By Nicholas P. Gacos
A Message from the President
By Nicky Gacos
It is an honor for me to be President of the National Association of Blind Merchants. In my journey as a Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneur, I have seen many changes – some good and some not so good. One of the most positive changes is the emergence of blind entrepreneurs as respected professionals within the vending industry as a whole. There was a time when the vending industry and its trade organization, the National Automatic Merchandising Association, paid little attention to us or our issues. Manufactures viewed us as a bunch of small operators and ignored our collective buying power. Many state agencies showed little imagination in the way they ran their programs. Branded concepts were fought by many state administrators and these same state agencies saw the organized blind as a pain with little to offer them. Potential blind entrepreneurs were being trained the same way they were 50 years ago. Politically, we were a divided community and our power was fragmented.
I’m happy to be associated with an organization that has helped change all of that. Today, NAMA recognizes the impact we have on the industry as a whole. My election to the NAMA Board of Directors speaks volumes and I think we all benefit by joining forces on those larger issues that affect all of us. We helped the RSA Buying Group launch and today manufacturers are recognizing the collective buying power of all blind entrepreneurs resulting literally in millions of dollars in the pockets of blind entrepreneurs in the way of rebates. We’ve assisted state agencies to think creatively. We promoted partnerships with national franchises negotiating national deals with Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway. Today, state agencies see the value we bring to the table as evidenced by the fact over 30 states subscribe to the services of our Blind Entrepreneurs Initiative. We helped bring the first ever national Randolph-Sheppard training curriculum into existence with our partnership with the Hadley School for the Blind. Politically, we have flexed our muscles with a untied front and have had a major impact on both the state and national levels.
But there is much that still remains to be accomplished. The number of Randolph-Sheppard vendors continues to decline and we need to reverse that disturbing trend. We have federal agencies that refuse to comply with the law and deny opportunities to our blind entrepreneurs. We still have states that have not embraced the promise of the program. We remained boxed into a system that only offers opportunity in food service and only in government buildings. We face challenges with healthy vending and accessibility issues.
I am happy to be associated with an organization that is prepared to take on these and other challenges and make a difference in the lives of blind entrepreneurs. Together, we will continue to advance our causes and help preserve and create opportunities for blind entrepreneurs everywhere.