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A million machines

February 27, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

What Jefferson County manufacturer has used enough wire to wrap a strand around the Earth one and a half times?

And what company has used 300,000 tons of steel and more than 2,500 miles of vinyl decals?

Answer: Royal Vendors Inc.

The statistics were rattled off Wednesday afternoon during a ceremony at the plant to celebrate the millionth cold-drink vending machine to roll off the company's assembly line.

The company's modest beginning was in a three-room apartment in Charles Town, W.Va., in 1987.

Jane Peters, who was on hand for Wednesday's celebration, described that early shop's spray-painted windows and space heaters.

"Even then, there was excitement in the air," said Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

Royal Vendors grew to be one of the leaders in the manufacture of cold-drink vending machines. Today, the company is housed in a 280,000-square-foot plant in the Bardane Industrial Park.

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Royal Vendors and its 600 employees make vending machines for bottlers and distributors of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Dasani water and other products.

For the millionth machine, the employees wanted to do something special, said Robert Kutcher, director of human resources.

They shot a photograph of the plant and had the picture transformed into a back-lighted sign, similar to the ones that usually go on the front of the machines, Kutcher said.

The plant can be seen at the bottom of the picture. A vast blue sky stretches across the scene and at the top, an American flag waves in the wind.

In the middle, a message reads, "1,000,000th vender produced. February 26, 2003."

The plant's employees crowded around a stage to celebrate the machine, which was brought in on a forklift. The forklift driver beeped the horn as he drove up and the machine was decorated with an American flag, a West Virginia flag and red, white and blue balloons.

"Is today a fun day or what? It's really great to watch that machine come down the line today," company president Larry LaBrier said.

The machine got a round of applause, but the biggest applause went to Roy Steeley, who started the company in 1987.

Steeley said he always was proud to have the Royal Vendors employees working with him to put out the machines.

"I always said, 'I didn't do it. All the people here did it,'" said Steeley, who has since retired from the company and now is chief executive officer of Automated Merchandising Systems.

The atmosphere at the plant was festive. There was a cake-cutting ceremony, and humor was mixed in with the speeches.

Steeley said he remembered when he bought land in the industrial park in Bardane, a small community about five miles west of Charles Town.

Construction was surging ahead, then it stopped on the first day of deer hunting season, Steeley recalled.

"Every year, I ran into the same problem with deer hunting," Steeley told the crowd.

Royal Vendors, one of three major vending machine manufacturers in the country, supplies bottlers with machines around the world, Kutcher said.

The company has diversified in recent years by devising ice cream vending machines and milk vending machines, Kutcher said.

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