Canadian Vending

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From the editor: Seeking Alternatives

If there were ever a time to look for alternatives, now would be it


November 12, 2008
By Cam Wood


Topics

If there were ever a time to look
for alternatives, now would be it. There’s no question that our
industry remains mired in a very tumultuous period. Around every corner
there lurks some sort of fear and apprehension affecting not just our
business, but also our customer base.

If there were ever a time to look for alternatives, now would be it. There’s no question that our industry remains mired in a very tumultuous period. Around every corner there lurks some sort of fear and apprehension affecting not just our business, but also our customer base. Our end users are clinging to every loonie and toonie with a sort of unbreakable death-grip.

Truth is, the manufacturing base in Canada – particularly in the central region – is suffering dramatically through this “non-recession” we seem to “not” be having. With locations being shuttered or “streamlined,” the core consumer for vending operators is disappearing.

The news isn’t getting much better on the economic front, which translates into the need for a long-term strategy by operators to find new ways of doing business.

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And then there are the perceptions of what is in our machines. Food safety news has not been positive lately. Recent recalls and consumers’ skepticism over meat products and chocolate add to this tattered landscape.

What doesn’t change, however, is the value we bring to the marketplace. And in order to ride out the current tsunami of change, we must reinforce that value … and diversify in what we offer.

Recently, the City of Edmonton announced a pilot project involving four vending machines designed to hold 50 library books. The idea is to set up these $100,000 self-serve lending kiosks in the city’s public transportation system and areas not served by library branches.

In the United States, an article came out about an event using vending machines as a method of selling art. This isn’t all that new, as a few years ago Canadian Vending wrote about a Montreal company that specialized in converting old cigarette machines into art vendors.

What makes this latest story newsworthy is that the idea now incorporates the more traditional snack and beverage machines.

Of course, these innovations alone are not going to save our industry. It’s even doubtful that one relatively small event at an art gallery in Utah will shake the foundations enough to wake us up.

But, what it does show is that we must continually think “outside the box” in both physical and metaphorical ways. We must be in continual motion to seek alternatives to our traditional business models and push the envelope in any way we can.

The consumer needs to see vending in a different way in North America. Because our culture has been slow to adopt certain technologies, and because our banking system allows for outrageous processing fees for credit handling, it becomes our responsibility in these times to be more innovative.

Vending operators must take the initiative to learn what today’s frugal, frightened and suspicious consumer wants. We must work aggressively – and expeditiously – to find the answers to their questions.

At present, it’s not a level of “discrimination” against our machines, but rather against what the consumers perceive to be in them.

But if we don’t find the alternatives quickly, there will be only one…


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