Canadian Vending

Features Profiles
Q-and-A: Chuck Pifko

Get to know Can-West Vending Distributors’ new owner and how he transitioned from operations manager

September 24, 2013
By Karly O’Brien


Chuck Pifko joined Can-West Vending Distributors just five years ago,
and has now become the owner of the Calgary-based business.

Chuck Pifko joined Can-West Vending Distributors just five years ago, and has now become the owner of the Calgary-based business.

He started out as the operations manger after meeting the Nickle’s while an employee for Coinco, and prior to that he worked at a Coca-Cola franchise vending company that eventually got bought out by Coca-Cola. Canadian Vending and Office Coffee Service recently spoke with Pikfo about his recent transition, where he sees the business headed in the future, and thoughts on the industry.

Chuck Pifko fell into the business of vending at a young age, and stuck with it despite his training in marketing at university. As Pifko says, “I don’t think anyone plans on being in the vending industry, it just happens.”



How has your role changed, and what are some highlights?

Transitioning into my new position as owner has been a challenge in itself. Someone explained it to me very well: I’ve been in the business for many years, and now I have to work on the business. It’s a different way of looking at things. You have to look more at the strategic planning, as opposed to getting things done that have to be done. I have to learn how to delegate a little bit better; there were many things that I was doing before that I now have to pass off to someone else because I have other administrative duties to do and I have to operate the business. Some highlights of my new position have been working with staff. The overall success that they have contributed to the business has been great. We have a couple of new employees who have come on board, and have done extremely well, and so far it has been a very successful year. I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going. Nelson also continues to come in and help out with training staff, and has also been helping me out over the past year to get settled in.

What are challenges on the horizon?

There are many challenges. One of the biggest challenges is also an opportunity, which is expanding into the debit and credit payment market as the equipment becomes available. It’s a challenge because we haven’t seen much of the equipment yet, and have no idea what kind of costs are involved – we’re still waiting for that from the manufacturers. Another challenge we face, and some people don’t think of it, but it’s definitely something Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association (CAMA) has tried to address in the past, is trying to educate people on what we call “Blue Sky Operators” (BSOs).  Many BSOs have moved into the healthy vending market, and made it look a lot more attractive than it really is, and some people get caught up in that. It’s also about competing against cross-border shopping. People order machines from the United States, or off of various websites such as Kijiji. After buying them, however, they find out they don’t work, or don’t work the way they want them to, and they expect us to fix them.

What opportunities do you plan to tackle in terms of vending technologies?

That’s difficult to answer since the technology is just coming out, and it seems to be coming out at a fast pace. Typically, vending has a bad rap. If you ever watch TV programs or movies, you always see people banging on the machines because something won’t come out. So, I think there is an opportunity in the market to upgrade to newer items. Many operators, especially larger ones, are all linked electronically with their machines so they know what’s going on with vending machines in real time. Crane is coming out with a new machine with a touchscreen capability, and we’ve already gotten orders for those just because people see the advantage of having something that looks like a TV or a tablet. If you see a nice, new, modern-looking machine and it is the easy to use and sometimes fun, you can look at it, and say yes, that’s going to work. I’m not going to lose my money. Our company wants to make sure that our customers are, and remain successful. If they are successful then we are successful. It’s not only our customers getting new accounts or expanding, but it’s increasing the business in their current accounts. As for cashless payment, we are definitely taking that into serious consideration. I think debit, more so than credit, will take off because the younger generations don’t think of using their credit cards for such small purchases.

Where do you see vending as an industry headed in the future?

I think there’s an opportunity to vend different items such as cheese, umbrellas and other items you wouldn’t normally expect to find in a machine. It all comes back to trust. I think ultimately the customer needs to trust that if they put their money or use their debit card they are going to get the product they want. So some of the products that appear in vending machines make a lot of sense, while others are a bit more difficult to market. If someone is trying to vend sunglasses for example, it’s very difficult to for someone to put their faith that they are going to get a good pair of sunglasses because they can’t try them on and see what they are like. On the other hand, we’ve sold a number of machines to car washes for vending out Armor All, wipes, shammys and air fresheners. It’s a different area, but this is an example of a product that consumers can put their faith in.

Are today’s vending end users more educated than in the past?

They are definitely more educated, especially with date codes. People are ensuring their product is fresh, and checking the labels to see the nutritional value. There’s also the movement towards healthier vending options. This is very difficult to ask of operators because many people are asking for healthier options, but few will actually go out and purchase these healthy products. People still want their Mars bars, and people still want their Cheezies. The best thing an operator can do in this situation is offer a variety so consumers can choose. Also, finding a healthy choice that is tasty, not too pricey and doesn’t have an extremely short shelf life is quite difficult.

Pifko is hard at work expanding his new business, and working with the old owner to get a feel for his new environment. When he isn’t working you will probably find him on a nearby racetrack. “I’m involved in car racing,” he says with a laugh during a phone interview. “I do some field staff work, timing and scoring. Many people know that if I’m away on a weekend I’m at a racetrack somewhere.” 

Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited.

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