What to expect
“One trip in and one trip out is so much more efficient and economical,” said Randy Smith, president of LightSpeed Automation and former vending operator. “It pays for itself in no time.” However, one thing operators need to do is monitor how many units are going in each prekit. “You can’t afford to take a prekit with 30 products into a machine,” explained Smith, “It’s just too expensive. Conversely, you don’t want three totes — 250 products — because you aren’t going often enough.” Smith recommends the correct balance is to bring roughly 100 pieces of product per machine when a driver services it. “You want to have enough product to justify the visit,” he said. Drivers working on commission want this too.
On the warehouse side, the traditional vending model with 10 routes has 10 mini warehouses (the vehicles) and all the drivers want to fill the trucks back up to maximum product capacity, explains Smith. Essentially, that’s $2,000 to $3,000 of inventory rolling around on a truck that never goes away. When an operator turns on prekitting, he or she gets a one-time pick up of $2,000 to $3,000 per truck just from that product going back into the warehouse. “Really, that pays for a lot of technology,” Smith said. Because product distribution goes back to the warehouse, it also tightens up inventory, creating more ‘just-in-time’ ordering.
“I was an operator for 15 years. I just don’t think you can compete if you’re not prekitting,” said Smith.
When is an operator ready for a lighted picking system in the warehouse? Smith says that the systems are so fast, an operator should have at least 3 to 4 routes before considering an automated system and at least one route fully prekitted before scheduling the installation.
Prekitting should be at least a goal of all vending operations. Operators need to consider the return on investment of hardware, software and dedicated staff compared with the revenue lift of route consolidation and potential for added machines per route. If sales growth per route is stagnant, prekitting could be the answer. It can start at the truck level with drivers making one trip into a location and grow into a warehouse with rollers and pick-to-light systems. It’s a versatile tool that vendors can use to add to their profitability.