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UK Vending celebrates 50 years of service

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MARTIN BUTTON

UK Vending was started by my father John Button in the mid 1960’s after he came out of Chatham Dockyard as a qualified engineer. He got a service engineer job with a company called Ditchburn, which was one of the first national vending companies in the UK who supplied very large vending machines that produced reasonable coffee but very poor tea, good chocolate and soup to all the industrial and manufacturing companies in the South East of England. He prided himself in doing preventative maintenance on the machines which made them more reliable. After about two years his repair work got less and less. The company which was based in Birmingham picked up on this and gave him the job of national in service manager. My father accepted the job and went to Birmingham and in his own words -”Then I realised why it was called the the Black Country’ because Birmingham is in a bowl and it was full of manufacturing, chimneys and smog. He did not like it. He quit the job and came back but his previous job had gone. But his replacement wasn’t very good and the companies he was previously providing the service for contacted him separately and with the backing of Ditchburn he became his own service engineer in Kent. Then of course they needed coffee supplies which he provided.

It got to such a stage that in 1969 he created a company called Southern Automatic Catering Limited, which was the first Limited Vending Company in Kent.

He saw in Kent that there was a lot of large manufacturing companies with large numbers of employees using canteens, which were not open all the time. So he found out the shift patterns to provide vending machines when the canteens were shut.

In the mid 1970’s I recall my father saying he had had a really bad day. It was in the winter time, it was cold, dark and raining and he just happened to bump into someone he knew in the vending trade, who said to him I am looking at this new table top machine – it’s something a little bit different.

The machine, was the first designed for a smaller office with about 10-20 people; which was reasonably priced and he became the only one selling it in Kent and provided him with a good margin. On the back of this he was able to go out and buy a Jaguar from the salesroom with a suitcase of cash!

The market grew in the 1980’s. In 1984 we were the first independent company to be a distributor for the Mars Drinks company selling the Klix range of machines, which were a better option than the previous machines.

The 1990’s came the Flavia Coffee Machines. In 1995 Southern Automatic Catering was the first vending company in the UK to have a website at UKVending.co.uk so we took that name. At the same time we outgrew the facilities in Gillingham High Street and found the land and built our own building in Rochester, Fort Bridgewoods, we moved in November 2000. We were also the first to get into the bottled water business in 1996. At the time I was working for my dad in the summer holidays and I saw a water cooler next to one of our vending machines, I remember it being really hot while I was carrying all the stock inside. Within a week I found a supplier of bottled water, on the Tuesday we sent out 6000 faxes leaflets, we had received 60 replies within 2 days. We ordered the water coolers, hired a Luton van and delivered the water, a week later I went back and signed and gained 59 of new customers.

We are always striving to be on the bleeding each of technology, we have developed our own private customer relationship management and credit controller system to efficiently administer our accounts. Apps have

Green issues

What do you do as a business that is particularly green?

All our waste is recycled. All our cups are recycled and all the ink cartridges are sent back for recycling. We ensure our route management is correct. We use interlink who have a zero carbon policy so they offset their carbon footprint. We also have 10,000 solar panels on the roof of the building which we installed five years ago and that reduces our electrical consumption by 50 percent. producing 10 kilowatts of of solar power so in most su mmer days we’re actually producing more electricity than we’re using.

Those solar panels have paid for themselves within 5 years by reducing our electricity bills.

We work closely with Rainforest Alliance. We have help them with their Public Relations; all our flavia range of drinks is now Rainforest Alliance approved. So now we know that all our products, the raw materials for our teas, coffees and chocolate are supplied through ethically run and managed forms which are sustainable for their communities.

It feels that we’re contributing to the welfare of the people who grow these products who are thousands and thousands of miles away. We also know exactly where all the product comes from.

Do you customers buy into being green?

Fairtrade is a very important part of people’s buying decisions. Rainforest Alliance is well recognised as a fairtrade organisation. We ensure that our customers are aware of our involvement in the campaign.

 

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