When Arizona duo Mike and Jodi Glimpse started their Phoenix-based vending business back in 2005, Jodi remembers other vending operators asking her why — why vending? “We were bright-eyed, new to the industry and full of energy to get our business off the ground and running,” said Jodi.
The pair had come into vending from a sales background, but had jumped head-first into the industry, placing soda and snack machines, taking on ice cream vending routes and diving into school locations that more experienced vending operators turned down. They said ‘yes’ a lot and ran their organization under the motto ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.’
But like many entrepreneurs, the couple experienced periods of triumph and difficulty in the early years. When the Great Recession hit three years into business, Camelback lost customers and on top of that it was already facing the challenges of a new business, with heavy debt and too much payroll for the business it had at the time.
The company chose to look at its strengths, however, rather than ruminate on the negatives. The Glimpses focused on continuous innovation, made strategic investments in their employees, and concentrated on growing smarter. Today, the company operates in the black and has gone from a start-up vending operation to a leader in the Arizona market.
And what about the motto the company lived by early on? Just like Camelback, the motto changed, too. “Rather than live by ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish,’ we are focused on ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Smart,” said Jodi. “We think about how we want to grow as a company and we are more strategic with our decisions. Now, we feel like a success story.”
Some investments in vending are concrete. Others, however, are less palpable. In 2013, the Glimpses looked closely at the overall company and noticed that there were places where improvement could be made. “We were trying to do too much with too little,” Jodi said. Rather than let customer service or the company suffer, they decided to create a new full time position to help the company progress the way the Glimpses wanted. “We saw this as an investment in life and in service,” she said. Although it took several months to find the right candidate for the position, Jodi brought on Jeff Cox as operations manager for Camelback Vending in 2013.
“It was an investment that changed everything,” she continued. Cox brought in a fresh approach to detail and put in processes to make the company more efficient. Every route driver is audited each month to make sure his or her route is being run as effectively as possible. To ensure that no detail is missed, Cox tries to travel on a route with drivers monthly, which emphasizes accountability as well, says Jodi. “It makes Camelback’s service better, too,” she noted. Each quarter, Cox additionally travels to each client to meet with them face to face to maintain a personal relationship. The investment has allowed Jodi to focus on growing the business from a managerial perspective, which has been a larger benefit than anticipated.
The investment in employees isn’t a new concept to Camelback Vending, though. In fact, Jodi emphasizes that Camelback Vending employees are the biggest asset the company has and the thing that sets them apart from the competition. “We are nothing without the people that are on the road every day,” she said. “I’ve been in the position where you wake up and say, “It’s all-good except…” and today I know with 100 percent certainty that I don’t have those employee concerns. I don’t worry over employees because I have a fantastic group of route drivers and staff.” Camelback prides itself on having long-term route drivers, ranging from 1 to 11 years with the company.
In the company’s focus to improve its bottom-line through an investment in its employees, Camelback also looked at its online presence and in 2012 decided to rebrand. “We developed a web presence and hired out a company to handle our SEO (search engine optimization). We also created a mobile-friendly website,” said Jodi.
The company has put a lot of energy and effort into keeping the website fresh and up to date. In addition, they have tried to utilize social media as much as time allows. “It was great to hand over our web presence to capable hands. It’s cheaper than adding an additional staff person and it gives us the opportunity to focus on growing our business,” Jodi noted.
Growth in B&I accounts
In the beginning, Jodi admits that the company used to jump on any account, but today, they have learned to say ‘no’ to locations that don’t fit their long term goals. “We look at whether or not it’s the right kind of account for us and we do turn locations down.” In fact, two years ago the company restructured its routes and pulled 100 assets out of the field. The result is that it now has seven routes that aren’t just strong, but thriving.
Although Camelback Vending originally grew as a result of ice cream vending and school vending accounts, Jodi says that today the company is focused and succeeding on growing its B&I accounts. “We wanted to develop a year-round strategy with a move towards B&I accounts and from that we’ve improved the business.” Camelback’s B&I business has doubled in the past 24 months.
Still, school vending makes up a portion of Camelback Vending locations, so when the USDA Smart Snacks in Schools rule went into effect in 2014, it hurt the business initially. The first year they had a 30 percent drop in sales in all schools. “There’s no other way to describe it other than it was a shock,” said Jodi. “We were selling candy bars and pastries and then we weren’t.”
The good news for Camelback was that sales started to turn around at the end of the first year and began to rebound the second year. “It will take a full four years for sales to rebound completely because the “junk food kids” will graduate and the younger kids coming up will be used to healthier options in vending,” said Jodi, who is amazed at the best-sellers in schools. “I never thought I would see water as the top-seller in a vending machine, let alone a school vending machine, but it is now!” Water takes up about 50 percent of the drink machines in typical schools, says Jodi. “It’s usually the first thing to sell out.” The no. 1 selling snack item in school vending is CHEETOS® OvenBaked FLAMIN’ HOT® by Frito-Lay.
Innovation in new equipment
The Glimpses knew early on that they wanted to invest in the best equipment and technology for their business and their customers. For the last 12 years they have been dedicated customers of Cantaloupe Systems’ SEED technology that provides them with real-time, in-depth information about each vending machine in the field. When they first began using the system, Camelback was able to reduce truck and salary costs by 37 percent. “It is so easy to track cash and inventory and create sales reports,” said Jodi. “And it alerts us when machines are having issues, which gives us the ability to respond quickly and shows the customer that we are prompt and that we care.”
Camelback Vending also began investing in cashless 5 years ago. Today, between 40 and 50 percent of its machines have cashless capabilities. “I wouldn’t dream of putting a new machine out without cashless,” said Jodi. On a day-to-day basis, 20 percent of sales are cashless. The company will continue to rollout cashless as they place new machines.
And Camelback only purchases new vending machines. “They have fewer maintenance issues and it allows us to give our customers the best vending option possible,” said Jodi. Camelback pays cash for all of its machines, a fact that makes her proud. “It’s part of our business strategy to grow smart, because at the end of the day, we owe no one and that gives us the freedom to grow where we want and how we want.” And she wants to keep the company in the black. “I would rather be the size that we are and have no debt than to be larger and have debt,” she said. “We are in a really good place.”
Over the next few months, she is looking forward to rolling out PepsiCo’s new Hello Goodness machines. “We are really excited about the opportunity to place these new machines and the variety that they can bring.”
There’s a lot about the industry that has those working at Camelback excited for the future. In particular, Jodi points to micro markets. “There is an energy in the industry today that wasn’t there a few years ago,” she said. “I think micro markets have brought a fresh perspective and have given people a new mentality.”
She also doesn’t want to downplay the rise in the health and nutrition trend. “Watching consumer trends is massively important to us,” she said. “Health and nutrition trends are where the industry is going because it’s what consumers are eating.”
Camelback is open to offering healthy options in vending machines if the location requests them. Sometimes locations will request healthy items so Camelback suggests they start with a few and see how they sell. “If we see it’s a trend, then we will add more items.”
When they look at the industry as a whole, Camelback Vending is optimistic about continuing to build their business, but Jodi emphasizes that she couldn’t do it without her staff. “We are fortunate to have a great group of employees,” she said. “I’m excited about watching them develop and being able to grow the opportunities for them to do so.”
Looking back to 2005 when Camelback Vending began, Jodi notes that the company made mistakes but has come a long way by putting its energy into its people, technology, innovation and its commitment to its customers. “We focused on doing things the right way and in doing so we learned that challenges will either crush you or help you blossom. They did the latter for us,” said Glimpse.
Operation Profile: Camelback Vending
Location: Phoenix, AZ
No. of Employees: 15
No. of Routes: 7
Technology provider: Cantaloupe Systems