One benefit of being owned by a larger company is having the resources to invest in new technology. This advantage has not been lost on Coca-Cola Vending Yakima & Tri Cities, which operates full line vending in Yakima and Pasco, Wash. The vending operation has aggressively expanded into cashless readers, DEX handhelds, healthy initiatives and a multi-faceted sustainability program, all of which have proven popular with customers.
The company is owned by The Dolsen Companies, a Yakima, Wash.-based firm.
Yakima and Pasco have suffered higher than average unemployment during the recession, but sales have started to improve, thanks to a reviving agriculture industry. The vending operation has found it important to offer new benefits to win customer loyalty.
The Pacific Northwest has also been highly concerned about nutrition and the environment. Hence, Coca-Cola Vending’s initiatives in both of these areas have been helpful winning new customers.
Coca-Cola Vending was formed in 2006 when its parent company combined the vending division of its beverage bottling operation, Coca-Cola Bottling, with its full line vending division, Automat Vending. One of the bottling organization’s two vending routes remained a dedicated beverage route while the other one was integrated with Automat Vending’s 14 full line routes. The dedicated beverage route serves locations that only have beverage machines.
Prior to 2006, the two divisions actually competed against each other. The bottling company operated two beverage vending routes while Automat Vending operated full line routes.
Automat Vending was founded in 1954 and was acquired by the Dolsen Companies in 1986.
Jeff Hemp, who currently serves as on-premise business development manager, joined Automat Vending in 1987 as a vending route driver. The company was growing at the time.
Hemp became the route supervisor in 1991 when the company grew to seven full line routes, including one dedicated food route. Around this time, the company added a second branch in Pasco, which is about 85 miles south of Yakima.
The company experienced a difficult time in the early and mid 1990s due to the Alar scare. Alar is a pesticide used on apples that was believed to be associated with cancer. The alarm was reported on “60 Minutes” in 1989 and resulted in major layoffs through the mid 1990s.
Business began to recover in the late 1990s, and in 1995, Hemp relocated to Pasco to manage the branch which had grown to five routes. At the time, both branches were expanding into OCS.
Two years later, Hemp was promoted to general manager and moved back to Yakima, where he oversaw the introduction of new software and handheld computers. The company was interested in improving its accounting and inventory management and tracking item level sales.
Company introduces DEX
Following a test using Rutherford & Associates’ vending management software, the company began having all of its drivers download DEX on its cold drink machines. The drivers manually entered the DEX data from the snack and food machines. (MEI acquired Rutherford in 2001.)
The item level accounting helped identify the best sellers. Hemp knew which items to assign double facings.
“It (DEX) gave us the ability to better market to each customer,” Hemp said. “It helped us to merchandise better, without taking complete authority out of the drivers’ hands.”
The company used the item level data to design planograms for the cold drink and snack machines. The drivers continued to select all of the products for the food machines from the warehouse.
Drivers can still accommodate customer requests for products that are not in the planograms, Hemp noted. The driver needs to enter the request on their handheld.
The item level tracking proved especially helpful as the company began to add more glassfront cold drink machines. Hemp said the glassfront beverage machines on average boosted sales by about 30 percent.