On first impression, United Vending in northern New Jersey seems like a typical small vending operation. Owned and operated by a father/son team, the 4-route business boasts a 25-year history, emphasizing personal service.
But view the company's Website, http://unitedvend.com, and it becomes clear there is nothing typical about this operation. United Vending offers remote machine monitoring, "open" cashless vending, an extensive "green" vending initiative, energy efficient vending machines, and more. United Vending uses new technology to provide "higher efficiency and exceptional customer service," according to the company Website.
In many ways, the company's background is similar to others. In 1981, Ed Campbell, a Seven Up bottling operation veteran, purchased a Coca-Cola distribution franchise. His son, Jamie, worked in the business growing up, and when Jamie came on full time in 2002, he steered the company in a new direction.
Today, United Vending is one of the few in the country to have most of its routes using dynamic scheduling supported by remote machine monitoring. As a result, the company's routes do more than twice the sales of an average vending company, based on industry statistics.
In the past five years, Ed and Jamie Campbell have utilized some of the most sophisticated industry technology available, and they are using it to win new business. The company has been adding new business steadily during the current recession.
Asked how they did it, the father/son duo are quick to credit the team they put together over the years. They noted the need to have the right employees in place to take advantage of the best available management tools.
But the full story is more complicated. The company's evolution from a small beverage distribution franchise to a rapidly growing vending business was an extensive learning process.
In 1997, the Campbells found themselves with about 35 soda machines and seven snack machines after Coca Cola Enterprises Inc. purchased most of the assets of their beverage distribution business. For the next five years, Ed operated the vending route single handedly.
In 2002, while he attended night school at Monmouth University, Jamie helped his father out part time in the small vending business. The average location had about 40 people, the largest having almost 100. Later that year, they bought their first new snack machine from Crane Co. and have purchased new Crane equipment ever since. In 2003, they hired their first route driver.
The Campbells felt the fixed schedule route system was less efficient than the product delivery systems used in other retail industries, based on their experience dealing with retail operations as a former beverage distributor.
They also realized there wasn't a good system for managing product selection in the machines. They were familiar with the concept of category management from their previous exposure to retail businesses. They felt they needed to be able to track item level sales in the machine.
Item Level Tracking Was A Challenge
They attempted to track item level sales using Excel spreadsheets, but this was very time consuming. It also required accurate and honest record keeping on the part of the drivers, which they realized was not something they could take for granted.
They asked their drivers to put core items in all the machines. But a spot check would invariably find that 60 percent of the machines did not have the cores in them.
The Campbells also realized there was no way to track the performance of the non-core items. They recognized this as a major problem, since secondary items over the course of a year represented a lot of business.
They tried to develop a more efficient delivery system by pre-kitting their delivery loads in the warehouse. But they had to rely on paper route cards filled out by the drivers, which was highly inaccurate.
"We knew what we wanted; we just couldn't make it work," Jamie said.