With extra time on my hands, I’ve been clearing out old papers and came across a number of articles I wrote. From 2002 – 2010, I was a contributor to Auto Vending magazine, under the pen names of ‘Last Word’ or ‘Insight’.
By Alistair Price
The issues I commented on back then are relevant, to a degree, today: fair trade, ethics; health, VAT; common sense, cashless and food vending, to name but a few. What strikes me is that the topics I highlighted over ten years ago are still on our agenda now. Having said that, I feel that even before the COVID-19 swept all in its wake, the average consumer had lost interest in both ‘fair trade’ and ‘ethics’.
We find ourselves faced right now with what the Bank of England has forecast will be ‘the worst recession for more than 300 years’. So, how will this affect the UK Vending sector?
Home working for many will become part of ‘the new normal’ that everybody’s talking about. Consequently, company office spaces will shrink and the consequences of that will be felt beyond the firms themselves. It means offices will require fewer machines. I recently contacted a call centre and the person to whom I spoke told me that he and his colleagues were working from home. If that works, why fork-out for expensive office space?
Factories, likewise, have cut back on numbers due to the requirements of the government’s social distancing policy. That means fewer people are using machines. It’s not all bad news though: with the reduced viability of canteens in offices and factories, I think food vending will gather momentum.
The need for workers to cluster together in offices has shaped modern life. If the pandemic has permanently weakened the role of the office in society, the implications for the vending industry will be profound.
I predict there’ll be a consolidation of operators over the next 12 months and in my opinion, those that survive will be those that have diversified.
Even as ‘traditional’ vending contracts, those businesses that have introduced a dedicated coffee service as an adjunct to their core business will not simply survive, they’ll prosper. The current queues for take-aways at coffee shops prove that ‘coffee culture’ is with us to stay.
With us all being encouraged to use credit/debit cards and apps instead of cash, there’s no doubt that vending will move quickly to embrace cashless technology.
Government is advising us to use our common sense in our day-to-day lives now and it is to be hoped that this attitude prevails after the crisis is over. Albert Einstein said that ‘common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18’. Even ten years ago, we were ruled both by environmental issues and issues regarding Health & Safety in the workplace. Remember the requirement to apply a sticker to a machine stating that the drinks it dispensed were hot? You couldn’t make it up. What would you give for an end to ‘the nanny state’?
My former business, whilst enduring a challenging time at present, will nevertheless thrive going forward. Why? Because in future the Big Brands will, I believe, seriously consider outsourcing their vending sales function to reduce costs. A vending focused sales agency like WPS could well become the ‘go to’.
With many suppliers and operators putting staff on furlough, with 80% of their salaries funded by the government, (which will change to 60% from 1st August) , I hope that the government reviews what it spends on Foreign Aid and projects such as HS2. Foreign Aid stands at £14 billion per annum and HS2 is forecast to cost the country £72 billion. If both these were ceased immediately, that would have a dramatic impact in reducing the national debt we’ll all have to cope with after the COVID-19 crisis is over. HS2 in particular will be irrelevant as more people work from home, availing themselves of Internet communications such as Zoom and Microsoft Team.
Just my thoughts! What’s your opinion?
*Richard Allen bought WPS Ltd in April 2019. This article reflects Alistair’s personal opinions.