Paul Hearne: ‘It’s about being great distributors of great food and drink.’

Paul Hearne, Selecta MD, discusses new opportunities for the vending industry and describes how – and why – the culture of Selecta has been completely re-imagined from the top, down; in a two-part Planet Vending special feature.  

Part One: New Opportunities for the Vending Industry

In August 2018, with Paul Hearne recently installed behind the wheel, Express Vending was acquired by Selecta.  He ‘spent a little bit of time’ as Selecta’s Sales Director in the new management team, before being appointed as interim MD in January 2019.  In October, his appointment was made permanent. And then, within six months, the world of vending stopped turning.

Stopped turning? It’s a frightening statistic, but unfortunately, it’s true: fifty-five percent of the vending industry is in danger, due to the ongoing pandemic. The vending industry, like many others, has taken a big financial blow. Seventy-four UK automatic vending companies have been given a ‘Danger’ rating, with a further thirty-nine identified as ‘at risk from takeover’.*

The pandemic gave us time to redefine what ‘Unattended Retail’ means

‘There were two ways to look at it when the first lockdown happened’, Paul says over Zoom. ‘You could say, ‘this is terrible for the industry, because people aren’t travelling, they aren’t going to the office’; but I looked at it the other way. I saw it as a time of huge opportunity for the industry.

Paul Hearne
Paul Hearne

It gave us time to redefine what ‘Unattended Retail’ means. For me, it’s not just about vending, it’s about smart fridges, it’s about micro markets; it’s about being great distributors of great food and drink. The lines between traditional vending and catering are starting to blur, so for the right companies, those that are agile, that have vision, that really think about driving the business forward; there is an opportunity. Thanks to some important technical innovations, our industry is in pole position to advance into territory that has always been seen as the domain of caterers and win new business and new customers.  So I’m actually very, very positive about the future. I think Covid and its consequences are actually adding to the size of the opportunity, not diminishing it. That’s my view.’

The advances to which Paul refers are those that have facilitated the elevation of micro markets, unattended retail outlets, kiosks – call them what you will – into a compelling fresh food & drink solution that is having a disruptive impact in two industries: vending and catering. (At Planet Vending, we’ve covered many of these developments in our ‘Micro Market Microscope’ Special Features).

Express Vending, now a regional arm of Selecta UK, was an early adopter of micro markets. Some have suggested that the company’s success and expertise in the nascent sector was what persuaded Selecta to make its move…

‘Express had been involved in micro markets for around five years when Selecta acquired us, so yes, we understood that space very, very well. As Selecta, we’ve just installed our 120th micro market in UK, we have another hundred or so in Europe. We are the number-one provider in those territories. It means we have a head start. Companies that want to compete in the sector have to realise, as we did, that it’s a different way of working, a different way of thinking.’

The whole way of thinking about fresh food was new to us.

Paul Hearne
Express Vending was an early adopter of micro markets

The decision to establish a working partnership with US based 365 Markets has proved to be an astute one. ‘365 was already hugely successful with micro markets in the US, so their proven expertise, not only of the technical elements, but of the whole concept, was very important to us as we set up as a micro market provider’, Paul says. ‘We were already a very good vending supplier, so we knew all about the importance of innovation; but the whole way of thinking about fresh food was new to us. 365 were an important partner to us, particularly when we were just trying to understand this new market space we were in.

‘We’ve recently signed an exclusive agreement with a company in Sweden, for the supply of smart fridges’, Paul says. ‘Micro market technology keeps on advancing and you have to keep up if you want to stay Number One. The thing for us is, how do you change the boring old spiral machine for something better, that’s more interactive; that can offer a wider range of products, that gives the consumer a much more enjoyable retail experience.’

And the future: ‘It’s about being nimble’, Paul says, ‘knowing your product range, and being able to slot that in at the appropriate time, in the appropriate situation.’


Next time: Paul Hearne discusses how the appointment of a new management team has led directly to culture change and tells us why the days of prioritising top line growth at Selecta are long gone. Don’t miss it.

More Selecta news is on Planet Vending, HERE.

*Source: (Plimsoll Ratings Analysis).

About the author

The Editor

Planet Vending’s Editor is Ian Reynolds-Young and it’s Ian’s unique writing talent that has made PV what it is today – the best read (red) vending blog in the world, and vending’s best read (reed). Ian ‘tripped and fell into vending’, in the capacity of PR executive, before launching a specialist agency, ‘reynoldscopy’, dedicated to the UK Vending business. The company continues to represent the interests of many of the sector’s leading brands.

‘It’s all about telling stories’, he says. ‘We want to make every visit to PV a rewarding experience. By celebrating the achievements of the UK’s operating companies, we’re on a mission to debunk the idea that vending is retailing’s poor relation.’

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