Hudson and Betsy Gray, owners of Snack Smart Healthy Vending, have been in the childcare industry for several years. As the owners/operators of their own childcare centers, they saw first-hand the growing problem of childhood obesity. They decided that, as a couple, they wanted to live a healthier lifestyle and help others learn to eat healthier, too.
So when they started to look for an additional business opportunity, a healthy vending business seemed like a natural fit. They talked to a few healthy vending companies and even attended one competitor’s online seminar, but most companies only offered franchise models. The Grays didn’t want to pay for the cost of their machines PLUS a franchise fee. That’s when they ran into information about HealthyYOU Vending.
“We talked to other healthy vending companies but they didn’t seem as knowledgeable about the business,” said Hudson. “They just weren’t as friendly and helpful as HealthyYOU Vending and they didn’t have the vending (tracking) software.”
The Grays decided to fly out the week before their scheduled Healthy YOUniversity training to check out the machines for themselves. They wanted to make sure the machines were as high quality as the sales reps had explained — and find out for themselves how the machines worked. “We were very impressed with the people there,” said Hudson upon meeting the team at HealthyYOU Vending. And they were very impressed with the machines.
Fast forward two years and Snack Smart Healthy Vending has quickly grown their business from an initial purchase of 5 vending machines to 31 machines in Tennessee and Kentucky. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s also been fun and interesting,” said Hudson. They placed all 31 machines themselves, since HealthyYOU Vending wasn’t offering their placement services at the time. Some of their vending locations include a YMCA, health department, car dealerships, schools, and the Fort Campbell army base, home of the 101st Airborne Division.
They approached Fort Campbell at just the right time, as the army was seeking to implement its Fit Pick standards in its base hospital and take out all the junk-food vending machines. Snack Smart Healthy Vending placed their first machines in the hospital on a pilot program, working through the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). Snack Smart Healthy Vending now has 13 healthy vending machines at various locations on base and 5 in the base hospital.
After an initial pilot in a local school district, the Grays decided against placing healthy vending machines in schools. However, when they were approached by the district’s new nutritionist in 2015 and invited to participate in the bid process to place healthy vending machines, the timing was right. They won the contract and now have 11 machines in the Clarksville/Montgomery County School District for the 2015-16 school year (5 in high schools and 6 in the district’s operational facilities).
Hudson said the experience has been very encouraging since the students themselves have been requesting healthy options. “A lot of kids are choosing to drink v8 Fusion 100% juice products versus a soda,” he said. Frito-Lay makes reduced-fat chips (that meet school nutritional standards) that also sell very well in their vending machines.
Hudson also noted that they’ve also found some unique uses for the optional entrée/side dish vendor for the HealthyYOU Vending machines. “Calling it an entrée unit is not giving all its potential uses; think “out of the box” a little bit,” suggested Hudson. They currently use entrée units in three different ways: 1) As a traditional entrée unit; 2) Stock and sell extra chips because they sell out of them so fast; and 3) Sell non-food items. Their entrée unit at the YMCA stocks anything you might forget and need while at the gym: socks, ponytail holders, locks, cell phone chargers, lip balm, swim goggles, racquet balls, etc. “The items sell very well,” said Hudson.
“Overall it’s been a great learning experience. It’s been an opportunity to grow and do something on our own time, “ explained Betsy. She said that HealthyYOU Vending’s software system has helped them grow their healthy vending business very efficiently, still giving them time to run their daycare business.
Top left banner photo by by Amy Newcomb | Courier