"The manufacturer's price is too high," he said. "We have a full-time mechanic who does the engine and everything. We draw up something and say we want to maximize space. They're not always beautiful, but they work." Dynamic Vending builds its own racks and shelves; although for a cooler, Koritz did purchase an Omnicube.
He also configures 99 percent of his trucks the same way to improve efficiency. If a truck breaks down and a driver has to use a different vehicle, he or she still knows where all the product is located and doesn't lose any time searching for it.
Don McDaniel, McDaniel Snack & Vending, operates seven routes from Albertville, Ala., and buys components from the suppliers for most of his vehicles. "We're installing Hackney beverage racks (and) use Omnicube coolers," said McDaniel. The beverage racks were chosen because they can hold cans and bottles, providing McDaniel with the ability to allocate the quantity of cans and bottles as he sees fit.
Although McDaniel buys the kit from suppliers, he still has the installation done in-house. He purchases most of his vehicles used and feels it makes more sense to buy kits to put into them, as opposed to sending a used vehicle to a manufacturer to get customized. "If we buy a new truck, that's when I let the manufacturer do it," he added. "In the end, we probably don't save money because of labor costs. It probably takes us longer than the manufacturer, but we get exactly what we want."
Randy Munn, director of sales and marketing, CL Swanson Corp., Madison, Wis., said, "We do the customization because it's significantly less expensive, and we can get the exact specification we want. Route drivers have input into what they need and what will make their job easier," he added.
Munn said years ago he built the shelves out of wood, but now he goes to Menards and Home Depot for shelving and anchors it to the vehicle walls. Installation takes a good two hours or so.
For Doug Fezell, chief bottle washer, a.k.a. president of Professional Vending Service, Greenville, Tenn., there is value in having the supplier customize it. "We wouldn't put in the shelves or design the system ourselves. It's all we can do to keep the vending part up. I wouldn't want to install it." Instead, for his seven routes, he had Equipment Innovators design a system for the interior of his vehicles.
"We started prekitting about four years ago," said Fezell, "so the equipment in the van needs to hold the totes."
Equipment Innovators offered to customize a truck to accommodate a system to hold the totes as well as space for refrigeration.
"We shipped them (Equipment Innovators) some containers with approximate amounts of what we needed to haul, with room for growth and estimates for the number of drinks," said Fezell. The engineers responded with quantity totals for what he could haul, including room for cleaning supplies and other nonproduct essentials.
Manufacturers cite benefits of customization
Lindsey at Equipment Innovators understands operators just starting out have limited capital, but he sees that as a reason for them to buy a customized vehicle, not a reason not to. "We help arrange the interior of the vehicle so it can grow with the business," he said. A vehicle with fewer racks, room for refrigeration or a less expensive cooler using ice packs means the same vehicle can be used for years by adding more racks and changing out cooler options.
Homemade shelves, often made out of wood, are not easy to clean, added Lindsey. The wood absorbs smells and stains — not to mention that in certain markets, it is not permitted to keep food on wood shelves. To transport or change the configuration, you have to dismantle the lumber and rebuild, unlike industry-specific shelves where a simple loosening and retightening of a few bolts gives the adjustments needed.
"Our product can be transferred to new vehicles when the truck wears out, or for expansion. It's more practical in ease of use and cleanability," said Lindsey. Also, some operators have won accounts because of the professional appearance of their interior. "It says — ‘we made an investment in our business. We have a truck to service your account," said Lindsey. For the serious business owner, the image to a customer is important.