Industry leader says innovation, adaptability will keep Can-West Vending on top of its game
By Stefanie Wallace
It may say general manager on Darren Nickle’s business card, but that’s
only because there’s not enough room to list all the hats this
It may say general manager on Darren Nickle’s business card, but that’s only because there’s not enough room to list all the hats this jack-of-all-trades wears. From the time he began with the business, Nickle has performed every role, from sales and customer service to shipping and repairs.
|Darren Nickle, general manager at Can-West Vending, plays the jack-of-all-trades role in the business, performing duties in sales, customer service, shipping and repairs. Photo courtesy Can-West Vending|
When his father, Nelson, a 46-year industry veteran, started Can-West Vending out of his house in Edmonton in 1983, Nickle was working in marketing in Toronto. After some time and with persuasion from his father, Nickle relocated to Edmonton in 1985 to help his father grow the business.
“With there only being two of us in the beginning, I learned how to do everything – I dealt with customers, shipped parts and repaired equipment,”
Like any business, with time comes change, and operating a growing vending distributing company out of a home office isn’t feasible for very long. Can-West’s first warehouse opened in 1985 in South Edmonton, and while there have been a few upgrades along the way, South Edmonton is still the home of Can-West Vending.
And, of course, more than two employees were eventually needed to keep up with the growth of the company. Nickle’s brother Warren is involved in the service sector of the company, and Can-West employs 10 others at reception, and the shipping and receiving, parts and accounting departments.
Besides being the Western Canadian distributor for Crane, Can-West distributes AMS, Royal Vendors, Vendo and Avalon machines, and is a complete sales and service centre for everything it sells, from machines to coin mechanisms and bill acceptors.
This broad wealth of knowledge has proven to be advantageous. “My dad has always been the same – we know our equipment inside and out electronically, mechanically, feature-wise, everything . . . As my dad used to say, if I’m 1,000 miles from home, it’s not necessarily a salesman that a customer needs to see,” Nickle says.
Being able to fix problems on the fly is a surefire way to gain customer loyalty, and this tried-and-true principle has remained steadfast over the years – especially during tough economic times. Can-West’s sales are on the rise again, and Nickle says the last six months have been very positive, but things were different about two years ago. The effects of a recession combined with healthy choice standard issues proved to be challenging for Can-West. “That was a big one,”
Nickle says of the healthy vending standards. The school boards in British Columbia mandated a list of what can and cannot be sold in vending machines. “Those criteria made it very difficult for our customers a) to even find product to fill a machine, and b) to find product that would sell, and that continues to be a problem.”
But although the shift toward healthy vending has had such a profound impact on the traditional vending operator, Nickle thinks the industry is adapting well: “The product manufacturers for the edible product have done a great job of stepping up to the plate . . . there’s just a much more diverse product mix that’s acceptable,” he says.
To keep sales up, manufacturers, distributors and operators alike will have to continue to stay on top of the game, Nickle says. Can-West’s ability to adapt to tough times has been (and undoubtedly will continue to be) tested, and the company’s versatility has kept it one step ahead. For example, in an attempt to offset some of the challenges these standards proposed, Can-West became involved in allied vending with industrial shops, selling gloves, safety glasses and supplies.
Trends in new technology, such as cashless payment systems, are growing in popularity, and the change in Canadian currency has kept Can-West busy. “Customers are bringing all of their monetary components to us to get recalibrated, so that’s a very busy time for us. It’s a good thing,” Nickle says.
Looking forward, Nickle sees telemetry systems as the next big game changer, and thinks they are efficient ways to cut costs and gain profitability. “Your root people are not going to places they are needing to be so often, and they’re going to places more often that they need
to be at.”
Nickle also feels creative thinking and constant striving for sophistication of equipment will help drive the industry forward, especially in a time of constant change. “I think we need to keep pushing our manufacturers to be creative and get away from the black box, if you will, of standard vending machines. They’ve done a good job with a lot of things . . . and reliability is improving.”
As a former member of the board for the Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association (CAMA), Nickle is delighted to see new faces and innovative thinkers showing excitement for the future of the vending industry. Nickle served on the board for 16 years and was responsible for the Alberta and British Columbia golf tournaments. “CAMA kind of bent the rules for me, year in and year out,” Nickle says. “Really, you’re supposed to do a two-year term and then a consecutive two-year term . . . and I was there for 16 years!” He stopped this year to make room for the young, fresh, blood – “Not that I’m very old – I’ve just been at it for a while!” he clarifies with a laugh.
As Can-West approaches its 30th year in business, Nickle is confident with where the company stands and where it’s headed.
“We’re really happy with the progress we’re making, getting equipment out in the market again,” Nickle says. “I think we’ve done a good job for our customers and we continue to grow.”