Delivering a local service nationally

In fairness, Vendia is far from being the only group to be able to claim, with some justification, to be successfully providing a local-style vending service on a national basis.
Steadily increasing revenues and profits in recent times, plus some help from a seemingly never-ending barrage of acquisitions, mergers and consolidations among the bigger players in the vending operator brotherhood have, according to Mike Potts, Chief Executive, established the group as the UK’s fourth largest vending company, looking up only to the likes of Bunzl, Selecta and Autobar.
There seems to have been a little more to it than that, though – a dogged pursuance of quality in all things and a determination to achieve growth on a measured, slowly-slowly approach, rather than the all-too-familiar roller coaster scenario.
Vendia UK is part of the international Vendia Group which is based in Holland and also has vending operations based in the Alsace and Lorrraine regions of France. Vendia’s strength is its network of strong local operating companies and management teams, who use their regional knowledge and experience to deliver high quality products and services, whatever the required vending package.
Vendia UK has, in fact, been around for longer than many may realise, celebrating its ninth birthday this year. It was formed by bringing together four formerly independent operating businesses – Simply Drinks, Drinkmaster, Integer and VMI under the banner of Benchmark Vending. Benchmark was then renamed Vendia UK shortly after Mike Potts joined the business in 2003.
At the time, Mike spoke of ambitious growth plans for Vendia, quoted as saying: “We want to become a very well recognised and highly regarded refreshment vending brand in the UK and Europe. We aim to combine the best of both worlds, a nationwide operation, offering efficiency and high standards, plus the familiarity of local operators and engineers who take a pride in their jobs.”
Indeed, in its first three years, Vendia established a customer base of over 10,000, and by its fifth birthday year the message was one of doubling profits, and plans to boost the UK sales force by about 20 per cent.
“The early years”, explains Mike, “were largely ones of restructuring, consolidation, rebranding and, importantly, ensuring that we were on an even keel, financially speaking. Once we had achieved that to our satisfaction, we were set to move forward. Our philosophy of offering a local service nationally was paying off, with customer loyalty running at about 96 per cent.” In fact, at AVEX 2005 Vendia received special recognition for ‘Commitment to Partnership’ in the Vending Operator of The Year Awards, organised by Masterfoods.
“Coming up to date, our 2007 trading results”, continued Mike, “saw a lift in revenues of over five per cent across our UK operations and one of the best profits in our history, both significant achievements given the tough market conditions that challenge all vending companies today.
“Sound investment strategy, responsiveness to changing market requirements – such as the healthy eating trend – and exceptional loyalty from staff and customers are making a really visible difference to our operating performance.”
In 2005, Vendia created its Café Joe brand of premium quality, ethically traded coffee (freshbrew, instant and beans), tea and hot chocolate – probably the first in the vending industry. Last year, the range went totally Fairtrade.
In December, Simply Drinks installed the 1,000th Café Joe branded machine at the offices of a prestigious client in Central London. Then, coinciding with Fairtrade Fortnight in early 2008, the new website was launched to give customers regular updates on the many ethical vending options that are now becoming available to them.
While these developments were going on, Drinkmaster – Vendia’s, self-operated, single-portion drinks specialist based in Liskeard, Cornwall, celebrated the end of a successful trading year by winning a significant, long-term contract to supply Ladbroke’s chain of betting shops throughout the UK. The company also launched its new Sealcup initiative and introduced an upgraded version of its hot water dispenser ‘Cascata’.
“I believe that our challenge right now” explained Mike, “and one that is faced by the entire industry lies in getting vend prices up. Not a new situation, I know, but in 2008 we are all in a tough economic situation, and one which seems unlikely to improve until well into 2009. The industry has two significant problems that stand in the way of higher prices – purchasing managers focussed only on cutting costs and companies that provide beverages on free-vend and therefore do not have the necessary motivation to travel the quality route.
“We need to access enlightened site owners, and are using good old-fashioned cold calling as a means of achieving the goal. I have to say that, results are currently telling us that the approach is working well.
“As an industry, we must be prepared to take a fresh look at vending and what else it can achieve – particularly at sites that we are already calling on. We have looked at water and sandwiches and are always experimenting with new ideas that could improve our service and our bottom line. I firmly believe that, although it is tough out there at the moment, the vending industry is still a good place to be and we have AVEX ahead of us – an event that I have nothing but admiration for. We will be able to see 80 per cent of our suppliers in two days, under one roof. A stunning event.”