Credit card readers were almost unheard of in vending machines. Cashless vending was almost completely confined to "closed" systems that required prepayment of funds. The e-Port? was the first product that allowed an "open" system, where the customer simply swiped his card at the card reader and the purchase was charged to his card account.
In 1998, the transmission costs were still high for credit card authorization, the hardware costs were still high, and the business model still needed to be proven. "We knew that would be one of the huge challenges," Lawlor said. "But we knew that long term, it was going to be there."
Moving up through the ranks
In 1999, Lawlor was promoted to senior vice president of sales and marketing and moved to the corporate office in the Philadelphia, Pa. area.
Lawlor spent most of his time introducing the e-Port® to coin mech and dollar bill validator manufacturers, machine manufacturers, distributors and operators. He also worked with software providers to make sure the credit card data could be compatible with vending accounting systems.
A key component was a package USA Technologies developed that settled credit card processing for the vending operators to go in concert with the hardware. "That was the real key piece in processing the micro transactions," Lawlor said. "The business model was improving all the time. Over time, it has proven itself."
Sales of e-Port®s increased every month through 2001, 2002 and 2003. Lawlor noticed that most of the sales were to large vending operators, who were placing them in larger accounts. He saw a need to offer the credit card readers in mid-size accounts.
The large vending operators naturally saw more opportunity in the larger accounts, he noted, and the smaller operators were reluctant to expand into cashless vending. "A lot of them just don't want to get involved in the technology," he said of small operators in general.
As equipment manufacturers improved the reliability of DEX reporting, Lawlor also realized that remote machine polling was going to offer new efficiencies in vending. Drivers would be able to download column level sales from the machine, either at the machine using a handheld, or from the truck or even from a remote office.
Technology changes vending
With all of the new technology available, Lawlor reasoned, a new day was dawning for vending. And he wanted to be on the front lines introducing it to customers.
"I just knew there would be a huge opportunity," he said. "I knew there was enough consumer acceptance that, if marketed correctly, you could do very well. I think there is an opportunity to take that (technology) to the mid level (account)."
He believed that cashless transactions and faster reporting of machine functions would result in a higher level of customer satisfaction. In return, Lawlor reasoned, the customer would be willing to pay higher prices for products, as part of a more comprehensive vending solution.
After leaving USA Technologies, Lawlor wrote a strategic business plan for his company and launched the company in 2004. He rented some warehouse space, designed a sales brochure, and began seeking clients. "It's quality service combined with the user benefits of using technology that makes vending a much more enjoyable type of scenario," Lawlor explained.
Starting a vending business
Lawlor was able to get some customers through his own networking; he has been active in coaching sports and in the local chamber of commerce. Most of his leads have come from locator services. In his sales presentations, Lawlor emphasizes the fact that vending technology today offers more customer benefits.
A common pitch is: "There's a lot more out in the vending world today than you're probably familiar with. "
Credit increases the operator's options
He credits the technology, more than his salesmanship, to his high closing rate. He usually makes two sales trips to an account. During the first trip, he asks them what they want and explains his services. He then goes back to his office, prepares a PowerPoint proposal and presents it in person in a second visit.