The world of automated food and beverage services (vending, OCS, micro markets and beyond) appears to be getting more complicated every year. Cashless, telemetry, Affordable Care Act (ACA) compliance and a host of hardware and software changes can send an operator’s head reeling. Our industry progresses with technological improvements, to be sure — but how can we make the technology we already possess actually produce better results? Is the technology we currently own making better procedures, happier customers and more loyal employees? Can technology actually produce a smooth daily delivery cycle as product flows from the warehouse to the field? The answers, I believe, can be found in the simple act of counting. That which we count, we measure. That which can be measured can improve. Improvement fosters accomplishment, and accomplishment makes room for growth. Creating a “culture of counting” at your business will build better operating procedures which will better adapt your organization to whatever lies ahead for our industry.
No. 1: Count your money
Vending equipment has been collecting accurate cash information for over 20 years. Since the dawn of the Digital Exchange (more commonly known as DEX) in the early 1990s, control boards have been tirelessly counting the coins and bills accepted for our food and beverages — right down to the nickel. One of the first questions I ask potential clients is, “Are you confident that the money collected from your machines made it all the way to your bank account?” I ask this because most operators aren’t 100 percent sure, and in my opinion, industry technology isn’t helping much if it’s not helping the operator secure their income.
Every operator knows that counting money can be a chore, but it’s critical to success and requires diligent consistency. Here are a few questions that good processing room systems and technology should be able to answer every day:
- How many machines were short more than $2 yesterday?
- Were the shortages caused by machine failure, human data entry error or are they short without explanation?
- How many “mystery” shortages are we seeing each day, and from which routes?
- If faulty equipment is to blame for a shortage, was it repaired?
- Do our cashless receipts match the electronic deposits we received?
Counting money accurately is everyone’s business. Route drivers, technicians and processing staff all need to take accurate currency counting seriously. Cash accountability should be a daily priority for at least one manager. The more we count — the more we keep!
No. 2: Count your product
Admittedly, counting product is a bit more complicated than counting receipts. Creating sustainable inventory systems has been the bane of many a manager. The daily cycle of distribution (warehouse, truck, location, machine, warehouse) sees product moving about at almost lightning speed. It can be managed, however, and I suggest tackling product accountability by focusing at the point-of-sale level.
Once again, control boards do an excellent job of collecting sales data. It is the route driver’s job to treat the collection of that data as importantly as he or she treats the collection of cash. Verified beginning or ending machine inventories are what make or break prekit based delivery cycles. A culture of verifying item-level inventories should be embedded into every single person who visits a machine. This includes technicians and customer service personnel. Machine level spiral and column counts can be verified on most handheld based vending management systems (VMS) in under 30 seconds. Taking this time at every machine and making column counting part of each and every vend visit will send ripples of efficiency throughout the organization. My work with operators around North America has shown there to be significantly improved sales to sellout ratios on routes dedicated to counting every machine every day, as well as fewer daily “fires” for the route drivers involved. If automated retail delivery can be boiled down to Fill It, Clean It, Count It — then verifying machine inventories are essential to success.
No. 3: Count your problems
How many snack machines were serviced yesterday with five or more empty columns? How many micro markets were serviced and left with more than three empty products? How many soda machines yesterday recorded more than 10 units of spoilage? These types of daily delivery cycle questions can be answered by current VMS and need to be analyzed by operations teams on a daily basis. Problems that are tracked have a good chance of getting fixed. Problems that aren’t have no incentive to change. Obviously, not every “problem” can be watched all the time. It may be best to pick 1 or 2 metrics (high sold out machines, low volume machines, under filled machines, etc.) and simply begin tracking them for a week. Most operators are amazed at what they learn when they take the time to count or track a nagging operational problem.
No. 4: Count your progress
Where does the operating team want to be 6 months, 3 months or even a month from today? Tracked metrics, such as “machines short more than $2” should begin to show improvement within 20 to 30 business days. Weekly or monthly management meetings that include a review of operating metrics usually generate positive discussion and drive productivity. A culture of counting makes an excellent springboard for better communications throughout an organization. Tracking progress with tangible, measurable metrics can be used as an excellent motivating tool and give members of the operating team focus and meaning.
Creating a culture of regular counting can certainly be met with resistance. When change comes to a company, it often shows up dressed as “more work” which can strain thinly staffed operations. In addition to change, the more we count, the more we begin to hold those who are counting accountable.
Operators must work with their employees to agree on how quickly a culture of counting can be incorporated. Starting slowly is better than not starting at all. Once regular counting procedures become entrenched, more can always be added. Success breeds success, so celebrate progress whenever possible. Has a route driver inventoried every soda machine on his/her route for a week? Congratulate them with a gift card. Have cash accountability issues gone down by 25 percent over the last month? Buy pizza for the office and let them know why. Technology works best when the humans who use it have incentive to make it work better. Technology in the hands of those who think it’s useless has very little chance of long term success.
Advancements in automation are certain to continue shaping the future. Becoming a data-driven company places operators in a great position to accommodate whatever comes next. Regular, consistent counting procedures are key to gathering data worth using. Clean It, Fill It, Count It and you won’t go wrong!
Ben White was the general manager at Monumental Vending in Beltsville, Md. He recently started Vending Insights, Inc. to help operators incorporate technology and advance large projects. Contact White via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.