If you are reading this, you probably know me and the fact that in 26 years I have completed over 310 acquisitions representing over $900 million in vending, office coffee service (OCS) and micro market revenues.
This spring, during the worst of the fallout from COVID-19, I advised the industry, by way of personal contact and forums like VendingMarketWatch.com, that the major buyers were holding off on acquisitions and most of the industry operators should probably wait at least six months to see if revenues come back.
I don’t have to tell you, that although a decent percentage of sales have returned for most, the majority of you still have numerous accounts that won’t let you service them. Your OCS sales have been the hardest hit, and most white-collar and foodservice type accounts — along with schools, hospitals, call centers and hospitality — won’t be back in full force for the foreseeable future.
On top of that, going forward, the new normal will involve personal protective equipment (PPE) vending machines, customers who will demand equipment that is contactless and hands-free, specific requirements on how micro markets can be serviced, and other changes that will probably reduce some account sales and cost you capital to upgrade assets.
You all know that there is a new wave upon us concerning the virus (second, third, or still the first?) and irrespective of whether a vaccine will be discovered and distributed, this virus and the fallout from it could affect your clients and our industry for years.
The industry has always been challenging, and operators have had to revise their service many times over the years. About 25 years ago, cigarette sales were virtually outlawed in vending machines. Then, regulations to manage childhood obesity impacted school districts throughout the country, causing reduced sales. Local taxing authorities decided that increased taxes on vending sales were a revenue generator. In some accounts, the demands for fresh food — typically a loss leader — new payment and telemetry systems, and a demand for healthy snacks and other less profitable items have caused some sleepless nights.
Typically, the best operators were always up for the challenge and found ways to step forward and figure out how to turn profits in difficult times. Many of you have weathered the storms and have found that the new opportunities of telemetry, cashless payments and micro market popularity were a saving grace.
Yet, there are very few who I speak with today that are still as excited about the future as they were before the pandemic. Although some are OK with waiting to see how and when sales could come back, everyone is questioning what’s going to happen in the next few years. Others are willing to talk about an exit strategy at this point, assuming they can get a fair and equitable deal.
BUYERS HAVE COME BACK
While virtually all transactions were put on hold earlier this year, since August, many of the best and most reliable purchasers I work with are starting to test the waters again. There are a few new purchasers in the country who are looking to acquire and are not only paying premiums, but are being very creative in how they value sales.
On top of that, we are seeing some sellers being offered a terrific long-term earn out period in order to have the opportunity to gain back many of the accounts they are currently not servicing, thereby making waiting for these sales to come back before selling somewhat academic.
Who would have thought that selling during a devastating health crisis and one of the worst economies any of us have ever lived through would not only be possible, but at extremely fair valuations and premium purchase prices?
Currently, no one can guarantee when a vaccine might be available, or a timeframe for when this virus will abate. As the numbers of increasing cases are now the worst we’ve seen in many states since this began, the buyers who have come back could just as easily fold their tents and stop purchasing again.
Let’s hope our politicians, along with our national health care agencies, can get a handle on this soon. The country needs to repair itself quickly, so we can get back to a healthy economy and a thriving convenience services industry.
About the Author
MARC ROSSET is founder and president of Professional Vending Consultants Inc., a specialized intermediary for acquisitions of full-line vending, food service and office coffee service companies in the U.S. PVC has represented more than 310 transactions with gross sales value of just over $900 million since 1993. Rosset has played a key role in helping to establish industry-recognized guidelines for the value of operations in our industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 654-8910 (Voice) or text at 847-814-3939.