Why I went and had a booth at the National Convenience Store Convention

Today, Jim Brinton, CEO of Avanti, published a blog on Vending Market Watch that details my participation in the National Convenience Store convention last week.  His last paragraph stating “I am taking my 40 years of being in vending and being protective” I hope is his intention of posting the blog.  If that is the case, I understand it and will certainly respect that.  But it by no means paints an accurate picture of why Three Square Market (32M) was at this convention.

Jim, a very successful vending operator who has built two great companies, Evergreen Vending and Avanti (along with his Avanti Northwest brand), is well respected in our industry.  He has built a nationally recognized brand and we are going to work endlessly to catch him and our peers to grow our business.  But in reading his article, I take objection to many of his points and believe it is important to clarify why we are there and what our experiences have been with convenience store owners.

First, Jim, one of the first people I met at the show is not only a convenience store owner (has over a dozen locations), but he is a proud micromarket operator.  In fact, he was in convenience stores long before he got in to markets.  And guess who he has a bunch of stores with?  Avanti. We have several successful Three Square Market operators who are also convenience store operators.  We also have operators who are hotel owners, restaurant proprietors, investors, hair salon owners and more.  Jim, they are already in this business – let’s not try and say this is limited to just vending.

I like you Jim, love vending operators.  We covet the relationships we have with them.  But I covet the relationships I have with all of my operators.  When the healthy vending craze started did you shun them?  When OCS operators got in to arena, did we push them out the door and say this was limited to just vending?  When markets moved from just being in white collar environments to gray collar locations, factories and now one of my most successful locations, charter schools, does that mean we are violating the edict?  How about improving the customer experience by offering mobile payment options versus solely relying on a kiosk – was that also a move in the wrong direction?  The answer to all of these is no.  It is called progress, growth and more.

Acknowledging the convenience store market brings credibility to our arena.  Business owners and the general public are no longer asking “what is a micro market?”  They know what it is because it solidifies that this is no longer a fad – it is here to stay.  What it should mean is that as we bring in more players, we should continue to see improved avenues for all vending operators to enter this arena and grow their businesses.  Vending has been in a slump but as recent as this month, the Automatic Merchandiser highlighted one of our operators who took a struggling 30 year company back to a growing profitable business through markets.  Micro markets has allowed that time and time again for 100’s of vending companies and will continue to for decades to come.

But my issue with the blog doesn’t end with that.  I find some of the statements to be far off-base as would some of my clients.  To say a convenience store operator “doesn’t understand how to deal with human resource personnel or customer service requests” is off base.  Many of these convenience store owners are large corporations who have their own HR Departments and clearly understand how to deal with these leaders.  And, if the attendees of this convention didn’t understand how to deal with customer requests, how are they even in business in this ever changing world of on-line shopping, telecommuting, unstable fuel markets and more.

Jim, I admire and respect your success.  But I have to say, telling me where I should be looking to grow my business is over the line.  I am going to lead our company no different than you by adding valued clients, relationships and more.  Recently we were approached by a major player to enter in to our other business, inmate commissary.  Rather than try to “protect” my business, I approached it as an opportunity to further grow my business.  I found a way to partner with them on their ideas and together, we are going to make growing together a major joint initiative for 2016.

Which is the final reason we attended the show.  We believe that several of our operators could benefit from tying our program to a convenience store operators or chains buying power, brand, loyalty programs and more. Instead of requiring that operators paste our brand name everywhere, we allow them to customize their locations – unlike anyone else. Allowing operators to partner with national brands potentially could bring identity and credibility unmatched in the industry.  It is time to think outside the kiosk and the staple of salts and sugars to grow this industry.  Partnering with some of these chains is an untapped opportunity and 32M intends to lead the kiosk providers in doing things that further enhances the services we offer to our clients and their client sites.  So when you see “1000’s of locations in your city”, you are exactly right – we are looking for ways outside of just planting a kiosk in a breakroom to ensure all of our clients grow their businesses profitably – there are 900,000 potential locations out there, let’s go get them and make them all successful.   It goes parallel to the mission we have at 32M:  Create success at every opportunity.  This was an opportunity to create new avenues for our company, our clients and potential new clients.  It was successful.

Patrick

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