From coast to coast, new merchandising concepts are changing the face of automatic merchandising. Innovations such as cashless transactions, video touchscreens, remote machine monitoring and self serve checkout markets can be found in big cities and small towns in all geographic regions.
One of the most notable features of this revolutionary evolution is that contrary to what some would expect, small operators are driving much of the change.
Foley Food & Vending, a 7-route operation based in Norwood, Mass., offers a good example of a small company taking advantage of market changing technology to stay ahead of the competition.
The family owned and operated company came from humble beginnings in 1973 in the Boston, Mass. area. Today, under the second generation leadership of brothers Steve, Ken and Brian Foley, the company has survived the current economic downturn. Thanks to state-of-the-art management software and self checkout markets, Foley Food & Vending continues to grow in the highly competitive greater Boston market.
The company has embraced technology in stages over the years. By investing in vending management software as it evolved, Foley Food & Vending positioned itself to introduce pre-kitting, cashless vending and self checkout markets.
The late Eugene Foley got into refreshment services out of economic necessity in 1973. Facing a layoff as a boiler operator, he bought a Canada Dry soda delivery route. Steve Foley, the oldest son, was 14 at the time. Steve learned to repair the can soda machines his father serviced.
Six years later, the company had expanded into snacks, food and coffee and had grown to three routes, still operating from the family’s home garage. Steve continued to help his dad while he took business classes at the University of Massachusetts.
The company grew at a steady pace through the 1980s and moved into its present 10,000-square-foot building at an industrial park in 1985.
Foley Food & Vending won some big accounts by not crossing union picket lines when the employees went on strike.
A break came in 1996 when Aramark sold some business to another large operation that couldn’t meet service expectations. Foley was able to win some of these accounts.
Early user of vending software
Steve Foley, the current president, didn’t hesitate to invest in vending management software. “I’ve always appreciated and embraced technology and what it can do for you,” he said.
In 1994, the company operated four routes, two of which were managed by family members. Foley did not think the company would be able to grow beyond this point without a more automated management system.
“How do you make that jump? It’s not easy,” Foley said. “Our goal was to manage a vending business where we had other (non-family) people fill the machines for us.” That year, he invested in Rutherford & Associates’ software. This was a DOS-based vending inventory management system that allowed Foley to track category level sales at the machine level.
It was around this time that another software company, Streamware Corp., was introducing Windows-based vending management software. Streamware also happened to be based in Norwood, Mass.
In 1999, Streamware offered to provide Foley its Windows-based software with DEX handhelds. The DEX handhelds allowed Foley to track cash meter readings and to track item level sales from the machine.
Streamware was willing to let Foley have the system at minimal cost to provide a beta test site, hoping Foley’s experience would provide a positive testimonial to other operators.
Foley instructed his best driver how to use the DEX handheld to download data from snack and soda machines. “He bought into it,” Foley said. In time, DEX expanded to all routes.