Progressives converge as day of reckoning draws near

Nov. 20, 2008
National Expo addresses challenges to automatic merchandising industry and vending business practices.

When business historians look back on 2008, they will probably reference this as a “changing of the guard” era. Companies of all sizes in many industries are changing ownership in response to the most difficult business environment that most of us have seen.

Consultant Brad Bachtelle, in his keynote address at National Expo in St. Louis, reviewed the foreboding developments wreaking havoc on the nation’s economy. These forces, coupled with the challenges that are specific to automatic merchandising, create a “do or die” scenario. To which Bachtelle cited three possible reactions:
1) do nothing, 2) be stunned and doing nothing, and 3) react. By reacting, he meant going back to the drawing board and evaluating every aspect of the business and making the changes needed to be profitable.


Bachtelle emphasized the need for operators to trim expenses. When costs rise, operators must cut overhead to stay profitable. The hard part is knowing what to cut, and on this point Bachtelle didn’t give any easy answers. Because there are none.

I’m also going to take a pass on this tough question and move right to an area that should not be cut: attending trade shows.

National Expo offers an important opportunity to plan for the future; it is a chance to meet with colleagues, experts and suppliers in one location. The gathering in St. Louis was useful for everyone who came.


There is a cadre of progressive operators who are embracing technology and looking to confront a changing marketplace, and they were in abundance in St. Louis. These are the people shaping the future, and the communication among them benefited everyone.

The “progressives” are not constrained by established assumptions about what consumers will and will not spend. Nor do they seek a uniform gross profit percentage on all products they sell. Nor a standard return on investment schedule for all types of equipment.

The “progressives” recognize a changing environment and they are reacting to it. They are embracing tools that are redefining our industry, such as cashless vending and remote monitoring.

The new technologies are beginning to take hold, and the “day of reckoning” for those who ignore them is getting closer.

A lot of the technology has improved. Much of it has become more affordable. And it is becoming harder and harder to keep track of all the operators actually using it.

Exhibitors in St. Louis concurred. They agreed that the operators who came were the more progressive players, serious about investing in their businesses.


Uncertainty about the economy wasn’t the only concern discussed in St. Louis.

Nutritionist Sylvia Rowe talked about health and wellness. Higher food costs have recently joined a host of “time bombs” affecting foodservice operators. Rowe summed it up well in her session by noting that a “convergence” of concerns has created a confused consumer.

But in every challenge lies opportunity. Our industry has a wealth of opportunities to address an anxious consumer with good products and services.

Amidst all of the anxiety around us, a lot of great things are happening.