Why vending? The Legend Food Service story shows how technology can attract new DNA

Nov. 4, 2021

When I joined Automatic Merchandiser 10 months ago, I asked a new colleague, a seasoned vending industry veteran himself, what will attract new people to this industry? And what will motivate the heirs of family-owned independents to stay the course and advance? Over the years I had become a little desensitized to the industry’s appeal by the hastening pace of mergers, acquisitions and consolidation taking place among operating firms.

One of the things I admired about the vending business is that almost anyone can enter it, at any age and with any amount of money. These low entry barriers allowed someone with a van, garage, some mechanical ability and modest capital for equipment to get started. (Succeeding, of course, required an additional set of tools and skills.)

My colleague’s answer to my questions: “Technology.” Hmm…I’ve heard this before. But this was coming from a guy, who’s been around long enough, who should be more anesthetized than I. While I was hoping for another answer, it was the certainty in his tone that struck me. But the technology inducement finally connected with me after I had the honor of interviewing the management team of Legend Food Service, a four-year-old convenience services enterprise, for this issue’s cover story.

Legend Food Service started with the acquisition of one of southern New England’s largest independent vending operations. Automated Services was founded in Milford, CT, in the early 1970s by young and enterprising businessperson, too. After a modest start, the full-line provider soon had the newest machines and eventually ran fresh-food commissary, making it difficult for other vendors to compete. He prized diversification; he had an impressive equipment refurbishing center and at one time might have been the nation’s second-largest reseller of new and used pinball machines. However, he did not take on the challenge of upgrading his company’s management processes, to take full advantage of today’s best-in-class information technologies – he knew that would be a job for a new owner.

It can be a difficult and complicated process to start (or restart) a vending business and test new ideas. But when you invest in the right technology, you are almost guaranteed to grow and improve your business, and to attract investors. Legend Food Service’s first task was to swathe Automated Services’ routes with a VMS and begin the move from vending machines to micro markets.

What’s most heartening about Legend is its unshakable enthusiasm for an industry that suffered devastating income losses in 2020 – more than 40% in vending and over 70% in office coffee service. Surprisingly, the company’s leadership team is most enthusiastic about the future of office coffee service.

Nick Montano is editor of Automatic Merchandiser and its online counterpart VendingMarketWatch.com. He can be contacted at [email protected].


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