I was reunited with several friends and former customers at this year’s NAMA show in Las Vegas. It was a pleasure to see my “extended family” and by most accounts their vending businesses are healthy and moving forward again. One thing that surprised me, however, was how often I was asked the same question by so many people: What’s the best truck for a prekit vending operation?
It’s a good question and I’m not sure I provided a satisfactory answer to any of my friends. My initial thought was that prekitting should allow most vending operators to downsize their trucks. Smaller trucks would be less expensive and their smaller engines should sip less fuel than their big brothers. A win-win right? Maybe. You see, while most vending operators are interested in saving money on fleet costs, they are excited to significantly increase their route revenue averages. The beauty of a pre-kit vending operation is that the route person spends more time filling vending machines and less time handling product on the truck. The point is that if you can increase your route average by 20 to 30 percent, it makes a far bigger impact on your bottom line than a few more miles per gallon.
Truck body designs will change for prekitting
So we are back to the question, what’s the best truck for a pre-kit vending operation? For the answer, I visited three of the top truck providers to the vending industry: Equipment Innovators, Hackney Body and Mickey Body. Each company has served the vending industry for decades and has built their businesses on making vending routes more productive. These companies are aware of the vending industry’s shift to prekitting and each is actively working on truck designs for the prekit route. While I can’t completely answer the prekit truck question yet, I can give you some ideas.
Side access truck bodies. Most vending route trucks today require the route person to get in the back of the truck to access product. Some more specialized trucks provide access to soda from the side but you still have to get in the back of the truck for chips, snacks, candy and so forth. Prekit routes make a strong case for the side access body. Route people no longer have the need to walk-up into a “warehouse on wheels” and the labor savings and safety/insurance savings of staying on the ground will be significant.
Cooled truck bodies. Since chocolate and other temperature sensitive products will be loaded in the totes there will be a need to keep most or all of the truck cooled. Yet, there will still be dedicated refrigeration for the routes that have cold food.
Bodies will be more insulated. For the same reason truck bodies will be cooled, they will also be more insulated. The more insulated the body, the smaller cooling system required.
We will see standardization around one prekit tote. Truck manufacturers are designing racking systems and refrigeration systems around a few totes now but they need to decide on a standard to make everyone’s life easier. The front runner seems to be the Akro-Mils 39175 offered by LightSpeed.
Rear access bodies won’t go away. There will still be a need for rear access bodies in certain very cold climates or for specialized routes that use docks. These bodies won’t be as productive, but they may be the only choice in some situations. Additionally, they may offer more flexibility for routes that also handle office coffee and other products.
One size will not fit all. I think we’ll see some initial orders of smaller (12 to 14 foot bodies) as operators chase fuel economy, but it will transition to larger (16 to 18 foot) bodies as these operators realize how much more product route people can handle in a day. In theory, trucks can have somewhat lighter payload since they are hauling less soda. Most trucks will remain in the 12,000 to 15,000 pound gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) range with the very biggest prekit routes needing around 18,000 GVWR. Remember that prekitting will allow significantly more stops, so don’t get caught with a truck that’s too small!