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Interview with Mark Riggle from Flatline

I recently had the chance to speak with Mark Riggle, the National Sales Manager, over at Flatline Corporation. Mark was generous enough to give me an insiders view into Flatline as a vending product supplier to us bulk vendors, and here is what I found out for you.

  • What exactly do you do?
    You asked me what it is that I do…  That one caused me considerable thought. I’ve been in the Industry for 19 years. Technically, I’m the National Sales Manager at Flatline Corp.  I oversee and monitor anything related to sales, in addition to dealing directly with a portion of Flatline’s customer base. What I really do, is whatever it takes to make Flatline’s customers want to keep coming back. Some days that can mean loading or unloading trucks, or packing up an order because our warehouse crew can’t keep up with Sales, and I promised someone I would get their order shipped.  My philosophy is that you just do what you have to do. And that’s really what I do here at Flatline.
  • What are the top 3 products that Flatline sells?
    Our top 3 products are continually changing.  Right now, I would say Angry Birds Star Wars Stickers, Pink and Black Sugar Tattoos #5, and Oval Sayings Stickers #2 are our top selling flat vend items.  As for capsules, our 2” Splat has become an industry staple.  1” Silver and Gold has been a great money maker for operators that vend at 50¢.  Our Designer Ducks are our very best collectible item. We are currently on Series 5 and they sell as well as the first series did.
  • What advice would you give bulk vendors just starting out?
    I’m not really one to give advice to operators.  Veteran operators are the best advisors for anyone just getting into the business.  The only thing that I can offer is based on listening to what our customers have told me over the years. Diversify your locations, attend the NBVA Convention at least once to network and get a good overview, buy good product from trusted suppliers, keep good records and track your sales by location and items, don’t mess with other operators and don’t let them mess with you.
  • What’s the best way to place an order with Flatline?
    The best way to place an order with Flatline is whatever is easiest for the operator: phone, fax, e-mail. If you send via fax or e-mail please ask for a return confirmation.  I’m an old guy. I don’t fully trust office equipment…  Mike, our Senior Sales Rep. and I both prefer talking to customers. No, not so we can sell you more, but just because with every phone call we can learn more specifics about your locations and markets.  That helps us make better product suggestions, which in turn makes more money for the operator. Not to mention that I have met some great friends in the Industry over the years via repeated phone conversations.
  • Flatline periodically offers some promotional deals and product info via email, how can vendors subscribe to your email list?
    To get on Flatline’s mailing list and/or e-mailing list you can send a request via e-mail at markriggle@2flatline.com, phone us at 877-499-3528, send a fax at 920-996-9488, or send a request through our Company Info page on www.2flatline.com.
  • Do you have any tips on placing an order with Flatline, on how to cut down costs?
    Unfortunately shipping costs continue to rise, both for us on the inbound product side and for you on the other end of the stick. We do not upcharge our freight, nor do we charge any kind of handling fee like some companies do.  There are a few things that you can do to minimize your freight expenditure with Flatline.  When possible, order flat vend in 10 or 11 box multiples.  The 1, 2, and 3 box orders are really expensive to ship. On capsuled merchandise, we have a 4 pack master case that is usually the most cost effective way to ship.  We will always suggest either adding or subtracting a box or two from your order if we see that it will significantly impact your freight expense.
  • What is your personal favorite 2” capsule product Flatline sells?
    My personal favorite item is our 75¢ mix of Designer Ducks. It’s highly collectible. It appeals to a very wide age range. It’s a quality item; and with the 75¢ mix the customer gets a strip of 5 prismatic duck stickers 20% of the time. Kids like the stickers almost as much as the ducks. If a true Duck collector gets stickers, they’ve got better than a 4 in 5 chance of getting a duck the next vend. As for operators, it offers good sell-through at a relatively low cost of goods, in the 22-24% range.
  • What are the normal break points, for Flatline, when placing high volume case orders?
    We offer price breaks of $1 per box for every 25 boxes of flat vend; roughly the same discount on capsuled items.  We run sale items every month as well, regardless of quantity.  One other thing we do is offer introductory pricing on new items, usually for the first month after they are released. This is our way of giving operators that will try new items a bit of a break on the front end.
  • How can vendors get the nice printed catalog you guys offer at Flatline?
    We don’t really do a catalog, never have. When someone requests a catalog, we send out a folder filled with our actual sticker and tattoo display cards and full color inserts of our current capsuled items.  Operators keep the folder as a reference when ordering and also just add new displays to it when we send out our mailers.  We have always sent actual displays of new items to our customers. It’s nice to see exactly what you are getting. (Side Note, I called it a catalog but Mark’s description is way better and more accurate, if you don’t already have it I highly recommend getting one, as stated by Mark, “It’s nice to see exactly what you are getting.” – Rick)
  • Do you see the industry headed in any specific direction when it comes to toys and price points?
    The Industry has been going through some tough times the past few years, both for operators and suppliers:  slow economy, locations closing, the prevalence of credit and debit card purchases, increased costs on all fronts, foreign exchange rates, tightening product restrictions, and about 100 other things.  Sounds pretty bleak, yet we’re all still here… because we adapt.  If we don’t, we’re done.  Many operators have gone to 75¢ or $1.00 on 2 inch and 50¢ on 1 inch. It was a tough choice for many, but costs are definitely not going down.  I believe we have to move to this price structure as an industry. I’ve heard many operators say they “can’t get 50¢ in their area; they’re lucky to get 25¢”. In fact, I’ve recently heard from some operators that they are going back to 25¢.  That may be a short term fix and one that is necessary in some areas of the country right now, but at some point product costs are going to force the issue and the product that you can afford to put out at a quarter is going to be junk that nobody wants. One of the biggest missed opportunities I see for operator profit is in flat vend.  Cost of goods for operators is somewhere between 16 and 20%. Very few have changed a machine, or even 1 column to 75¢. I have talked to some that have, and they are having great results. Consider upping 1 offering on a 4 or 6 column machine to 75¢ and vend a “specialty” item in that slot. By specialty I mean a Sugar Tattoo or a Holographic Tattoos, or a Licensed item like Angry Birds Stickers; anything that costs you a bit more or that the consumer sees as having added value.  Whatever you do, you have to be innovative and adapt as operators.  We, at Flatline, are continually looking for new and innovative items that consumers want.  Flatline has brought you Holographic Tattoos like Ice and Diamond Tip, Lenticular Stickers like Pets and Smileys, and capsuled items like Designer Ducks and Duct Tape.

Comments

  1. PerformaVending says:

    Very interesting! It’s not everyday you can hear from a supplier on the state of the industry, but I tend to agree. We are definitely trending towards higher price points for bulk products. Glad to hear suppliers are taking the shift into account to make the transition easier on both operators and their customers.

  2. Great interview Rick. Well done.

  3. Thanks, I appreciate that!

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