The expansion did require the hiring of a dedicated vending service manager. Alfred Burse joined the company and learned equipment maintenance. Coca-Cola Enterprises provided training on some of the machines.
He also hired someone to count and bag the change.
All beverages are delivered cold to the machines, so there is no chance of a customer getting a warm soda.
“I’m already here, my team is here, and we can do a good job,” he said, speaking from a conference room that bears a big wall diagram of the airport highlighting all of its retail establishments.
Because vending is a cash business, Wilbourn also realized an obvious synergy: a ready supply of change for the four airport restaurants. He had been paying a financial institution to make change for him. The vending machines supply him the change on site.
He found some additional synergies between his foodservice and vending businesses. He improved his volume-based purchases on items such as bottled beverages that are used in both businesses.
The first change Wilbourn made was to eliminate canned beverages completely. This was a no-brainer for Wilbourn, who saw that travelers need resealable containers.
Being a fast food retailer, he immediately recognized the poor visual presentation of the previous vending banks. He developed colorful headers with Coca-Cola’s logo for the vending banks. “Prior to that, you didn’t know a vending location unless you came upon it,” Wilbourn said. Now it’s evident five gates away.
Investing in software
In 2004, Wilbourn gave another look at vending software and realized it had come a long way since his first exposure in 1980. This was important, since he understood the need for computerized inventory control and the importance of item level accounting from the restaurant business.
He decided to invest in a software system that included a DEX handheld. He began attending vending trade shows and learning about new technologies.
“As I went to vending shows, I started seeing innovative things,” he said.
While Wilbourn’s contract protects him from competition, operating profitably at the airport has its own challenges. The rent is high, and prices, while high, are determined by the location. Hence, technologies that improve efficiency are important.
He recognized the advantages of remote monitoring: real time machine alerts and real time machine inventory reporting.
Handhelds to remote monitoring
After two years, he replaced the DEX handheld system with a remote monitoring system; the technology provider trained his maintenance manager on installing and trouble shooting the cellular transmitters.
The remote machine monitoring system was an improvement, but Wilbourn was impatient for some of the other technologies he was seeing at vending shows, such as credit card readers and graphic touchscreens. His colleagues at Coca-Cola Enterprises introduced him to Isochron Inc., which offered a system that includes a
credit card reader with a small digital touchscreen.
Wilbourn saw that the interactive card reader not only offered a convenient way for a hurried traveler to buy product, but an interactive experience. Being prompted by the easy-to-follow graphic touchscreen was a new and personal experience that customers enjoy.
“I’ve always liked marketing,” Wilbourn said. “That’s what most vending operators haven’t done.”
Isochron’s cashless/remote monitoring system is one of several that Coca-Cola Co. has approved for its machines, noted John Turner, Coca-Cola’s group director of on-premise business and development.
The system reports how much money should be in each machine’s collection bag, by denomination. The totals are compared to the cash collection in the money room. “It’s just so much better (than the DEX handheld),” noted Casandra Harmon, vice president of MJW Vending.
The reports also help manage the product categories in the machines. “We know what our top sellers are and what our poor performers are,” Harmon said.
She noted that snack sales tend to vary among the different banks more than other types of products.
Wilbourn’s decision to invest in the Isochron product just a few years after buying a competitive remote machine monitoring system demonstrates the extent of the benefits provided by new technology.