Why And How To Attract Millennials To Your Vending Business

April 4, 2016
Hire, train and retain this generation now so they have the experience to step into management roles opening up in the next decade.

There is a lot of talk about how the generation called ‘Millennials’ is changing the face of vending as consumers. This group of people, arguably ages 18 to 34, is significantly more likely to snack compared to older consumers; they are comfortable interacting with vending machines and micro markets; and they are driving many of the food trends.

There is no doubt that Millennials will change the face of vending in a different way as well.

In 2014 it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day, leaving many vacancies and job opportunities for other generations. Millennials will be among the candidates to replace many Baby Boomers who are mid and senior level managers in the vending industry, which is why it is important for operators now to not only attract employees of this generation, but understand how to retain them as well.

Manufacturers and operations in the vending industry should utilize technology to build excitement for their company, incorporate Millennials into key roles early on and offer a flexible work-life balance to attract, train and retain this new workforce.

Millennials bring a fresh viewpoint

Greg McCall, senior vice president of Chattanooga, TN-based Five Star Food Service, never intended to make it a company strategy to hire Millennials until he recognized firsthand the fresh perspective they brought to the organization. Five years ago McCall went to a college job fair, looking for rising seniors to fill an internship position. “I was amazed at the quality of candidates,” said McCall. “Many of them were eager to grow and had high aspirations. They just seemed to lack job experience.”

The economy was in its rebuilding phase at the time, which meant that jobs for college graduates were limited, driving the talented to look at Five Star Food Service as a viable option, said McCall.

The company ended up hiring the Millennial intern full-time, who then moved up in the ranks at Five Star three times in less than 24 months after the internship and is currently an Area Micro Market Manager. This experience led others in the company to begin looking at recent grads and early-career applicants, too. The company has nine Millennials filling roles such as Marketing Manager, Human Resources Manager and Accountant, to name a few. “We were all impressed with the fresh perspective and significant technology advancements the younger professionals were bringing to the company,” he said. “They are keen to make the company move with the times.”
Five Star’s prior philosophy included looking for applicants with prior vending experience, but now, the company focuses on other skills and then teaches about the vending industry. “What we realized was that in 10 to 15 years, many of the people in senior leadership positions at our company will be retiring, and we didn’t have the staff to replace and support those positions. Now, we can attract and train talent for those roles. We call it ‘focusing on the bench strength.’”

“It’s a big deal in the next decade,” he continued. “If no one is there to replace the senior and middle leadership, then the company can’t succeed.” McCall predicts that for the next 14 years Millennials are going to need to fill the gap of the thousands of Baby Boomers exiting the workforce each month.

One way in which the company is attracting Millennials is utilizing technology. In order to gain the attention of the younger generation, Five Star Food Service focused on rebranding its Website to make it mobile-friendly and included things like a blog and links to its social media pages.

Technology attracts Millennials

For Juan Jorquera, Millennial and co-founder of Vagabond Vending, LLC, it was technology that first drew him to the industry. “I got involved in the industry right out of college five years ago, and just the amount of opportunity there was surrounding technology in the vending industry grabbed my attention,” he said. Jorquera says he has noticed a trend where younger vending operators are taking over the family business and integrating technology right away to drive efficiencies. This, he says, is key to growth in the industry. “One way to attract more Millennial attention to the industry as a viable career choice is to show that your company values itself and its success, and you do that through technology integration. It shows that you’re invested in making your company successful for the long haul,” he said.

Elyssa Allahyar-Steiner, vice president of sales and marketing at Avanti Markets, agrees. The advancements of technology, she said, have made this industry exciting and excited, especially for younger professionals looking for careers.

When Allahyar-Steiner entered the industry five years ago shortly after college, she didn’t think it would be a long-term plan. With the swift growth of micro markets, however, she saw manufacturers and operators alike have a new view of the industry and of the future of their businesses, and that was refreshing.

Today, Allahyar-Steiner does some hiring for Avanti Markets and from a manufacturer perspective she looks at candidates who are best qualified, but notes that someone with a technology background is a huge plus. “I just hired a 25-year-old sales representative, which is out of the ordinary, but I saw potential in him,” she said. “It’s also nice to get someone with a fresh set of eyes who is not familiar with the industry but has a technology background. Those candidates bring the innovation.” When she looks at candidates, she says she looks for those who can evolve. “Because we are evolving every day.”

Brittany Morales, Millennial and senior business analyst with 365 Retail Markets, uses technology to intrigue the next generation of employees when she travels to college career fairs. A 365 kiosk at the company’s booth at these college career fairs, she says, draws a lot of attention and interest from soon-to-be grads. “We thought we really had to compete with bigger brand names — ‘sexy’ brands, so to speak — to get the attention of the students,” she said. “But we found that when we promoted our technology, we didn’t need to sell the company, students were naturally interested and wanted to know more.”

Vending offers more responsibilities

In order to appeal to the Millennial workforce, vending operators first have to understand the Millennial employee. Among many other preferences, Millennials generally favor a clear work-life balance, an environment of collaboration and responsibilities, said McCall. The vending industry, he says, is a perfect offering for Millennials. “I think our new young professional hires were surprised by the amount of responsibility they could take on early into their career with us,” he said. “They found out that the industry is fast-paced and dynamic and quite frankly our organization gave them far more responsibility than they would find with other larger companies.”
McCall points to one intern tasked with the responsibility of handling all of the company’s social media. “She started with a few projects and then her responsibilities grew to where she makes the decisions on all things social media,” he said. “In a large company, that probably wouldn’t have been a possibility. That’s what operators need to focus on when trying to recruit Millennials — advertising opportunities for growth will be a great selling point.” McCall says each new hire/intern gets a few weeks of training, goes on a route and then is given responsibility almost immediately.

The opportunity for growth and responsibility is one main reason Morales of 365 Retail Markets joined the industry a year ago. “I saw the potential for growth in the industry and recognized that 365 would not only give me the proper training but let me run with ideas, too.”

“Millennials support collaboration,” said McCall. “They are results based and it’s important for them to see and know that the work they are doing matters.”

Work-life balance remains a draw

Another important aspect about getting to know the Millennial workforce is recognizing their need for work-life balance. “This means that companies may need to offer flexibility outside of the ‘traditional’ 9 to 5 work schedule,” said Joe Hessling, CEO of 365 Retail Markets. Hessling notes that his employees aren’t held to a strict schedule. “They are expected to do work and be professional but the who, when and where is up to the employee.”

Giving the Millennial workforce the freedom to have a work-life balance can help retain top performing employees. Millennials tend to be very loyal to companies able to meet this need.

Allahyar-Steiner acknowledges that Millennials have changed the workplace dynamic and will continue to do so; it’s important that operators foster an environment where the employees want to come to work. “Make your company attractive by having fun with it,” she said.

A healthy and energetic work environment is the real draw for Millennials, said Hessling. The company offers incentives for their employees to engage and participate at work; for example, at the company’s holiday party in December, employees were prompted to either write a blog post or karaoke for their chance to win a trip to NAMA’s Executive Forum held in California in February.

Hessling does warn, however, that in some instances Millennials may think they know more than they do, so employers need to work with and be able to respond by expanding that mindset. Overall, employers should be mindful of the new workforce and their expectations. “Their work has to be both fun and meaningful,” he said. “They want to be able to answer ‘does what I do matter’ and if they can say ‘yes’ then retaining them won’t be too much of a problem.”

New ideas to a traditional practice

With the economy on the upswing, McCall of Five Star notes that it has recently been harder to gain the attention of young professionals than it was just a few years ago, but the company will continue to adjust its message to attract students to the vending industry. “We changed our marketing and are positioning ourselves as a retail company,” he said. “We want to be able to hire and train the next generation of employees to take over once we in mid and senior level management retire in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Every operator and industry player has the opportunity to integrate younger professionals into their company, and should make a point to do so (see Tips To Attracting & Retaining Millennials). Millennials can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to a service with long standing and established practices, said Hessling.

Millennials bring new energy and technology know-how to the vending industry. They are an important part of today’s workforce and will keep our industry successful for decades to come.