Canadian Vending

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New Arena For Growth

Concessions don’t make the team in small town rinks


April 29, 2008
By Stacy Bradshaw


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The local arena has always been a mecca for bulk vending activity. With vibrant young athletes frequenting the rinks for hockey, figure skating, lacrosse and ringette, the arena is the quintessential Canadian hot spot for bulk sales. But is it finally time for full-line vendors to share in the wealth?

Concessions don’t make the team in small town rinks

The local arena has always been a mecca for bulk vending activity. With vibrant young athletes frequenting the rinks for hockey, figure skating, lacrosse and ringette, the arena is the quintessential Canadian hot spot for bulk sales. But is it finally time for full-line vendors to share in the wealth?

According to Kevin Lichach, manager of parks and facilities for Norfolk County, Ontario, vending operators should be prepping for a new opportunity. Norfolk is a southwestern Ontario county bordering the shores of Lake Erie. Typical of small industry and agricultural communities across Canada, it is home to five small towns, and six ice-pads. But as Lichach told a local newspaper in February, it’s likely that Norfolk will have to close one of those in the near future.

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For local vending operators, a lost location could seem nothing short of dismal. But, it’s the root of the problem – the logistics behind having to close the barn doors – that may actually spark opportunity for vendors. The rationale is that demographic trends toward an older population suggest the county recreation department will have to “move with the times,” reported the Simcoe Reformer. Put
simply, the department is experiencing a substantial lack of funds.

The primary drivers, namely insurance and utility costs, have bumped Norfolk’s 2006 expenditures on arenas up $211,000 from 2005 to $1.37 million. The problem is Canadian arenas just aren’t bringing in as much money as they used to. Standalone arenas, such as those in Norfolk, are closing at a rapid rate across the country, Lichach noted. The facilities that do well have two or more ice rinks and offer a multitude of uses to the community.

More importantly (for vending operators), Lichach also reported that traditional foodservices in Norfolk’s arenas, namely concession stands, are proving less and less profitable. The day is coming, he said, when the only food and refreshments available in Norfolk arenas will come from vending machines.

Of course it is becoming much more common for the cold beverage accounts in arenas to be tendered to Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Darren Nickle, of Can-West Vending Distributors Ltd., said when this happens it is almost impossible for vending operators to compete in the cold beverage segment because commissions to the location are usually very high.

His advice? “Offer the very best quality of equipment, such as snack machines with a positive delivery system, bill acceptance in all machines, and hot beverage machines capable of a large variety of products with 16 to 20 ounce cup sizes.”

With concessions on the outs, vendible snacks, coffee and hot chocolate are the most logical extensions for foodservice sales in arenas. The typical situation now, even with the concessions in order, is that concessions are only open during high-traffic times – the “big” games, or skating competitions. Men’s recreational hockey leagues and girl’s hockey – increasingly growing categories that don’t necessarily bring in a huge populous of small town fans – are forgotten when it comes to concession services. The labour is simply too much to pay for the amount of customers.

Nickle told Canadian Vending that arenas and recreation facilities are generally great vending locations. “Current model hot beverage machines offering a large variety of gourmet choices and up to 20 oz. cup sizes are a good idea in these locations. The larger cup sizes offer a greater value to the consumer … the profitability of the larger cup sizes is a great bonus for the operator too.”

Operators are going to need first-rate offerings if they’re going to compete with the local Tim Hortons in the hot beverage realm. In terms of snack machines, if operators are already in these locations, seeing the current competition from concession stands disappear is a bit of a bonus. They can keep the chips and chocolate bars stacked for good measure, and now they can target the parents looking for a quick bite during those gruelling 5 a.m. practices. Hockey-orientated vends, like hockey tape, skate laces and mouth guards, are a good idea too.

 And if an operator is going to stand a chance at landing the cold beverage account over Coke or Pepsi, Nickle said the only way that will happen is if they offer a new glass-front elevator type machine, showcasing both brands. He said the dynamic visual appeal of the glass front can really enhance sales.
If recreations and parks personnel like Lichach are already convinced that vending is the appropriate remedy for the losses they’re experiencing from concessions, it’s now a matter of convincing them to offer a larger, more extensive line of vending options. In counties like Norfolk, they’ll be looking for all they can get. With ice rates on the rise, he said figure skating and junior hockey clubs are having difficulty paying rental fees. Nothing seems to be in Lichach’s favour these days. Except maybe the vending         operator. o


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