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In this episode of Ecoffee with Experts, Matt Fraser hosted Neil Swindale, Co-founder of VendCentral, a full-service Digital Sales and Marketing Solution for the refreshment services industry. Neil describes his journey from a New Zealand immigrant with no technical abilities to the owner of three successful online marketing companies in the United States. In addition, he suggests some top inbound strategies for vending machine companies’ websites. Watch now.
You give value first before even asking for anything. You give value to build a relationship to make money down the road.
I appreciate you having me. We’ve had such a fun conversation up to this minute, and I look forward to telling my story.
I came to America in college. I was working at the Region hotel in Auckland, New Zealand, as a luggage Porter, which still is my favorite job ever had to this day. And I was just plucked out of New Zealand by a small junior college in California to come and play basketball. So I ended up playing basketball in college for years. I met an American girl in college and ended up getting married. So that was my first ticket to America to play basketball.
Yes, so I went back to New Zealand and played basketball professionally. At 32 years old, I saw that I could barely jump and was a bit slower on the court, and I decided to hang up my boots, as we say in New Zealand. And I ended up coming back to California to Silicon Valley, where my wife grew up. And I just went to a job fair. It was right in the middle of the.com days. Technology companies were snapping up all the employees. So I showed up at a Coca-Cola job fair, they probably had early jobs available. And I was the only person to also show up in a suit. So I showed up in a full suit. And I just looked at all the jobs and when I’ll take this one. And it was a Sales Rep selling coke machines for break rooms. And here we are 25 years later, I’ve never left the industry.
I think Coke’s goal, if I remember rightly, was to get a Coca-Cola within arm’s reach. Okay, so not sure about 12 years old.
If you’re in another part of the world, and you don’t know if the water supply is any good, you know if you drink a can of Coke, you’re going to be safe. So when I went to Coca-Cola, we would sell truckloads of Coca-Cola. And once that price dropped 25 to 50 cents per case, companies ordered two or three truckloads of Cokes. They knew it was selling. Yeah, so it’s a pretty nice industry.
I worked for Coke for two years, calling all the vending companies in the Bay Area. And then I jumped over to Frito Lay and sold chips to all the vending companies in Northern California for five and half years. And then, I did six years at Nestle waters, selling water to vending companies in the Western United States. So I keep getting bigger territory for a different company.
But I keep doing the same thing we discussed earlier. I felt like I walked into the vending company’s office and sat there. I was so intrigued by the process of putting Coke in a snack machine out in the marketplace, coming back a week later, and picking up $300. I was so intrigued by that story. I’m 25 years in and still intrigued, except now I’m calling on companies that are doing, you know, between 50 and 100 million.
It’s the same story, I put machines out and come back a week later and collect.
So, first of all, when I came to Silicon Valley, I could not turn a computer on if you gave me a laptop and said fire this up. I wouldn’t know how to do it 25 years ago. Because I was in Silicon Valley, I told myself I would teach myself technology. And I remember my first Dell desktop with AOL chat rooms. I would jump into an AOL chat room and fire up that internet connection, which is the screeching sound to get the connection. And I would drop into chat rooms. And I remember everyone was chatting, and photos were sent to everyone. And I didn’t know how to do it. And I said to the chat room, Hey, can someone send me a photo, so I can see how this process works? So someone sent me a photo, and to this day, I never saw it. I downloaded it but didn’t know where to go to see it. So now we know it’s sitting in the download file. But I could never find that photo. So I don’t know what the guys sent me. As I was bumping around the vending industry, I could see that no one was helping our industry out with Online Marketing, especially at the time, it was just straightforward website design. And I had already gone through the process of building my little vending company, I had a website. And I was probably one of the first vending companies in the Bay Area and possibly America to have a website dedicated to my business. That was the start, and I could see that. Well, maybe I could sell my little vending company and become the website guru to the whole industry. And we have.
Yeah, I would say that our industry is slow to adopt technology in general. It’s picking up now. People realize that with the labor shortage, the gas prices, and the freeways being jammed, you need technology to run your business. So you can run it more efficiently. But it was hard. On every website I sold, no one believed me that they needed it. They were an industry of cold calls. And I can say for the first 50 websites we sold, we had to drag people on and use my network of friends to help sell these things.
They were not thirsty. I’ll tell you a story about the local vending company in the town that I live in. So I went into his warehouse. He was about a $2.5 to $3 million a year vending company, and I told him my idea. I was pretty excited. It’s like Dan, I’m going to start a Web Design business focused on this industry. And I’ll never forget this. He said, Neil, businesses don’t come to us. We have to cold call, do not start this business. You are wasting your time. That was my first hater. Being an entrepreneur, you’re going to hear a lot of haters. So you have to push that aside and blaze forward. And he was completely wrong in what he told me. And I’m trying to find that guy because I want to tell him.
We can see things that no one else has done. But gosh, sometimes that can be a problem. Because I’ve got some pretty cool brands here between the three companies we have, but I can’t stop seeing other things. I need to shut it off, so I can execute on the three in front of me right now.
I have always been shy growing up and humble. I would not admit to my strengths. I think it’s a New Zealand cultural thing called the Tall Poppy Syndrome. If you get too tall, people will catch it, or New Zealanders will cut you down. I can honestly say I’ve got some amazing industry experience over 25 years, dealing with everything I’ve dealt with. So I can sit in front of anyone and be super knowledgeable about this industry I love. And one thing you said that intrigued me was that we all jump on domain names in this journey of being a Digital Marketer. I’m the same way. I bought a bunch of domain names, too. And I was online one day and saw no one owned the domain name Los Angelesvendingservice.com. So I searched for New York vendingservice.com, but no one owned it. Miami, Phoenix, boom, within about an hour, I bought 100 domain names, all big city vendingservice.com. I had a little high school guy who worked for me. He was a sophomore in high school. And he knew web design. So for $12 an hour, I employed him to put 100 websites up on all those domains. One of the pillars of why I’m so successful today is that all those domain names were kicking me in leaps across America. And then what I would do is I would call up the local vending company in Miami and Los Angeles and Phoenix and say, Hey, I’m sitting here in California, getting vending machine leads for your city because you don’t have a website. And I would give them those leads. I would give them all away. And I’ve probably given away more leads than I’ve got people over the years and unpaid. But then giving away those leads opened the door to meeting the owners of those local vending companies who eventually bought websites from me. So I paid it all off.
I think that’s my skill as I’m a relationship person. I’m an average salesperson from a technical point of view. I’m not going to have a fancy CRM, keep that updated, and have all these proposals ready. I’m not. I’m a person that can talk to people, and if I see the opportunity, then I’ll jump on it and try to make it happen. Those are my skills.
When I worked for Coca-Cola and Pepsi, that was specially PepsiCo\Fritolay and Nestle. We were trying to go from old school to adopting CRMs. And I remember a minimum of five attempts to get us old-school sales guys onto a CRM, and we all refused. And we acted like we didn’t know how to do it. We would accidentally push the delete button and delete everything. And I watched these big corporations spend hundreds of 1000s of dollars, if not millions of dollars, trying to implement these CRMs. And us old-school salespeople didn’t want to do it. Now that I’m a business owner, if I could do one thing and go back to when I first started my vending company, I wish I started with a CRM. So all these people that have met along the way and all their nuances about them, if I could have entered those into a CRM, then CRM today probably would be worth a fortune. But no, I put everything into Excel spreadsheets. And I was the only one who could interpret it. If someone else looked at my Excel spreadsheets, they would not know what was happening. I had about one big Google Spreadsheet with about 50 tabs of all the different categories of our industry. I needed to look at that spreadsheet entry and know what was happening.
Oh, every piece of technology I’ve changed. Like I said earlier, when I first came here, 25 years ago, I couldn’t even turn a computer on. So now, all three companies I own are all technology companies in some form or fashion. No CRMs for sure. Building out and keeping current databases\CRMs of your potential clients is crucial, but it’s hard to do. In the daily grind of a company, you need someone focused on the CRM, but then there’s a cost factor because you got to pay them. And then you don’t see the initial results of building out their database of potential clients.
I am starting to now. I talked to most of the big vending companies weekly, and I can honestly say there’s only a very small percentage who excel at keeping CRMs current and up to date.
I was buying a car last week, as we alluded to earlier in the podcast. The sales guy would give me a $500 discount on the car I buy if they could put the three other cars in our family into their database. Did we hide them? What was the value? Just so they could build their database.
So cheaply, that’s interesting, as they were willing to pay $500 to get that data from the family of the three cars, in addition to the one we’re about to buy $500. If you multiply that out, that gets very pricey, but it pays off in the long run.
I wouldn’t say everyone’s embracing it because they still aren’t. But yeah, we have gone from zero to hundreds of customers. And teaching these guys, my company has said, I have two managers that run VendCentral and are often not involved in the daily grind. I love to bump around the industry and chat with people. And I love to chat about the title of our podcast today, teaching old school guys New Age marketing techniques. Sales first, then marketing techniques. Because in today’s environment, they are joined, sales and marketing, as coined by HubSpot, is marketing. So sales and marketing are the same now. So that’s what I bumped around the industry and talked about. So I post on LinkedIn little five-minute videos on things. And then once they talk to me, the goal is to sell them and then drop them into that VendCentral system to VendCentral do that for you, or in collaboration with you. It’s hard to do for you, you need to collaborate with us to make it work.
The number one platform for me is LinkedIn. So you have a nice website with multiple websites, but I have a nice, lean central website that lays out everything we do. But the way I communicate is through LinkedIn. I would say 90% of my leads come from LinkedIn. That’s me posting crazy snippets of content on LinkedIn. I do a lot of shaking hands with vending companies as I bumped around America. I’m meeting the biggest spending company in Philadelphia, One Source Refreshments. So many pictures of Bob and me, the owner in his warehouse, he has pizzas, trucks, and refrigerators. And I’ll post that up on LinkedIn. And so I jump around America, doing all these things. I’ve already connected with all the vending companies in America, and most of them are with me on LinkedIn. They’ll see me bumping around. And eventually, they’ll call me and go, Neil, we see you all across America talking to vending companies. So what is it you do? Yeah, that’s the marketing and sales conversation, matching them together and helping them execute online.
Most of my strategies are- we have platforms for the website first to make it look great. And you’ve got the social media platforms – Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, essentially blogging. So there’s a technical element to setting them up and synchronizing them so they work together. Then there is content, content, and more content. All focused on telling the story that a sales rep would sit across from a prospective client. So what story would the sales rep tell them to bring them on as an account? That story needs to be told online across all these platforms. That is my strategy.
I am a storyteller, and in my 25 years in this industry, when I talked to a vending machine owner in New York or Miami, they went through a journey. And they generally started by buying a small route. Maybe they were in corporate America, where they got burnt out and wanted to start their own business, so they could support their hobbies of playing golf and fishing. They didn’t want anyone to tell them what to do. And about 20 years later, they now have a $10 million vending company.
But they went through hell within ten years of building that company. Their trucks broke down, transmissions broke, and they dropped vending machines off the back of the lift gates before they even made it into the company. So they installed machines and, a month later, got booted out. And to get to where they got to was an incredible journey. So you document that journey online as part of your content strategy.
And that’s what I do on LinkedIn. I travel America, meeting and greeting vending, coffee, and micro market owners. And I’m documenting it as I go. And some to me are funny, sometimes it’s not as funny. And it works. And people end up calling me. I’ve got so many LinkedIn stories of little pieces of content I generated that have come back 2, 3, and 4 years later. Someone will say, Neil, I saw that little cartoon you created two, three years ago, it was so funny. And it was their piece of content. I noticed you online and have watched you ever since, which can result in a sale.
I noticed on LinkedIn too, that I posted a photo a week ago. It was a picture of my daughter and me in this new office that we just moved into yesterday. And I said, Hey, just took the keys to the new office. I’m so excited to work with my daughter to start her Digital Agency in a different area, not Marketing. So I posted a picture of me and her online. It had 5000 impressions, 101 likes, and 17 comments. So that’s still a solid post for my little industry. So if I posted the most excellent business advice, I’d probably get 150 impressions, five likes, and zero comments. So, telling those personal things is what gets everyone to notice you.
So across the street from my office, I have a big bay window, which looks across the street. On the opposite side of the street is the Meadow Lack Dairy. It’s a drive-up dairy where you can get milk and bread, and it’s just a drive-thru, but they sell Ice-cream. Soft smooth Icecream. On a Friday night, at about six o’clock on a nice warm day, there are 150 people in line, and there can be 65 to 70 cars lined up to go and get ice cream from this dairy. Yet, two blocks down is Baskin & Robbins, and a quarter of a mile away is Coldstone. From an ice cream perspective, all the big competitors surround this dairy, but everyone comes here. And it’s because of the culture of the dairy and the storytelling behind it. That is a good example of a small business constantly telling the story. All of Pleasanton knows that if you want ice cream on a nice warm night and it’s part of an overall experience with your family, you go to the Meadow lack dairy. You may have to stand there for half an hour to get your $2 ice cream, but it’s part of the experience.
And one of the big culture-building things they did was one of their staff members released a video on Tik Tok that got thousands of views. It was already popular, and now you have the thirteen and fourteen-year-olds that come into the Meadow lack Dairy and create their own Tik Tok videos around that Dairy. Social media it’s changed so much in the last few years.
I would love to come back. It’s funny, we had a big list of questions beforehand that we were going to do.
All we talked about was relationships and storytelling.
For me, being an immigrant coming in from New Zealand to America, the land of opportunities. I hear many people complaining right now about stuff. But, as I said, I didn’t have technical skills. I had to wake up in the morning and attack life with enthusiasm as my skill. And on top of that found my way into a Digital Marketing career. I graduated from college with a PE Degree, and I can tell you my coach told me, Neil, that to compete in college athletics in America, you must have a 2.0 GPA, which is a C. So after our years in college, I achieved my 2.0 and got a PE Degree, and here I am twenty-five years later with three companies focused on Online Marketing.
Count your blessings and get after it. If you live anywhere in North America, whether it’s America or Canada, the opportunities are there you have to go and get them.
I am on LinkedIn, Neil Swindale, and our websites, vendcentral.com and coolbridegrooms.com.
I appreciate it, Matt. Thank you so much, it was fun.
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