How Micro Markets Got Me Fired
from Vending Market Watch MICRO MARKETS April 2017
How Micro Markets Got Me Fired By Jennifer Skidmore on APR 3, 2017
In February of this year, after 8 years of working at the family business, I was fired. I got canned, was given the boot; however you want to say it, it was deemed that I was no longer the right person for the job and I was given the axe. The catch is that I fired myself.
Getting started in micro markets
We launched our first micro market on Oct. 17, 2011. I’m given most of the credit for that decision now but I’d like to set the record straight. I didn’t want to move forward with micro markets. I was fresh out of college and was already overwhelmed by sales and trying to grow our coffee division. I remember walking the NAMA showroom in April of that year with my dad, Joel Skidmore. He was so excited about the new technology and I believe I said (and I quote), “No dad, we already have enough going on without adding more to our plate. Right, mom?”
Why I got fired
In 2011 I insisted that if my dad brought in micro markets I wanted nothing to do with them. However, by February 2017, I had been managing our micro market division (consisting of 25 markets) for almost 6 years, as well as our pantry and office coffee service divisions.
Despite my initial stance on micro markets, I was almost immediately glad my dad didn’t listen. Micro markets lend themselves to so many things that vending doesn’t:
A larger variety of product
They were a perfect place for me to grow and be creative. But like many entrepreneurs, I have an unhealthy tendency to believe I can do more than I can and that the things I can do, no one else can do better. What I’ve learned in these last months is that passion is not the same as competency. And that loving my markets doesn’t automatically make me the best at managing them.
I started filing reports later, scheduling samplings further and further apart and worst yet, was getting shorter with customers with every request that was emailed in. All of which was easy to excuse because, as an entrepreneur, I had plenty to do to justify being “too busy” to “do it all.”
The hard truth
As my professional and personal life started to feel out of control I knew it was time to reassess; to take a hard look at what I was doing well and what I couldn’t do any longer. Here’s what I found. I’m a dreamer, a visionary, a people person. I’m not good with deadlines. I like dealing with feelings not numbers (i.e waste reports and par levels), and as I’m starting to take on new responsibilities within the company, I need to spend more time at the office and less time in the field handing out free cookies.
It was a hard decision to make; openly admitting that I was no longer the best person for the job was both freeing and an embarrassing blow to my ego. But it was the right call.
I’ve learned a lot about micro markets in the last 6 years but in the last 2 months I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve learned that it’s okay to let go. It’s okay to admit when you’re tapped out. And that someone might not be able to do a job as well as you can the first time, but if you are patient and show them what you know, there’s a good chance that they’ll eventually be better at it than you were. (And if you don’t think so, consider this. I recently listened to a podcast with Rory Vaden who explained the 30x Rule. Here is his definition: the 30x rule says you should spend 30x the amount of time training someone to do a task as it would take you to do the task yourself one time. For example if a task takes you 5 minutes per day to complete, then the 30x rule suggests you could comfortably spend up to 150 minutes training someone to do that task.)
Almost 6 years into micro markets there are days where I feel like we aren’t growing and if we are, we aren’t growing fast enough. And then there are days when I remember our first install, ideas that flopped, or life before Lightspeed and I can’t help but smile at how far we’ve come.
For me it’s time to let go (a little) of my markets. I know that I’ve taken our markets as far as I can; it’s someone else’s turn now. In March we hired our first full-time micro market manager and I am so excited to see where he takes them next.
Micro market Insider tips
Whether you are considering getting into the micro market game (I highly recommend it) or have four times the amount that J&J does, here are some things I’ve learned about micro markets over the years that I hope you will find helpful.
Always Insist On Your Cameras – When we first started growing the micro market division I was anxious to get more accounts so when a customer said they didn’t want to install our cameras but wanted to use existing ones at their location I agreed to it. When product went missing, I was never allowed to access their camera footage and was stuck with the loss. It may mean not getting the account but my advice is to either install your cameras, don’t install cameras and make the customer pay for 100 percent of the market shortages, or don’t install a micro market.
Require Minimum Sales – This may seem like a no brainer but again when we first started I just wanted to get my feet wet. I was so eager to swim I didn’t take time to put on my sunscreen first. I assumed locations of 250+ would easily make a profit, but that wasn’t always the case. When markets under performed I didn’t have a legal way out. Write a contingency plan into your agreements (e.g. if the market continually sells less than $500/week you have the right to replace the market with standard vending machines).
Get the Coffee – If a customer wants a micro market, make them consolidate all of their services to you. A micro market is a serious investment for your company. It also seriously improves breakroom morale and adds to health and wellness programs; the least they can do is give you the coffee service too.
Theft – Catching a thief is time consuming and costly. As such, in our contracts we state that employers can proceed however they feel best in regards to consequences/termination however, we require two things: first payment for the items that were taken, second a $100 restocking fee. We implemented this about 6 months ago and not one customer has resisted it. If theft continues without discipline we reserve the right to remove the market.
Invest in Training – When it comes to training be prepared to invest some quality time with your drivers. Assume that nothing is self-evident and be as specific as possible when explaining how to stock, deal with customer requests, check codes, etc.
Take Photos – We just started having our Account Merchandisers take photos of their markets after each stock. They email them in at the end of each day for review. It’s been very helpful in making sure markets are fully stocked and properly merchandised.
Install & Launch
Set Up, Then Deliver – Always set up the market (i.e. build shelving, pull sodas and stock shelves) at your warehouse. Do your first inventory in house and verify that all codes are scanning. If you do it this way you’ll also be able to get par levels set up before being on location and in general your time on location will be much cleaner and shorter.
Launch Party – Put extra time and attention into your launch parties. It’s an opportunity to make a great first impression with your new customers. In addition to helping customers get signed up with a stored value card, raffle off prizes and work with your brokers to get free samples to hand out. A note about brokers, be good to them. If they give you product to sample make sure it’s for sale in the market and then give them sales data for the first three months.
Multiple Shifts – Many of our customers are plants with multiple shifts. We’ve done many midnight launch parties and our new policy is (unless the account is REALLY big) we’ll train supervisors and their supervisors can train their crew. Just make sure if you’re there during the day you set aside enough samples for the graveyard crews to get some treats too.
Limit Yourself – I love bringing in new products, but purchasing hates that I love it. I’m constantly being reminded of budgets and bottom lines so I’m going to pass on the friendly reminder here. New products are a lot of fun, but remember to be selective. Don’t take too many chances with random product (our experience is that holiday candy does not do well in these markets) and if a broker/supplier wants you to push a certain product, ask for samples to give out on location first.
Uniform your POGs – We sell the markets on being a unique buying experience for each customer. And although they are very customizable, I think you’ll find that about 80 percent of the products you sell, sell well in every market (i.e. Frito Lay). That said, uniform your POGs as much as you can. Remember the fewer SKUs you, have the lower chance of bankruptcy.