In order for the machines to connect to the campus local areawide network (LAN) Ethernet, Ethernet jacks were installed near each machine. The machine can then communicate through a cable to the network application server. The machine’s identification reader transmits data via the Ethernet protocol to the point-of-sale database to obtain user authorization and student account verification.
Students can add credit to their prepaid accounts with either cash or credit cards. They can check their prepaid balances on the Ethernet or on the vending machine digital display screen.
“We wanted students to be able to use their meal plan cards in the machines as well as at the cash registers,” said Kelly Zimmerman, Aramark’s onsite director of vending and concessions. The vending machines are not located in the cafeterias, but in other areas in 25 different campus buildings.
The ability to use campus ID cards with magnetic strips was a major factor in improving sales. ID cards now account for more than 80 percent of all vend purchases.
“That’s why we’re so successful,” Zimmerman said. “Previously, you could not use your ID card in the vending or in the concessions.” With the new machines, students can use the same cards they use to buy meals in the cafeteria in the vending machines. Every full-time employee also has an ID card. They can use this card to buy from convenience stores, concession stands and foodservice.
The software allows both “inclining” and “declining” balance plans. The “inclining” balance plan is a prepaid plan that most resident students use. The individual’s account balance is automatically adjusted with every purchase. The “declining” balance plan works similar to a credit or debit card; the cardholder is billed periodically by the school. Most commuter students, staff and faculty have “declining” balance plans.
SALES SURPASS EXPECTATIONS
The school quickly surpassed its weekly $10,000 sales goal. In one week, sales hit the $30,000 mark.
Vending sales totaled $750,000 last year, more than doubling the 2007 figure, Zimmerman said.
“We really feel like our student satisfaction with vending has increased because of this feature,” Elliott said, regarding the use of ID cards. She said student surveys have verified greater satisfaction with the vending service.
More frequent service has been another reason for the sales increase. Most of the machines are now serviced daily. The previous vending operators only came once a week. “The machines were always empty,” Zimmerman said. Zimmerman is assisted by four part-time student workers who work three shifts during the week and one on the weekend.
Because the vending machines are now reporting all activity via the campuswide Ethernet, Zimmerman can monitor machine temperatures, in-machine inventory levels, and possible mechanical malfunctions. The HSI system has provided all of the benefits of remote machine monitoring. He said the software allows him to receive an email or cell phone alert when the machine inventory reaches a certain level, but he has not had use for this function due to the service frequency.
In order to keep machines stocked, inventory is warehoused on campus.
SOFTWARE GENERATES PICK LISTS
The HSI software also generates a product pick list based on machine par levels and historical sales. “It automatically updates every time an item is sold,” Zimmerman said.
The product mix is based on sales from the machines, the convenience stores and the manual foodservice, Zimmerman said. Product decisions are also based on input from student surveys.
Aramark was able to develop a nutrition rating system for the vending machines. A color coded marking system designates nutrition content.
HSI’s menu planning module was already in use in the convenience stores and the manual foodservice operation prior to installing the new vending machines. “That’s how we decided initially what (products) to put in the vending machines,” Zimmerman said.
“The vending machine is seen (by the software system) as another point of service,” observed John Tatham, HSI’s vending director. The vending machines do not accept credit or bank debit cards.