Handhelds Are On The Way; Here Is What They Mean To You As A Driver

Vending is the last route-based industry to utilize handhelds. As with other industries that have embraced this technology, handhelds will make drivers more productive.

Your company has decided to embrace handheld computers. This might be a little intimidating if you're not familiar with how they work. But as a route driver, you stand to gain as much as anyone.

Excluding vending, every other route-based industry has used "handhelds" for over 20 years. Companies like Anheuser-Bush, Miller Brewing, Hostess, Frito-Lay, UPS and Federal Express were the early adopters of handheld technology.

Management's decision to employ handhelds probably began with hearing of their fellow operators' positive handheld experiences. The NAMA trade shows overflow with seminars on vending technology, plus the "vending experts" and trade magazines have endorsed handhelds for nearly a decade.

The expectations of handhelds are that they improve warehouse and route efficiency with barcode scanning and information accuracy. The benefits harvested from improved machine service and product merchandising also encourages their deployment. Handhelds are being recognized by your customers as a sign of professionalism, which they perceive improves the management of their satisfaction.

You may have begun to hear about "DEX," the Direct EXchange of machine information with a handheld. DEX contains two important sets of information. First, it contains how many dollar bills are in the bill acceptor, coins in the collection box and exact coin tube activity. Second, it contains the number of vends for each column (selection).

From the cash information comes "tamper proof cash reconciliation," while the column vends allow the handheld to instantly tell you the quantity of each product necessary to restock the machine.

DEX information is typically transferred to the handheld with a cable that connects the machine to the handheld. The information transfer process takes about 15 seconds, which is faster than manually preparing a machine's product refill list.

Of course, the accuracy of the data improves, and problems with illegibly completed route tickets and service logs are altogether eliminated. You will be able to service more machines in the same amount of time, thereby increasing route capacity.

Sophisticated product forecasting can predict what products are needed in which machines and when that need will occur! All of these benefits are propelling vending operators to provide these powerful tools to their route personnel.

You are probably wondering, what's in it for me? First, you'll be spending less time manually recording data and more time servicing machines, therefore increasing the service capacity of your route.

If a portion of your paycheck comes from commission on sales, you just gave yourself a raise! Mastering the handheld makes you a more valuable employee and will further your career as a professional route person.

How will handhelds be installed on your route, and what can you do to make the transition as painless as possible?

Handhelds are typically implemented in three phases:

  1. Handheld as a replacement of the "paper ticket," with barcoded cash bags.
  2. Handheld and bar code scanners for tracking line item detail by machine.
  3. Handheld for DEX data collection.

Each phase brings additional route efficiency benefits.

1) The electronic route ticket

The first phase ? what is commonly referred to as an electronic route ticket ? is simply replacing a paper route ticket with a handheld.

The basis of all vending management systems begins with tracking product usage and cash collection reconciliation information. Without the aid of a handheld, the only way to capture that information is for each route driver to manually record product fills, pulls and inventory on either a pre-printed route ticket or a service log stored inside the machine.

This data must be manually entered into a "back office" vending management system. The process is time-consuming and error prone for both the route driver and the office employee entering the information.

By replacing the route ticket or service log with a handheld, the information is available for transfer as soon you complete your day. Information gets processed more accurately, so the office staff no longer complains about not being able to read your handwriting.

It shouldn't take more of your time to record transactions on the handheld than it did to properly complete the paper ticket ? probably less! And at the end of the day, you've got a summary of how many of each category of product you used for the day which helps balance your truck inventory.

Recording meter readings improves because there is less chance they will be misread by your office staff. Since you are now "paper-less," the handheld's bar code scanner is used to scan the cash bag's number, so collections can be matched to your machines.

During this first phase, the benefits are primarily administrative, but the route's day-end tasks should be reduced and revenues increase from improved service scheduling.

2) Tracking line-item sales detail

Handhelds make it practical to track sales information by individual product rather than category, which is where most paper-based systems are based. This detailed product sales information provides opportunities to predict product requirements in advance of the scheduled service for individual machine.

Some systems support warehouse pre-packing of product for snack machines, which helps eliminate truck picking time, so you can better focus on customer service. Knowing what your machines require before entering the location has been proven to reduce your route's machine service time by about an hour per day. At day's end, the handheld provides what products to order, so day end tasks are typically cut in half.

3) Handheld for DEX data collection

With DEX, your time spent recording meters is simplified because you no longer must remember the sequences necessary to display the machine's readings.

Restocking the machine begins in the truck because the accuracy of what products you need to efficiently refill the machine is greatly improved. Management's trust in the numbers coming from your input improves because most of that process is automatic with DEX. Honest drivers are rewarded because their reconciliation variances are typically less than 1 percent!

Those products that don't sell begin to disappear from your inventory, and the quantity of product maintained on your trucks declines. The typical DEX route's machine service capacity increases by 25 percent. The frequency that you service your machines will decrease while sales increase, which typically puts more money in everyone's pocket.

What can you do to prepare for this transition?

Most companies considering handhelds have some type of planogram. Planograms govern which products are stocked within your machines, which doesn't mean every machine will contain exactly the same products.

Typically, 60 percent of the machine will contain those products that sell well in every location. The remaining 40 percent of the selections are reserved for your location's preferences and new products competing for permanent planogram positions. Support the transition to handhelds by reorganizing your machines to the planogram or selection consistency.

For example, if Oreos are in the planogram, always have them in the same selection, so if they are sold out, you don't have to guess what was in that position. Make sure you stock sufficient quantities of every planogram item, so you're not back filling at your last stops. Get involved with the planogram process so your customers' preferences are not overlooked.

What's coming after handheld automation and DEX?

The use of remote monitors to determine which machines require service and exactly what they need is gathering momentum among the most progressive vendors. These are operators who have typically already mastered DEX. Imagine that every machine you service really needs it, and your time is no longer wasted servicing machines that don't require it. The advent of cashless vending, which supports debit and credit card transactions, will propel the utilization of remote monitoring.

Your peers within the other route-based industries have been using handheld automation for 20 years. They will usually tell you they couldn't do their jobs professionally without them. At first, the transition may seem overwhelming, but if you give handhelds the opportunity, and combine that with your best effort, you too will realize the benefits they bring to you and your customer's satisfaction.

About The Author

Bill Lockett is the vice president of sales at InOne Technology. The company can be reached at 800-558-8727; www.inonetechnology.com.