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Industry Rapid Response: NAMA

April 2, 2020

National Automatic Merchandising Association Logo

With COVID-19 impacting daily life in America at all levels, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is spotlighting the impact of and responses to the current pandemic through a series of Q&As with our partners.

The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) represents the $26 billion convenience services industry, which includes nearly 1,000 member companies. In October 2019, NAMA partnered with PHA to make one-third of vending machine offerings ‘better-for-you.’

Q&A: Carla Balakgie, President and CEO, National Automatic Merchandising Association

What are the real-time impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on your organization, your operations, and your staff?

Our association has gone to 100 percent teleworking in all of our offices, and fortunately we were equipped culturally and technologically to do that. It didn’t disrupt our operations at all. It was like flipping a switch. We didn’t lose any momentum in that respect.

However, we were forced to cancel our biggest event of the year, which was a major disappointment for our members and of course, for us. The NAMA Show is the one event each year that brings nearly 5000 industry professionals together. The process of cancellation consumed a huge amount of our time, but it was what we had to do.

What COVID-19 has done to us in terms of our work is that we have become even more focused on how to support our members from a fundamental level right now. We’re trying to remove barriers, helping them figure out how to operate in this unpredictable environment and, in some cases, how to keep their doors open.

Our members serve primarily the workplace, and the workplace, as we all know, is significantly shuttered. Those serving the emergency infrastructure are overburdened, and the rest are looking for new ways to do business.

One of the benefits of vending is that it is an around-the-clock delivery system. Vending fuels first responders on the frontlines – doctors, nurses, 911 call center staff, firefighters, police officers – as well as the industries that support them, like equipment manufacturing and food distribution. Vending is sometimes the only option for food and beverages at those locations, so it’s perhaps more important than ever to harness the power of the industry to support them.

How are you managing to maintain continuity of services/business/impact during this time of uncertainty?

So while we had to defer our biggest gathering, we have begun hosting virtual town halls and webinars. We’ve built a COVID-19 resource center on our website and are pushing out more information electronically. My staff and I have spent MANY hours calling our member companies to keep our fingers on the pulse of what’s happening and to figure out where to point our efforts and our spears.

One of the benefits of vending is that it is an around-the-clock, there for you all the time delivery system.

What role do you see your sector needing to play during this time of national crisis?

Embracing the mentality that it is no longer business as usual and finding ways to support those people and companies who are operating as critical infrastructure. For our industry, that is delivering nourishment and essential products, available 24/7.

What advice does your organization have for Americans trying to keep healthy during the coronavirus pandemic?

One of the benefits of vending is that it is an around-the-clock, there for you all the time delivery system. We have guidelines around cleaning the machines and handling products with gloves.

For those that want to assist your organization right now, what direction are you giving and what needs do you have?

With workplaces shuttered, we are considering how vending and unattended retail can address society’s greatest needs right now. This could mean new means of distribution or delivering non-consumable products including PPE’s. For example, we could dispense hand sanitizer and wipes, as well as masks, gloves, etc. We’re ready to galvanize and try to do our part during this crisis.

Do you have any personal tips or lessons to share from your own experiences managing the response to coronavirus?

What shot through my head is that I have been through a start-up company, hurricane watches, and 9/11 as a Washington, DC resident. The thing that is important in a crisis as CEO is to be clear and calm and at peace with the idea that you don’t have the answers. As the chief calming officer, you just must go step-by-step, day-by-day and figure it out. This is the only way you keep your wits and be effective.