“While vending has become ho hum, micro markets allow for so much more creativity,” said Jennifer. Her latest market product consideration is trendy greeting cards. “Sometimes you need to pick up a card for an occasion,” she said.
The biggest challenge for Jennifer has been the fresh food sales — ordering enough. “I haven’t ever seen anything like it,” she said. Fox Vending uses a professional foodservice company to produce fresh food for the markets, which is different than the food the company provides for vending machines.
It’s a different customer,” said Jennifer. The average price for a fresh food item is $3.00 to $6.00 in the market. From experience she knows no one would pay that in a vending machine. A part-time driver delivers food to the micro market twice a week and handles inventory.
Another benefit to micro markets Jennifer likes is the quick price changes. Fox Vending will often choose to adjust the price of a promotional “product of the week” or reduce a new item by a certain amount to encourage customers to try it.
Micro markets also eliminate commissions, which Fox Vending has been steadily reducing even in vending locations. “Maybe 10 percent of accounts have commissions now,” said Jennifer. “Most are 15 percent or less.”
Also, the higher price point is a plus in markets. Some operators are trying to offer vending prices in micro markets, but Jennifer believes it’s the wrong approach. “It’s our responsibility as vendors to write the book on how micro markets will work,” said Jennifer. And she wants them to be profitable.
Drivers are independent
James Fox recognized early on that vending drivers are a certain kind of person. They have to be self-starters who like people. He’s worked hard to put together a good team for Fox Vending and he’s proud of them.
“They’re all great guys,” he said. Fox Vending drivers are given freedom to choose products for their locations and pack the trucks themselves. The company doesn’t use plan-o-grams or prekit, although it has plans to add prekitting in the future.
Personal customer service
Fox Vending has no answering machines or automated phone system. “You’ll always get a live person to answer the phone — 24/7,” said Jennifer, who employs an answering service after hours. It goes with the company’s slogan “big enough to serve you, small enough to know you.” It’s something Jennifer picked up from her father, who continues to value in-person and verbal communication.
Retrofitting helps save money
Customers always ask Jennifer what’s new in vending machines and can they have it. She considered it a real challenge at first, but she has since started using the Revision Door from Vendors Exchange. Fox Vending rebuilds the vending machine, repaints it in its onsite paint booth and installs a revision door. “For a fraction of the cost of a new machine, the new door makes the machine look, act and operate like brand new,” explained Jennifer.
Cashless payment systems are another technology that Jennifer believes in. “Most machines that leave here have one [a credit/debit card reader],” said Jennifer. She’s noticed they are easier to install now with wireless technology as opposed to 8 years ago when operators were forced to hardwire the systems. Still, like any part of the vending business, Jennifer believes in managing it. Not every machine or location warrants cashless and Fox Vending will often pass on the processing fees to these locations who demand cashless.
Business in a populated area like Chicago is cutthroat, but Fox Vending’s dedication to the customer and business acumen keeps it successful. Jennifer’s strategy for the next 50 years of business is to expand the micro market and OCS business while adding more efficiencies, like prekitting, to the warehouse. Jennifer sees a profitable future for the company she grew up in.