Canadian Vending

Features Profiles
In conversation with Chris Stegehuis

March 2, 2018
By Michelle Brisebois

On the question of cashless payment, Chris Stegehuis, CAMA’s new president, says cash will always have a place in vending but he “could likely take up a whole page on this item alone and at the end of it all have argued the merits of it both ways.” Photo: Fotolia

When I asked the Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association’s (CAMA) new president Chris Stegehuis how he embarked upon a career in the vending industry, his story — like many of ours — involved a bit of coincidence. His post-secondary study had him pointed towards a career in golf course management but an off-season job with a vending company made him pivot.  

“I loved the diversity of the sector and I saw growth opportunity for me professionally,” said Stegehuis. That was 21 years ago and Stegehuis’ career has included progressively strategic roles with Coinco, culminating in his current role there as Canadian general manager. In tandem to his career at Coinco, Stegehuis has been involved with CAMA, holding a variety of roles including treasurer.  Stegehuis was recently appointed CAMA’s president. Canadian Vending magazine reached out to him to get his thoughts on industry trends and opportunities as well as how CAMA intends to support the vending industry going forward.

CV: How has CAMA evolved over the last few years to keep up with the changing landscape?

CS: CAMA has done a great job with this in the last few years. As a board we have challenged ourselves with keeping in tune with what our membership wants. We have a great mix on the board of both operators and suppliers and this has been important to ensure the direction of the association. As for particular examples of this, you need to look no further than the launch of our Smart Pick program in 2016. Although some of the larger operators in our association may have had their own healthy choice program, for many of the small-medium size operators the designing of a program like this would be a huge undertaking and many would not have had the time. As a board this was a project that was discussed and worked on for close to five years.  CAMA also has a larger social media presence today than it ever has. Not only can you find us on Twitter (@CAMA_Vending) and LinkedIn (CAMA Administrator), but our team does a great job monitoring the web for opportunities that are shared with our membership such as regulatory updates and important news stories.


CV: Vending was largely foodservice focused, but that’s changing as educational materials, cryptocurrency and many other things can now be dispensed via vending. Do you see CAMA membership evolving and becoming more diverse too?

CS: I think we all have to continue to evolve or we risk becoming obsolete.  What worked 10 years ago may not work as well today and with the speed at which technology is changing, that window is likely even smaller. On the operator side you are seeing some consolidation and I believe a lot of this has to do with operators playing catch up on the technology side. For some this can be overwhelming. With that said; many of the operators I spend time with today are looking at new opportunities to grow their business, whether this be new technologies such as cashless or VMS, or food product offerings many are introducing fresh ideas to their client base. It’s also exciting to see children of operators getting involved in the business. I know this has always been part of succession planning but who is better at understanding and taking advantage of the technology available today than the millennial generation?

CV: As the machines get smarter and the opportunities for placement expand – what do you see as the biggest challenge?

CS: ROI (return on investment) will likely be the largest deciding factor on whether any of these new technologies stick around or not. Remember, we are in a business, whether it be a traditional vending package and even with coffee and tea, where the majority of the products we sell are under $5.  

Another challenge will be the meshing of technologies. Can an operator take advantage of these new opportunities still running single price or logic equipment from the 1980s? The answer in most cases is no. For example, mobile payment is upon us and I’m seeing more and more customers using these types of technologies for payment, but in many cases the technology needed to process this form of payment is not compatible with the machine the consumer is trying to use.

CV: Amazon has now opened its Amazon Go store concept to the public.  It will allow them to quantify the in-store shopping behaviour with the same accuracy they do the online experience. In your opinion; does the vending industry have a handle on its data? Are operators capturing, quantifying and analyzing their data to understand customer behaviour?

CS: Yes and no. This goes back to our membership evolving. Many operators now are running VMS (Vendor Management Systems) solutions that will give them access to some important sales data like the what, when, where and how (item purchased, time, method of payment, etc.) that can be used to match products to location. However, when it comes to who is purchasing, I believe we are continuing to make a lot of assumptions. We can certainly come up with some data on the “who” by looking at location or method of payment but a lot of this detail is based on a best guess.

CV:  Where do you see payment headed? Will cash go away?

CS: This question I get a lot and one that I spend a tremendous amount of time discussing with operators in Canada. I could likely take up a whole page on this item alone and at the end of it all have argued the merits of it both ways. I believe cash will always have a place in vending.  You will always have a customer, although maybe not a majority, who would prefer to pay by cash and with the amount of currency handling equipment in the field today, I cannot see cash disappearing any time soon. With that said; the operators who are now accepting both cash and card at their machines are not only reporting a lift in sales by adding card but that cashless portion can be anywhere from 20 to 60 per cent of overall sales at that machine. As more and more consumers begin to get a comfort level with using cashless, I suspect these numbers will continue to grow. There are certainly also a lot of benefits within the vending segment for the elimination of cash as theft/vandalism, coin handling logistics and coin/bill changes add a tremendous cost to operator. That is not to say cashless doesn’t come with its own costs as connectivity and processing fees are something that cash doesn’t have.

CV:  What should operators be doing to get ready for upcoming shifts?

CS: Invest in their business. Being a supplier to the industry I see a lot of currency equipment returned whether it be a repair or software update and the equipment is 20 to 30 years old.  In what other industry is the “bread and butter” of one’s company 25 plus years old?  

Attend the CAMA events to find out the latest and educate one self. Come see these new technologies available today.  Whether it be on the food product side or on the hardware side, these CAMA events will bring you up to date on all things vending.  Where else can you get together with peers from your industry coast to coast to discuss new technologies and industry trends?”     

CV: What do you see as the biggest threat to the vending industry?

CS: I don’t think there is necessarily one “biggest” obstacle. Certainly technology for those operators that haven’t reinvested in their business. Nutritional mandates will continue to present challenges to our operators in finding the right products that consumers want but also meet the caloric restrictions set upon them. As a supplier we are always being challenged to refine our equipment so that it meets the ever changing Energy Star guidelines but incorporates the new smarter technology our clients demand.

CV: What are you excited about focusing on with CAMA for the benefit of the membership?

CS: Our board of directors just had a one day planning session recently in Toronto and we came out of it with some ideas we will try as we move through 2018 into 2019. Obviously, our biggest challenge remains growing the membership base. We are working on identifying who those members could potentially be while being sure that we also bring a quantifiable value to the member, whether they’re supplier or operator.

We will continue to expand the Smart Pick program and hope to work with others members who have yet to take advantage of this program and its marketing materials.

We have picked an exciting destination this year for the CAMA tradeshow and hope our members share the same excitement (Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood, Ont.). We will try something outside of a large metropolitan centre and hope that our members will make a weekend out of it with their families.