Brad Ellis, chairman of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), offered a realistic assessment of the challenges facing the vending industry and reasons for hope during the annual meeting at the Sands Exposition Center in Las Vegas during the NAMA OneShow.
Ellis, who is also president of Crane Merchandising Systems, noted that four years ago, the NAMA board decided to move from two conventions to one. In doing so, he noted the board recognized they needed to produce an outstanding show, which he believes has been delivered.
He said the industry’s challenge is to grow same location sales. The current operating environment features a changing consumer and more competitive retail alternatives to vending, he noted.
Ellis said the blue collar consumer of yesteryear is no longer the primary customer for the vending industry. The primary target for today’s industry, he said, is Gen Y, a consumer that has a more positive view of vending.
A key characteristic of Gen Y, he said, is they want to pay without cash. They also want discounts, variety and value.
While the industry has been challenged, Ellis said it remains a vital retail channel.
One challenge for the industry is that other retailers, namely convenience stores, have moved in on the vending industry’s once unique selling point: convenience.
He said vending operators can reverse declining sales by using new technology.
“Many retail segments have successfully adopted new technology,” he said.
Ellis noted NAMA commissioned a consumer survey last year that laid the foundation for an industry growth strategy. A key component is the Gratitude Tours which showcased new technology in several major cities in 2011. He said this industry growth strategy has been successful. He showed a video of positive media coverage of vending in 2011 as a result of the industry growth strategy.
“When was the last time you saw headlines like these about our industry?” he asked.
Ellis thanked retired NAMA CEO Richard Geerdes for his service, which he claimed played a role in making the industry growth strategy successful.
He then welcomed NAMA’s new president and CEO, Carla Balakgie, who has the experience and desire to make a difference. “We must not be reluctant to embrace change,” Ellis said. “Our industry has a real shot at success.”
He then noted that NAMA has begun a new capital campaign called Positioning for Growth. The campaign’s goal is to raise $5 million, of which $1.5 million has already been committed.