Pioneer Vending’s Luke Adams
Topper of Over 100-Year-Old Company Takes the Reins as AMOA Prexy
Luke Adams, the incoming AMOA president, has been working his way through the ranks of his family’s business Pioneer Vending since 2007. He’s now CEO and president of the company, which has a history dating back to 1909.
“We’ve been around the block a couple times,” Adams said of the biz, which was started by his stepfather’s grandfather Joseph George Westerhaus in 1909. Westerhaus was a local musician who would travel from bar to bar in the Cincinnati area, also carrying a bagatelle pinball game around with him that he offered at a penny a play.
“It wasn’t anything organized as far as a route goes,” Adams said, adding that Westerhaus kept the hobby going – buying more of the games, leaving them at bars and tracking them with a barcode system over the years.
After his untimely death in 1934, his son Joseph Westerhaus II – then running a milk and bread route of his own – decided to take on the newly-forming entertainment business. “That was when it really formed into more of a structured business,” Adams explained.
From the rudimentary pinball machines and jukeboxes of that era, Pioneer Vending grew to become a leading vending machine provider in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, also offering a full slate of amusements.
Starting in the 1950s, they started expanding outside of Cincinnati. Adams’ stepdad Bill Westerhaus started with the company in the 1970s working as a salesman. Adams himself started in 2007 as a collector and worked in sales and promotions before taking ownership of the company in October 2018.
A big part of Pioneer’s focus is growth. Today, they have more than 50 employees with a location count of about 1,200.
“Acquisitions have always been woven into the fabric of what we do,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of operators out there that don’t necessarily have someone to continue their legacy.”
Jukeboxes and leagues are both highly important for the route. “When you go into a street location, the music is a huge factor,” he said. “Our dart and pool leagues remain a critical factor, too. I came up running dart and pool leagues and promotions.” Adams touted their excellent team of league coordinators. “It’s extremely important to the Pioneer brand. Incredible service, incredible equipment and incredible leagues – that’s at the forefront of what we’re selling.”
He added: “There’s a lot of competing options out there. I personally think there’s a tremendous opportunity for our industry.”
Adams began his involvement with AMOA about a decade ago when he joined the board. “I was recruited heavily for a couple years by Andy Shaffer and Gaines Butler,” he said. “As a younger person coming up, I thought AMOA was a good old boys club. Now that I’m obviously extremely involved, it’s so much more than anything I originally thought.
“The relationships and friendships and bonds that I’ve made have really completely transformed Pioneer, myself, how I view the industry and how I think of things. It’s really been a wealth of knowledge.”
Adams said he’s most excited to go to state association meetings as president and taking those opportunities to “be a sponge” and take in as much as possible. “I think the information sharing and networking at a state level is extremely important.”
As for the issues at hand, “We’re still having fair access to banking issues for members, so that remains a priority, as well as the Payment Choice Act.” Adams noted. There’s also the never-ending focus on national issues impacting the industry such as supply chain bottlenecks and lingering pandemic challenges. However, his main goal is to help however he can to improve the strength and health of the industry as a whole. Another topic at hand is navigating cash and cashless opportunities.
“We’re going through a bit of a transition process right now,” he said. “Cash certainly has its place in the business, but card reader systems open up a lot of opportunities for operators as well.”
Overall, he thinks the industry is doing quite well coming out of the pandemic, when the future was very uncertain as most locations and customers had their doors closed. Manufacturing and distributorship have built back up, too.
“It’s a sign of the resiliency woven into the fabric of this industry,” Adams said. “So many companies that have so much history and legacy and smart people to be able to weather that storm.
“The ability to make it through such a difficult challenge and come out the other side really changed our industry for the better. At the time, it certainly didn’t feel that way. But going through that fire has strengthened us as an industry and set us up for a lot of success in the future.”