Mike Kane: ‘I fell into vending’, Mike Kane tells me, as he starts his first day ‘in retirement’, writes PV Editor Ian Reynolds-Young.
‘I was working at Compass Catering and I was always impressed when I came into contact with the vending boys. Martin Verspeak gave me my first introduction to vending machines. It seemed to me to be a faster moving environment, with a six-month selling cycle. In catering, clients tended to work on anything from 1 – 3 year selling cycles. When a vacancy arose in Compass Vending, I went for it.’ The year? 1987.
Despite the similarity in the names of the businesses, Compass Vending was an entirely separate entity, owned by Sankey. Leaving a blue-chip giant to join a relatively small vending business was a Big Decision, but Mike Kane was clear as to where his future lay. However, a few months in, he found himself working directly for Sankey Vending. The route to market at that time for Sankey was selling directly to end users as well as to vending operators which could lead to awkward situations. He was out on the road, initially dealing direct to end users, then to the trade – followed by an uncomfortable year doing both. ‘When operators know you’re also selling direct, they clear their desks before they let you into the office, because they know you can read upside down and potentially, cut out the middleman. It wasn’t great…’ Mike had had enough.
‘I left Sankey Vending and went to ISS.’ ISS was based in Birmingham and Manchester and had the agency for Zanussi products in the UK. ‘I was no longer selling to end users, just the trade – that was the attraction of the job’, Mike recalls. For ‘two or three years’, life ticked along nicely. ‘Then, Zanussi decided they were going to enter the UK market in their own right and they asked me to join them selling machines. Barry Marks set up the company and after 3-4 years, Zanussi bought the business from Barry and again, I stayed.’
‘The first Zanussi machines were marked ‘CLV’, standing for Catering, Laundry and Vending’, Mike says, which sounds odd, until Mike reminds me ‘all the machines used powder and water!
Then, changes came thick and fast. Zanussi vending became Electrolux Zanussi vending and Mike Kane had a new title: Sales Director. ‘I was managing a team of one – me’, says Mike. Then Simon Willis joined the business, which changed its name to Necta. ‘After about a year – 18 months max – Electrolux sold Zanussi Vending to the private equity firm Compass Partners. Then, Compass bought Wittenborg, and N&W – Necta and Wittenborg – came into being. That’s when we moved to Bilston, which was like going home for me as Sankey had been based in the same building.’
The team grew rapidly and immediately starting making in-roads in the UK market, especially with snack machines. ‘We were really making a mark’, Mike says. ‘It was the start of 18 years of things changing around me.’
Mike finally left N&W in October 2010 to join Crane as Sales Director. ‘I had quite a big team working for me. To begin with, I was responsible for looking after EMEA, (Europe, the Middle East and Asia). Then, five years ago we had a reshuffle and Marvin Van Dijken joined as Head of EMEA. I reported to him for UK and Ireland and other directors joined us to oversee other territories.’
Mike’s final three or four years at Crane saw him take on responsibility for APAC, (Asia Pacific). The new role embraced business in India, Singapore; Australia and New Zealand which, when you consider that Mike’s daughter Heather was living in Central Coast, Sydney, wasn’t a bad roll of the dice… ‘I was able to use Heather’s house as a base – so I went for two or three weeks at a time.’ In fact, Mike visited Oz five times in two years – not including holidays.
‘I’ve seen people leave vending and then fight tooth and nail to get back into it.’
Mike Kane leaves vending with a valuable collection of fond memories. ‘I would say that attending industry events has always been a highlight’, he says. ‘I’ve seen people leave vending and then fight tooth and nail to get back into it, when they see what the outside world is like. There’s a special camaraderie in vending. We compete, but we don’t have to kick seven bells out of each other to do it. That’s a really nice thing that seems to be unique to vending.’
Outside of work, Mike is a keen golfer. He put his abilities on the course to good use when he was at N&W… ‘I used to win a lot on the numerous golf days the industry held, to the extent that when I went forward for the prize presentation, I’d have oranges and God knows what bouncing off my head. That’s how pleased people were about my successes!’ He’s let the golf slip a little these days: ‘As they say in Scotland, ma game’s gone tae shite!’
‘AVS conferences were always a blast – always warm and friendly events’, Mike remembers. ‘Before the last recession and COVID we had constant dinner dances. The AVA alone held five each year, one in each region and a national bash at The Dorchester. I can’t see those days returning any time soon. I can see the mother of all recessions following the pandemic. I think I worked in vending during its Golden Age.’
Naturally, mixing with vending’s people made the job so much more enjoyable. ‘I met some great characters through working in the industry; Alec Upton, Peter Wilkes and Steve Gallagher, Paul Ure and of course the Brodericks, to name but a few, and there are some great new people coming through.’
‘I’ve had a very happy career in vending.’
He may have retired from vending, but Mike won’t be hanging up his boots anytime soon. Indeed, his many followers on LinkedIn are about to witness the birth of a new business that Mike has established with his wife of 39 years, Annie. The couple will be selling CBD products on line, under the brand name of Recovr+CBD. ‘I see more and more use of CBD products in the future’, Mike says, ‘it’s just beginning.’
‘I’ve had a very happy career in vending’, Mike says as we wind up the interview. ‘I’ve been very lucky to work with some great people down the years. There was John McKee at Sankey, Simon Willis, Carl Bjorkstrand at N&W was a great guy – Marvin Van Dijken, Tom Glomsky, Roger Bunn and Paul Shattock. Paul was at N&W with me and I brought him into Crane. He’s taking over from me now, and he’ll do a great job.’
Before we close, Mike says ‘there’s one thing I’d like to put on record. When I started out on the road, there were no such thing as mobile phones. Annie was expected to work as an unpaid secretary, taking messages and so on. Thereafter throughout my career she has been a great support. So, I just want to say a big ‘thank-you’ to her.
Good luck Mike, there’s a whole bunch of us that’ll miss you.
Read Ian Reynolds-Young’s personal recollections of working with Mike Kane, HERE