The road has been long and the going has been slow. But new management tools have arrived and are being used, and operating a vending business is changing and will never be the same.
The innovation phase began in the early to mid 1990s. The equipment companies worked together to develop uniform technology standards. Management software companies developed a host of reports using electronic data. And operators have tested the hardware and software, allowing a new generation of business management tools.
As a result, computers have empowered managers in new ways and reduced the need for
managing by “intuition.”
In interviewing operators nationwide who have automated their route and warehouse operations, one can conclude that the most significant change vending is undergoing is that automated systems are replacing manual ones. The end result is a more efficient operation that provides a better level of customer service.
The vending operation of the future relies a lot less on the skills of the route driver. Instead, all aspects of the operation are more integrated in delivering products and services that better meet customer needs in a more timely manner.
Contrary to the claims of some technology opponents, automation does not remove the “human element” from the service delivery process. By fine tuning the product selection and delivery process, employees involved in executing these new systems must pay more attention to detail than under the previous, more loosely organized methods.
Operators have found that for employees to do their jobs successfully, they need to understand how the processes work.
Pioneers report success
As with all revolutions, pioneers have led the way. They are in the minority, but their success is irrefutable.
For these pioneers, technology has changed every critical function in a vending operation. The route structure is the one aspect that technology changes the most when an operator introduces automated product handling and delivery. The route is the most labor intensive aspect of a vending operation. Hence, new efficiencies have had the greatest measurable impact on that area.
Biggest efficiency: route management
The technology having the greatest impact is machine-generated DEX reporting that allows pre-kitting and dynamic scheduling of routes. The DEX data allows operators to schedule machines for service at the most opportune time, improving return on labor. DEX also allows for the most profitable menu of products in the machine, resulting in higher profitability, more satisfied customers, and reduced inventorying costs.
DEX furthermore gives operators far greater accountability of just about all aspects of their operations.
Operators who have introduced these tools have found they change almost all aspects of their operations – for the better.
The end result is a vending operation where service is defined by the constant availability of what customers want in their machines – as opposed to the presence of a route driver.
The process of transforming the old model to the new one is challenging. Operators introducing technology typically find they must take a few steps backward before moving forward.
For an established company, the most time consuming phase of using DEX to its fullest capacity is making sure the majority of machines are DEX capable. Once that change is made, the company must learn how to use the various reports that DEX produces. This typically requires changing responsibilities for drivers, managers and administrators.
Management becomes empowered
“All decision making is done at a much higher level,” said Barton Shaw, vice president of Atlanta Vending in Atlanta, Ga., which now pre-kits its routes using Cantaloupe Systems RMM (Seed) and automated product picking from Innovative Picking Technologies Inc. “I feel we (management) know the account better than the driver.”
The difficulty of the transition varies based on the personalities involved in each individual company.