During the day, the roof panels collect solar energy, from which the energy is converted to electric power.
The solar array is expected to produce more than 500,000 kilowatts annually, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by over 820,000 pounds a year.
The greenhouse gas emissions avoided is similar to the combustion of 42,000 gallons of gasoline by a car, according to DRI Energy.
First Class Vending receives a rebate from the electric company based on the amount of electricity the solar system generates. It also receives government credits.
“Energy management is sound business: saving fuel, saving money, containing costs and finding savings and efficiencies anywhere it’s possible,” Matthew said. “That’s why solar electricity was such a logical choice for us. Our distribution center is a 60,000-square-foot, multi-building facility with parking over four acres. It was a great candidate for a solar installation.”
Matthew said that without the government rebates, he would not have undertaken the solar project.
He expects the solar project to pay for itself in four years. (See page 52.)
The Marshes do not know if the sustainability initiative has won business, but they are aware that customers are asking more about it. Some accounts want to know about sustainability measures in their requests for proposal. “Our customers like to see that we’re doing this,” Matthew said.
Committed to technology
While First Class Vending was an early user of DEX handhelds, Matthew was not an early believer in pre-kitting routes. They have recently begun experimenting with pre-kitting, supported by wireless telemetry.
This past year, the company also introduced self checkout markets. They have installed several such markets to date, and expect to add more in the next few years.
Most self checkout markets have been installed in new accounts. In the two existing vending accounts he converted to self checkout, Matthew said the conversion delivered a 25 to 30 percent sustained sales lift.
“It could never replace vending 100 percent, but it’s filling certain niches.” Matthew said of the self checkout market.
First Class Vending will soon have dedicated self checkout market merchandisers.
Healthy choices improve
First Class Vending has also been a leader in healthy options. In 2006, the company introduced its first such program under the name, “Get Fit.” It has since introduced its second version, “Well Within Reach.”
The Marshes are optimistic about the program since the quantity and quality of “better for you” products have improved. The offerings are selling noticeably better than they did a few years ago.
The company has not expanded into OCS or manual feeding; it partners with other companies in these areas.
A challenging future
Being a large company has benefits in today’s vending industry, the Marshes agree. It has given them access to capital resources that has allowed big investments.
At the same time, the company faces the same challenges of all companies. The most serious one at present is the cost of goods.
The product item level tracking gives the Marshes an accurate reading on product costs, which they see as very important, particularly when prices are changing frequently.
“Profits are getting squeezed,” Matthew noted.
The Marshes believe their investments in sustainable energy and technology will allow them to be profitable in the long term.
While First Class Vending has been one of the fastest growing vending operations in recent years, the Marsh brothers do not have any particular revenue goal. Their long term goal is to focus on profitability.