The University’s vendor program has undergone a few significant modifications this semester, including a change from charging a 10 percent fee from the vendor’s daily revenue to charging a flat rate of either 50 or 75 dollars per vendor per visit. Additionally, the University may hire a third-party company, Kiosk Connections, to aid in management.
Kiosk Connections is a small business located in Waltham, Mass. that works with over 300 local and regional small business vendors throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts and aims to help organizations schedule a variety of specialty retail vendors.
Usdan Facilities and Events Manager Frank Marsilli, who has been in charge of the vendor program for the past 16 years, said that the shift from charging 10 percent of revenue to a flat rate is a response to the financial downturn at the University. He also explained that the vendor program had become stagnant in recent years and was in need of rejuvenation.
Kiosk Connections approached the University before the beginning of the fall 2012 semester and outlined the services it provides. Marsilli said that the variety of products sold by Kiosk is much greater than what is currently sold at the University.
“The thing that I think needs to be emphasized is we would still be in total control of the type of vendors we get through Kiosk Connection,” Marsilli said. “We wouldn’t want to bring things you could [find] anywhere…we try to focus on the more unique type of products.”
Founder and President of Kiosk Connections Sharon O’Rouke wrote in an email to The Argus that no decision has been reached regarding working with the University, though the company is excited about the possibility of introducing new vendors to the University’s current program.
“Of course, the current vendors involved in [the University’s] program will also be accommodated,” O’Rouke wrote. “We have already had some of Wesleyan’s current vendors contact us to get involved. The benefit for vendors is they will be able to expand their business through the access they have to all the organizations that we work with.”
Marsilli explained that if the vendors do decide to join Kiosk Connections, they can sell in more places and the company will waive the registration fee for vendors at the University. He also echoed O’Rouke’s statement that the decision to incorporate Kiosk Connections is not yet finalized, noting that he still wants to manage one particular vendor who currently pays the lower fee of 50 dollars per day.
“So I’m trying to balance bringing in new people but maintain the folks who have become sort of icons,” he said. “[For instance] all the people who are into music on campus know Malcom [Tent]…so we’re trying to keep that but also breathe some life into the program.”
However, not everyone is pleased with the new vendor changes and the possibility of a partnership with Kiosk Connections. Jeffrey Hill, who has worked in culinary services at the University since 1979, began selling jams, jellies, and sauces this past year as a vendor alongside his wife, Claudia. During his session as a vendor this past Monday, Hill explained his impetus for selling his products to University students as well as his feelings regarding the new policies.
“This is fun for my wife and I,” he said. “I get to see your side of things, because I’m usually down in the basement [cooking]. I get to talk to the students, I get to talk to the faculty members.”
Though he has been making these food products for over 10 years, Hill stated that he only made his business official within the past two years. The opportunity to sell his products at the University provides him with publicity while he grows his business. However, he explained that the change from paying a 10-percent fee to a flat rate is not easy for him or some of the other vendors.
“I do not like the new policies,” Hill said. “I’m not here to make waves or anything, [and] I’m not complaining. But it’s crazy when you think about it.”
He explained that while he has made some money in the past from selling his products through the vendor program, he—and many of the vendors—sell small ticket items that do not generate much revenue. He stated that he would have to sell 10 jars of his product just to pay his rent at the University for the day.
“This is my scheduled day off with Bon Appetit,” Hill said. “If Bon Appetit calls me, I’d probably make a lot more coming in and working for them. But this is a hobby; this is a sideline thing I love to do…but today I may end up being in the negatives…I’ll go home, and all the money I just made from my products would have ended up going to the University.”
Marsilli acknowledged that there has been a wide variety of reactions to both the change in fees and the possible addition of Kiosk Connections.
“There has been a lot of discussion with the vendors,” he said. “There are those that are dead set against having a third party involved—and we are going to try and accomplish that by me being in some control—and others that were delighted [to sell at different and larger locations]…So you have both extremes.”
Though the management transition was originally set for spring break, Marsilli said that, at this point, he believes it may not be implemented until the upcoming fall.
“I want to emphasize that it’s not something that came out of nowhere,” he said. “The program has been struggling for three to five years. I’m losing vendors, losing variety in vendors, and [Kiosk Connections] just seemed like it would present a good balance where I could get newer vendors and a wide range of products, all the while controlling those outside vendors.”