Small vending operators have always touted the advantage of providing fast, personal service.
Big companies have enjoyed the advantages of economies of scale and having the resources to employ new technologies that improve efficiencies and deliver new customer benefits.
But what if a small company could utilize the benefits of modern vending technology in addition to providing personal service?
Such a scenario is playing out in metropolitan Boston, where Robinson Vending Corp., a 3-route operation based in Bridgewater, Mass., is using DEX technology to operate more efficiently and at the same time provide better sales information to customers. Along with the personal service that the company has always provided.
Dave Robinson, the second generation owner, believes the ability to manage line item sales is a powerful management tool.
DEX allows operators to collect accurate line item sales information from machines in a timely manner. Operators have found this data helpful in two key areas: managing machine level inventory to optimize delivery efficiency, and to track the best selling items on an individual machine basis.
Both of these advantages combine to ensure a third benefit: better customer relations.
An astute life-long student of vending
Robinson, who grew up in the business under his father, is no ordinary second generation owner of a small, family business. He has been active in state and national associations, and he has taken advantage of the education programs such as the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) executive development program.
Robinson has been able to leverage DEX technology faster than many others since he was pre-kitting his deliveries prior to using DEX.
Some might find it unusual for a 3-route operation to be pre-kitting routes. This was the method the company’s founder used from the very beginning. The difference now is the company is using the more accurate data that DEX provides. Data is now downloaded from DEX handhelds instead of manual reports.
Business conditions change
Robinson has fond memories of the late 1980s when he came aboard full time after graduating from college. The Boston area was enjoying a technology boom, and new companies were opening up and adding employees.
Having grown up in the business, Robinson learned to like it as a child, and he knew from an early age that it would be his future. “You get to see different people all the time,” he said. “You become friendly with them.”
It was around this time that Robinson’s father purchased the 2,200-square-foot warehouse condominium that it operates in today.
Robinson focused on sales while his father and his cousin Neal handled the company’s two routes.
The company at the time used a MS DOS-based system for accounts receivables and route scheduling.
Robinson got his first taste of recession in the early 1990s. This instilled in him the importance of constantly seeking new accounts. He became active in the community to improve the company’s visibility.
The company expanded to three routes when it acquired a small competitor in 2001. The acquisition offset some of the effects of the late 1990s recession.
Robinson Vending enjoyed its most prosperous year in 2003, thanks in large measure to a reviving economy, but also due to Robinson’s diligence in keeping up with new equipment, new products, overseeing the service quality and constantly working on adding new accounts.
Robinson also stayed active in the state and national associations and took advantage of educational opportunities. In 2002, he attended the NAMA executive development program at Michigan State University.
Recession challenges vending
The economy has been struggling, and Robinson isn’t counting on a recovery any time soon.
Fiscal 2009 was a tough year. Sales fell by 5 percent, which Robinson believes was better than most operators experienced. And for the first time in the company’s history, he was forced to lay off a driver.