Guest Column: Spring 2013
By Kim Lockie
Coping witih extra change
By Kim Lockie
Change. Both definitions of the word pertain to our business.
Change. Both definitions of the word pertain to our business. Our machines accept a lot of change daily, and over time, we have seen many changes in our industry. Looking back, there have been repeated alloy content changes in every coin that we now have. Besides this, we have seen changes in coins themselves. More than 25 years ago we saw the introduction of the $1 coin, followed by a $2 coin nine years later.
Many things have changed since the implementation of the loonie and toonie. Think about it: how many of us have the same vehicle or computer that we had when these coins were launched? If we do, they are loosely considered antiques, and used as such. Inevitably, we have had to change a lot of things in our industry. Hopefully, we have upgraded our coin mechanisms alongside upgrading our machines.
Upgrading an existing machine is always a challenge and requires a business decision. Do we spend money on new technology and will it pay for itself?
Realistically, I think we need to upgrade machines to increase sales. I don’t think we will get rich on increased sales, and I suspect that the increase will pay for little more than the upgrade itself and generate only a little extra profit. However, the upgrade does increase customer satisfaction. It improves the look of a machine, it improves reliability, and it decreases technical support for the location, which in itself, may add to profit. So, in my perspective, the customer satisfaction makes upgrading well worthwhile and keeps the industry reputation going in a positive way.
It may be difficult for some to just change machines, and the fact that so many have is a change in our industry. If we looked at the number of operators with more than 500 machines when the loonie and toonie came out, I believe the number would be very small. Today, there are at least a few operators with more than 1,000 machines. Like many other industries, vending has been forced to grow in order to survive. It’s happened in so many of our communities: big-box stores at the edge of town have forced the downtown core’s small businesses to close. Similarly, there were many small farms and a large number of farmers 25 years ago. Now, there are very few small farms, and the majority of young farmers have acreages unheard of 25 years ago. This means fewer farms, fewer businesses and fewer people working. This isn’t necessarily good or bad – it is just the reality of today and the future. There will always be small farms, businesses and operators but their numbers will dwindle as the future comes. And our industry is no different.
All of this seems like doom and gloom for some, and opportunities for others. This is what change is all about. CAMA has worked closely with the Royal Canadian Mint and the Bank of Canada. These organizations are both directed by us – the taxpayer – to reduce government costs, so they have no choice but to change. We have made efforts to work closely with them to ensure that the transition of coins and notes as they affect vending is as smooth as possible. It doesn’t always go as well as expected, but we are pleased to be able to report that our efforts have been heard. Of course, nobody likes the sound of spending approximately $15,000 every time a coin or bill is changed, but unfortunately, this is the cost of doing business, and an essential part of customer service.
There are many new systems that have come out for vending, including electronic keys, telemetry systems, software packages and upgraded and new idea machines. We have seen buyer groups flourish. All of this was unheard of years ago when the loonie came out. It all helps increase sales, which is what we all want, but it comes with a cost. Without volumes in a company, it is hard to even consider – let alone keep up with – technology. In a way, we are forced to become larger to keep up with the newest items out there. Just look at the annual vending shows: attendance figures and the number of show booths were much larger then than they are now. There are fewer and fewer of the old familiar faces returning to the shows every year.
The industry is aging and we need to encourage young people to take over. I see many companies doing just that: finding and training employees from a younger generation. This generation will know how to run a large company, but it will not know what it is like to build a very small enterprise into a large vending company and to maintain it in a shrinking world. Each generation has its challenges.
Change is evident even within CAMA. We strive to do our best as volunteers, to help our industry be informed, and to help provide ideas for growth. This means welcoming the next generation, and as past-president, it will soon be my turn to step off the board so that our future leaders can move forward with the great enthusiasm that we all have for this industry. It gets in your blood, and once you’re in our industry, it becomes a life passion.
Do not be afraid of change. Embrace it. Good luck.
Kim Lockie is the owner of McMurray Coin Machines in Fort McMurray, Alta., and is the past-president of CAMA.