In the past few years, there have been complaints about the rising prices in the machines. However, Palermo said the company recognizes that costs are rising and she believes the vending operator is doing his best to maintain fair prices. As long as the operator gives advance notice of the need for an increase, she is willing to allow it. “The convenience of being in the office and having something there; there’s a value to that,” she said.
Other important factors to Palermo are the professionalism of the drivers and responsiveness to product requests.
Some accounts place a lot of value on knowing their constituents are happy with the product offerings. American Intercontinental University in Weston, Fla. surveys students every three months to gauge their satisfaction with the vending, noted Scott Scheaffer, vice president of operations.
Scheaffer said he asks the vending operator to provide regular sales reports.
The operator also provides a commission to support student activities.
SOME RECOGNIZE CONVENIENCE HAS A COST
Schaeffer was one of several location managers who said he recognizes that vending prices cannot be lower than those in other retail outlets. As a result, he allows the operator to raise prices when a need is shown. “You’re paying for the convenience,” he said.
Scheaffer said the professionalism of the driver is very important. He wants the driver to behave diplomatically with students who might get in the driver’s way when he’s doing his job. He also want the driver to look people in the eye when spoken to.
Scheaffer was one of many interviewed who said the working relationship that gets established over time is important in deciding which operator to work with.
Schools and hospitals were the most concerned about wellness options.
At the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, vending supplements the manual foodservice. “It’s fairly important,” said Ed Hainrahir, director of marketing and retail operations. The school’s main criteria for selecting a vending operator are equipment reliability, product variety, energy efficiency and commission.
While many accounts want a commission, they also recognize that the income from the commission will not amount to much if the machine does not offer what people want at a reasonable price.
“If we don’t have products the students and faculty want, we’re not going to get a return on our contract,” said Shirley Darr, assistant auxiliary director at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “We see it as a convenience and a supplement to foodservice on campus.”
Darr said 50 of the campus’s 250 soda machines also enhance the aesthetic environment after the operator agreed to customize the fronts with pictures of the university grounds.
Darr said vending sales have increased recently as a result of the machines being able to accept campus ID cards for payments.
VENDING HELPS WITH NUTRITION NEEDS
In many secondary schools, vending machines have helped foodservice directors meet nutrition requirements. When the obesity epidemic first began making headlines in 2003, many public officials blamed vending for making kids fat. Since then, more districts have recognized vending as a tool to help educate kids about nutrition.
“We all know that access causes one to choose or not to choose (a particular product),” said Anita Finch, director of nutrition services for the Seattle, Wash. Schools. “It’s our job as educators to be gatekeepers.”
Baptist Hospital System, based in Jacksonville, Fla., operates four hospitals with 4,400 employees in South Florida. Vending is very important to the emergency room staff and other employees who work when the main cafeteria is closed. Several years ago, a hospital dietitian worked with the vending operator on a wellness program.
While the hospital gets a commission from the vending, Scott Kleier, general manager of dining service, insisted that the commission is not a top priority and he would never switch providers on account of commission. Kleier places a lot of value on the relationship.