To address school health concerns, Frankel and Brewster came up with a "Healthier Alternatives" program. One snack row consists of baked snacks, while another has granola bars, low-fat products and low-sugar snacks. A decal announcing the program goes across the top of the machine.
Family Vending Co. has since begun offering this program to nonschool accounts as well, and these sales are rising. "A percentage of consumers are looking for healthier snacks," Frankel said.
"I tip my hat to Frito-Lay for coming out with baked products at the same price level," Frankel said.
"We certainly aren't getting any complaints to bring back the fried snacks."
The combined "Healthier Alternatives" snack machine and the nonsoda beverage machine (carrying water, juice, Hawaiian Punch, iced tea, milk and Yoo Hoo) make a very healthy presentation in a high school cafeteria.
Frankel has been an outspoken advocate for reason on the school nutrition front. The daily newspapers have published several of his letters opposing proposals to severely restrict products sold in school vending machines.
"We've done a lot of educating and sitting down with school board officials," Frankel noted.
Florida is one of several states contemplating further nutrition restrictions for school vending machines. The Automatic Merchandising Association of Florida, of which Frankel is currently president, has met with state legislators to discuss nutrition restrictions. "It's settled down quite a bit," he said.
Frankel also developed an after-school vending program for elementary schools. Elementary schools oversee 200 to 300 kids a day for up to four hours after school. Frankel provides them glassfront machines that offer milk, juice, and several products not available through vend product distributors: Capri-Sun, Kool Aid Jammers pouches, Minute Maid juice pouches, Hawaiian Punch juice pouches and Yoo Hoo pouches. Frankel buys these products at Wal-Mart.
"It opened up a whole new arena," he said.
While he's clearly made a lot of progress on the school front, Frankel still doesn't view schools as an easy business. They have costly insurance requirements, and they are seasonal accounts. He explains to the principals that he must charge 75 cents for regular size chips to cover his costs.
Vandalism is also a concern with schools. Frankel has retrofitted his glassfront machines with a bulletproof glass frame that has the keypad and coin chute sections cut out. The front doors are secured with a hasp, so they cannot be cut or pried off. Most outdoor machines are bolted to concrete walls.
Frankel has found it worthwhile to stay on top of technological developments. He attends every national and Spring NAMA convention, and every Atlantic Coast Expo in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
He welcomes the improvements that MEI has made to its Easitrax software. He looks forward to eventually using the system's curbside polling capabilities. This will bring significant efficiencies to his school accounts, as well as high rise buildings and facilities with increased security.
"I like the technology that's developing," he said. "Machines will eventually report directly to your office."
Software improves route accountability
The biggest benefit of the Easitrax system is far and away route accountability, according to Frankel. "We are using line item tracking, just not monitoring it as well as I would like," he said.
As the company grows, Frankel realizes that line-item tracking will improve sales and at the same time allow him to purchase fewer stock keeping units.
His desire to track line-item sales is one reason he plans to switch from carousel style food machines to glassfront machines. He thinks it is difficult to track line-item sales in carousel style food machines. In the not-too-distant future, he expects that he will bring on someone dedicated to data management.
Another benefit that the Easitrax system brings is being able to provide customers with detailed sales reports. In the near future, Frankel plans to offer customers the ability to review machine activity in real time over the Internet.