Mike Jamison is transforming Middle Tennessee's vending experience

June 10, 2024
Despite his recent entrance into the vending world, Mike is thriving in Middle Tennessee by providing services in a vending desert with an emphasis on customer service, a focus on technology and a willingness to try new things.

There are go-getters and then there’s Mike Jamison. Mike is a brand-new vending operator with a brand-new vending business. He purchased his first vending machine in November 2022 and placed it at his first location in October 2023. Despite his recent entrance into the vending world, Mike is thriving in Middle Tennessee by providing services in a vending desert with an emphasis on customer service, a focus on technology and a willingness to try new things.

Filling a vending void

In 2022, Mike was at his full-time job when he noticed someone banging on the office vending machine. The product was not vending. This was only one of many negative experiences Mike has seen and experienced with vending machines. He was frustrated that the machine was outdated – it only accepted cash – and that some products were three months past their expiration date. But rather than continue to complain, Mike decided to do something about it and founded NewAge Vending.

Knowing nothing about vending when he decided to enter the industry, Mike put his head down and began researching as much information as he could. He knew he could provide a better vending experience in his area. He purchased a Vending Concepts VC 7210-22C Combo Machine that sat in his garage for nearly a year, during which time he began learning how to do his own marketing, how to build a website and strategies for landing locations. He received a Google career certificate in digital marketing and e-commerce and became a Meta certified digital marketing associate. He paid a graphic designer to create digital ads, which he began running on Facebook.

“I wanted to envision this business before I even got my boots on the ground,” said Mike.

In October 2023, Mike placed his first machine in its own standalone office location in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee. And business has continued to grow throughout the last year for NewAge Vending due to its offerings in the right location. “In this corridor south of Nashville, there’s a booming consumer market, but a vending desert,” he said. “One of my customers called a few other vending operators for service and never got a call back. Then, he saw one of my Facebook ads and that’s how I landed his business.”

Today, NewAge Vending has a five-location carwash, Camel Express, in Nashville and a five-location business campus managed by Cushman & Wakefield, and business is growing each day. “My first location is doing really well, and my other locations are growing steadily too, so I anticipate I’ll be able to leave my full-time job this year and make vending my full-time work.”

Operating out of his garage, Mike is the sole employee, but he recognizes that he is well on his way to growing out of that space. He is hoping to hire his first employee – a route driver – in the next 90 days. “That first hire is going to be incredibly important,” said Mike, “because I’m not trying to place a few vending machines for a side-gig. I’m trying to build a company. The first position of a route driver will give me most of my time back to put into other places to help grow the business.”

Technology-focused, customer driven

Mike considers himself a technology enthusiast and is committed to investing in technology to help launch NewAge Vending. In fact, the lack of technology on many vending machines is one reason he entered the industry. “You see these vending machines out there in very nice locations and they don’t have the ability to take card payment,” he said. “That makes no sense to me. We are in 2024! There’s so much money being lost with cash-only machines.”

Mike’s machines feature eye-catching touchscreens, which allow him to upload videos and sell advertising to increase his revenue stream. Customers can place requests for products, as well as use most forms of payment including cash, card, Google Pay, Apple Pay and more. “I’m redefining the vending experience in my area because I’m creating one,” Mike said. “People don’t have a vending experience right now.” NewAge Vending machines have 10-inch, 21.5-inch and 49-inch touchscreen technology.

He is partnering with companies that are also focused on technology, specifically Cantaloupe, which has been empowering Mike and helping him grow. “I love that [Cantaloupe] is so technology focused because that is where I’m headed,” he said. Cantaloupe, which helps operators like Mike provide self-service experiences to consumers, has been a valuable partnership for NewAge Vending. “They’ve been helping me with the technology side of the business, and they gave me a chance when no other companies did,” said Mike. “They give me confidence because we share the same vision of where this industry is heading in terms of technology.” Mike notes that it’s easier than ever before for the consumer to pick up a snack and walk out the door, as long as the operator is providing that type of experience.

One thing that has surprised Mike is how much he has enjoyed bringing joy to customers by providing that good vending experience. “I really, really love people and making people happy,” he said. “My customers have loved the new technology-centric vending machines, and I think it makes them feel like they are cared for.”

Mike realized early on that vending comes down to customer service. He puts himself in the consumer’s shoes and asks himself: What is it like for the customer to use this machine? NewAge Vending is so committed to providing a positive vending experience that Mike tailors each machine to its location.

“Other operators might call me nuts for doing that, but I see it as investing in that machine and making that machine the most efficient it can possibly be in that location,” he said. “If I have products that aren’t moving and someone comes in and wants something else, it’s worth a shot for me to offer it. I’ve been right more often than I’ve been wrong when it comes to making changes at the request of customers.”

Mike likes that his machines allow his customers to make product requests that come directly to him. “I want my customers to know they can request a product. Their requests come directly to me, so I’m able to get closer to the consumer than ever before from a vending machine, even though I’m not on-site.”

With a laugh, he adds that sometimes people have put ridiculous requests in, but points to a time a young customer visiting her mom at work put in a request for Takis, which Mike then added to the machine. “No one in the office ate Takis except for this young girl, but she was so excited when she saw them in the machine. I made her happy and she had a positive vending experience,” said Mike. “That’s cool and that’s all part of this.”

NewAge Vending’s best-selling drinks so far have been Dr Pepper and Coke, as well as Celsius energy drinks and protein shakes. As for food, Famous Amos Cookies and SunChips have been popular, as well as breakfast items including Pop-Tarts
and muffins.

When Mike says he is redefining the vending experience in his area, he wants it to be an actual experience for his customers. He wants them to know who their vendor is and that he’s accessible. “A lot of people I talk to don’t know where the vending machines came from or who operates the machines,” said Mike. “I think that kind of stuff really matters to them. In the last six months, I’ve been surprised by how much people value the vending operator. I like taking the time to meet the people using my machines.”

Looking forward

Other consumer shopping experiences, such as mobile convenience stores and walkout technology, inspire Mike to try and provide a unique purchasing experience for his customers. “I’m starting with vending machines because they aren’t going anywhere,” he says.

Eventually, he would like to offer micro markets and office coffee service (OCS) but notes that vending machines will always have a place. “You’re not always going to have the space for a large convenience store or even a micro market.” Vending machines, he believes, are only going to become more technologically advanced, which will give vending operators – and advertisers – the chance to get closer than ever before to their customers.

“I think [the vending experience] is already becoming more personalized, with people logging in and having smoother and faster transactions,” Mike said. “And vending machines as a whole are getting so much more diversified with what they can vend.”

In the coming months, Mike will need to address several challenges as his business grows. For instance, he anticipates needing to move into a bigger warehouse space, purchasing a company vehicle and hiring a route driver. Until Mike can hire his first employee, he plans to delegate many tasks to freelance employees.

Another challenge for him will be keeping up with inventory fluctuation – going from one vending machine to nine in the time span of a few weeks. Long term, however, he believes the biggest pressure will be convincing the decision-makers in locations that doing something different is good for them, whether it’s adding a micro market or a high-tech vending machine. “Most decision-makers, I’ve found, don’t care about vending,” he said. “For a lot of them, vending isn’t a priority.” Mike believes one of his main jobs will be convincing decision-makers that vending machines matter to their employees.

Mike is excited about his new start in the vending industry and has felt welcomed as a small operator. “Other operators might not think my approach is going to work, but so far, many have been receptive and open to helping me by answering questions,” he said. “That has been great.”

First-time NAMA show experience

Mike participated in his first-ever trade show this year, attending the NAMA Show in Dallas, May 7-9.

How was your first NAMA Show experience?

Mike: My first NAMA show experience was incredible and having my dad by my side made it even more special. My initial reaction was shock and awe due to the sheer size and scale of the event. There was so much to see and experience that it felt overwhelming, and I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able to get through it all.

Exploring the advancements in the expo hall was fascinating, and I will continue to do that in the future. That’s where you get to see everything in action. This is also where you can try new products and there are a lot of them. The better-for-you sector is exploding, and the level of innovation and consumer-focused progress within the industry is astounding and inspiring.

What are some do’s and don’ts for you at future trade shows?

Mike: Meeting and engaging with individuals like Steve Orlando with Fixturelite, Moriah and the Cantaloupe team, and Sam Hagan with Quality Vending & Coffee Co. was incredibly valuable. These connections are so important for my growth and success in the industry. On the other hand, I would not just walk around without a plan, which is what I did. While walking around proved somewhat valuable, the size of the show requires more planning. Next time, I’ll avoid trying to cover everything without a more structured approach.

What was most valuable to you as a small operator at the show?
Mike: The most valuable aspect of attending the show as a small operator was the opportunity to meet and engage with key industry figures, some of whom have achieved more than you can imagine and some who are right where you are.

The education sessions and the expo hall were beneficial, but the real value came from the connections I made with people who can help me achieve my goals. Setting up meetings and dinners with people I admire or look up to will be a priority for future shows.

About the Author

Adrienne Klein | Contributing Editor

Adrienne Zimmer Klein is a freelance writer with a background in the vending, micro market and office coffee service industry. She worked at Automatic Merchandiser and VendingMarketWatch.com from 2013 until February of 2017.