Ask the average U.S. consumer if they ever saw a credit card reader on a vending machine, and chances are they’ll say no.
But if they’re a frequent flier, chances are they’ll say yes. Airports are exposing more consumers to credit card vending than any other venue these days. Progressive vending operators have targeted airports for credit card readers since these venues have exceptionally high traffic and retail prices are high to begin with.
From the vending operator’s perspective, getting an airport vending contract takes vision. After all, it takes a visionary to invest in cashless vending, especially in today’s economy.
Right now, the conventional wisdom holds that the cost is too high to justify the investment in card readers.
This is why visionaries like Mack Wilbourn, owner of MJW Vending in Atlanta, Ga., are needed. The 64-year-old entrepreneur became a successful fast food retailer by taking risks in the first four decades of his business career. While many veteran vending operators are shy about testing new vending technology, Wilbourn doesn’t wince.
“It has given us a new way of servicing the customer in the airport,” Wilbourn said of the credit card readers and the remote monitoring system that supports them.
Credit card readers: A turning point
The introduction of state-of-the-art credit card readers that prompt the consumer with touchscreen graphics and flash animation marks a turning point for Wilbourn. Investing the money, time and energy to develop this pioneering move, which has captured the attention of some national vend product manufacturers, was made possible with the support of a committed team under the direction of a retail foodservice veteran.
MJW Vending is one of two businesses Wilbourn owns. His older business, Mack II Inc., operates two Popeye’s restaurants, a Checker’s restaurant and an Edy’s Grand Ice Cream parlor, all at the Atlanta airport.
Wilbourn believes that his restaurant experience helped him understand the importance of technology in vending. “I’m big on technology and how we can use it to better manage,” he said.
Technology is bringing new capabilities to various aspects of the vending trade that Wilbourn has already witnessed in the restaurant business. These include computerized inventory control, credit card transactions, and point of sale graphics.
Wilbourn got involved in testing new vending technology almost as soon as he landed the airport vending contract in 2004. The airport became his second vending venture, following a brief stint servicing a Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta in 1980.
While his vending business is much smaller than his restaurant business, in some ways technology is even more important to vending, Wilbourn noted, as it is a more complex business. Vending inventory includes far more stock keeping units, and the equipment contains more changing parts.
Aggressive investment in vending technology
Wilbourn’s airport vending venture, which consists of 54 machines in six of the Atlanta airport’s seven terminals, progressed from DEX handhelds to remote machine monitoring to credit card readers in the course of four years. The venture has also included an experiment with larger video screens on vending machines which has been put on hold for the time being, but will resume shortly.
The road has not been easy for Wilbourn, as the technology takes time to learn and it isn’t cheap. Each one of his software upgrades has cost him tens of thousands of dollars. But that’s par for the course for a man who started out washing windows for a fast food restaurant to become one of the most successful fast food franchise operators for a national franchise chain.
While the vending business is the smaller of his two companies, Wilbourn sees it as having a great future, due to the technology that is creating new capabilities. He is aware of the fact that the vending business is changing rapidly, and he sees a lot of opportunity for it. He also knows that as a vending technology pioneer, he has taken on a lot of risks.