Next Generation currently operates several Quickstore24™ machines, an exclusive retail concept featuring coupon dispensers, video screens and its own proprietary management software. The machine features digital thumbprint payment, interactive video touchscreens that include advertising, and promotional coupons printed at the point of sale — all in addition to cashless readers and remote machine management.
The partners did not want to say exactly how many of these units are being operated, nor have they decided how extensively they will work with Quickstore24™.
A FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY
Whatever concepts Next Generation adopts, management is committed to differentiating the company as a leader in technology.
The company markets its mix of technologies used to deliver vending services under the proprietary name, VendWise™.
The two routes that are reporting machine data wirelessly are located in the New England region and are already enjoying the efficiencies that remote monitoring provides. These efficiencies will increase as the wireless network expands to include more routes.
The machines report sales automatically to the branch locations. The data allows all route inventory to be pre-kitted in the warehouse and loaded onto trucks before the drivers arrive in the morning.
All vending trucks carry snacks, cold food, frozen food and beverages. Most of the trucks use coolers for the refrigerated products, although some also have freezers.
DRIVERS USE DEX HANDHELDS
DEX handhelds also play a role in managing the business. All drivers currently use DEX handhelds, and will continue doing so even after remote monitoring becomes introduced to all of the routes, Ioannou said.
Supervisors review machine activity from a remote location, but the handhelds are needed in order for drivers to make adjustments at the machine level.
Ioannou believes that one of the greatest benefits of remote monitoring is a better understanding of customer needs.
POINT OF SALE MARKETING
In addition, Next Generation will deliver cross-merchandising promotions, such as coupons for other desired items or activities. The company is examining various coupon options, in addition to the Quickstore24™ already mentioned.
“Remote monitoring gives you a relatively easy jumping off point for other things, like improved merchandising,” said Ioannou.
CASHLESS READERS TO INCREASE
The company has introduced cashless readers to some of its machines and plans to do more in the near future. “It is expensive (currently) for the return,” Ioannou said. “It needs to be a location driven scenario.” The partners believe that cashless will become more widespread.
The technology initiative includes equipping all route drivers and service technicians with mobile phones with global positioning satellite (GPS) transmitters. The GPS allows the company to supervise route activity effectively.
Ioannou is quick to point out that the cost of technology decreases over time.
The company also supports energy efficiency initiatives, which it calls GreenVend™. Next Generation plans to use LED light bulbs, which it claims reduce energy consumption by 40 percent, on many snack machines in response to customer demand.
Another goal is to have machines Energy Star certified when customers request it. The initiative also includes USA Technologies Inc.’s VendingMiser® devices, which power down machines after a period of inactivity.
“We are looking at all energy efficient alternatives,” Ioannou said.
POSITIONED FOR INCREASED ROUTE PROFITABILITY
In the immediate term, the company hopes to increase its route density. They are looking to grow organically and acquire more businesses to help meet this objective.
The partners are aware that some industry veterans question the view that larger companies are destined to lead the industry. Skeptics argue that because of the high level of service required in vending, smaller companies are better able to devote top level management to individual customers.
Large operators respond that modern technology gives big companies the means to manage more customers effectively. “Scale and customer focus aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Ioannou.
Ioannou and Mac Isaac believe that if their expectations come to fruition and the industry is led by larger companies, the customer perception of vending will improve. The larger companies such as Next Generation will create higher expectations and the vending bank will become a destination for consumers.