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Time To Stand Up And Be Seen

Time To Stand Up And Be Seen

April 30, 2008
By Richard Zinck


We in the vending industry like to play hide and seek. For the most
part, we vending operators hide while our customers try to seek us out.
The problem is that while we’ve been hiding out, a large chunk of our
customer base has been lured away by competition that is only too happy
to let people know where they can be found.

We in the vending industry like to play hide and seek. For the most part, we vending operators hide while our customers try to seek us out. The problem is that while we’ve been hiding out, a large chunk of our customer base has been lured away by competition that is only too happy to let people know where they can be found.

Take coffee for example. Not only has Tim Horton’s taken away a huge chunk of the vending business for coffee; it has created a large demand for coffee that just didn’t exist before. Now a large number of big brands thrive in that industry, while the vending industry is content to lose more and more market share.
There are many examples, in all areas of catering and vending, where the big brands have taken business away and managed to create a lot of new business of their own. Meanwhile, one would be hard pressed to name one large brand name in the vending industry.

So why did it end up this way? And what can we as an industry do about it?


Answering these questions, as well as proposing solutions to get our ailing industry back on top, is what this space is devoted to. Over the coming issues of Canadian Vending Magazine, I will look at specific topics for rebuilding our industry, such as promotion, finding and developing new markets and products, as well the impact of new technologies and how we can all profit from them. I will use my own
experience and draw on others for ideas, including ideas from you, the reader.

Let’s start this issue by looking at the potential problem. Many people in the industry will immediately disagree with my statement about vending operators playing hide and seek with their customers. They will say: “I am right here, I am not hiding.” But if that is so, why is it that no one in the industry advertises? When was the last time you heard or saw an ad for a vending company? It is my guess that 95 per cent of our industry doesn’t even advertise on its own vehicles.

So, why don’t we want to be seen?

The easy answer is we have an industry based on cash. You know the old statement: “cash is king”.  Fear of the taxman is behind this bit of wisdom. But if you look at what is being lost by abiding by this wisdom, the reality is more like “cash is the jester”.

Look at how many people use debit cards. The cashless society is upon us and it won’t be long before few people will have spare change jangling in their pockets. Here’s an area where Tim Horton’s hasn’t done much with yet. But you can bet it will only be a matter of time before they roll out some kind of cashless system. Just imagine if the vending industry took the initiative and was the first to create cashless systems on trucks and in machines. Now that would be something worth crowing about. And, besides, it’s a well-documented fact that cashless systems generate considerably more sales. 

Because we are so close to our customers, there are probably many ways we could start taking our industry back. But first we must start thinking like an industry. And that means we have to stop hiding out from our customers and each other.

It starts on the individual level. Each of us has to put our ideas for better service and products into action, even if nobody else in the business is doing it. By one person giving something a try, the whole industry benefits. But the person who first tries it, always benefits the most. Again, Tim Horton’s is a perfect example, as one of the pioneers in brand management around the cup of coffee. Their success depends on the entire industry striving to be better and creating more demand for coffee. If their competitors were to fail, they would fail. So, they often set the example for the industry in creating new products and excitement. They just don’t hold back.

In the area of promotion, I created StomachMan when I went into Guelph 17 years ago as a catering truck operator.  I got a lot of press around it. The most striking result of all that media attention was when a private school asked StomachMan to come and serve them once week. Without first sticking my neck out, I would never have thought that rich people would want their kids to be served by a coffee truck?  Creating visibility creates opportunities. And it creates the kind of awareness and opportunities that everyone can benefit from.

So we’ve got to create our own means of success, just like Hollywood creates its own celebrities. Your industry is just not there, it has to be created. If you don’t create it, there is no demand for it.

You may say: “well what could be sexy about a catering truck or vending machine?” Well, there is a lot when you think about it. We just need to consider why a customer would want to come to us when they are thirsty and hungry. We could start with convenience, good products, great service and good pricing. But even with all this, we must first let the customer know we are there offering all these great things. o
It is inspired thinking that is going to save our industry. So, I’d like to declare a new revolution in our industry and hear from you on how that is going to happen. For those who feel they may have the ideas and inspiration but not the time or money to put their ideas into action, they might want to think twice. You can start small by letting your customers know who you are. When I was a route builder most companies didn’t even know which operator was serving them or how they even ended up with that operator.

Visibility can be accomplished in many inexpensive ways. It could start with some visits with customers to let them know what you are doing to improve service or even just to hear some of their concerns. For the more ambitious there are scores of small marketing and PR companies that can do the work for you. The results to the bottom line can be impressive, and concerns about the taxman will be less of a concern when business is booming. With the increased business you could afford to hire a sharp bookkeeper to make sure you get all those considerable tax benefits that are available to small businesses.

Now, let’s start the revolution by hearing from you. Send me an e-mail and I will write about the best ideas I receive in coming columns.  Next month, I’ll being talking about surefire inexpensive ways to promote yourself. o

Richard Zinck has built million dollar catering truck and vending machine routes for more than 25 years. He is a sales consultant and motivational speaker who can be reached at