corp., which was eventually acquired by Canteen Vending Services. Rawlins joined Servomation as a salesman.

Move To Distribution Side

Rawlins soon moved to the distribution side of the business with Servitron in Tampa, Fla. Servitron was an OCS distributor. After two years in Florida, he transferred back to Southern California and eventually became vice president of sales for the company.

When VSA (forerunner of Vistar) acquired Servitron in 1991, Rawlins moved to the manufacturer side of the business for two years, serving as national sales manager for vending and OCS for Slim*Fast!.

Two years later, sensing an opportunity in OCS distribution in Southern California, he joined Solid Gold Distributing Co. in Carson, Calif. as its first employee. He built that business into a company doing $25 million per year in sales, with 35 employees serving five states.

In 2002, Rawlins left Solid Gold to join his current employer, Vend Catering Supply, which was primarily a vend product distributor serving California, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada. Rawlins, Steve Shapiro, company president, and the rest of the team have built the OCS side of the business to account for nearly half of the company's sales.

The Vend Catering Supply mission has been to stay focused on core values and beliefs. "Our personnel are allowed to make decisions regarding customers," Rawlins said.

Committed To The Key Customer Base

Rawlins said Vend Catering Supply has grown during the recession. One key to its success is that it has stayed focus on vending and OCS. "It's real easy to get distracted," he said. "We've stayed very industry specific." Deciding the right customer and correct product mix is important. Saying "no" to customers that are a distraction to the industry which the company focuses on is difficult but necessary, Rawlins said.

Another reason for the company's success has been the popularity of single-cup coffee, which continues to grow.

Rawlins is encouraged by the innovation vending operators are showing in improving their merchandising. He is also encouraged by new technology, such as satellite-based global positioning and remote machine monitoring.

"If operators are open to things as simple as (improved) decor around their equipment, then they're going to succeed," he said.

A good sales person can sell anything once, Rawlins noted. "Our business model with regard to customer service determines whether we will sell that customer multiple items, multiple times. We want our customers happy and positive about the buying experience.

"We define our selling cycle with our entire staff. The correct inventory, the order, the order confirmation, an announced delivery window, back order notification, correct pulling and rechecking, on-time deliveries, driver and customer product verification, correct invoicing and getting paid for products and services provided are all important aspects of our success."