Hogan of Canteen Vending Service said the fact that vending has become more capital intensive is a challenge, but one his company is committed to. “We are going to be buying more equipment, not less,” he said.
Ellis of Crane Merchandising Systems said newer equipment is improving operator profitability even as same store sales have declined. “The equipment has to be self funding, otherwise it doesn’t work,” he noted.
Whitener then asked the panelists if there will be a “tipping point” for vending technology; the point where technology is so widespread that most operators will realize they must have it to be competitive.
Hogan said he doesn’t know if there will ever be such a tipping point.
Barlow agreed and said the industry must continue to keep looking for solutions to its challenges.
Ellis said right now there is so much “buzz” about technology that it’s difficult to know what approaches will become the most common. “There are so many different approaches that it has cluttered the message,” he said. “Before we get to that tipping point, we need clarity.”
Ellis said the first step for operators is to educate themselves about technology.
Whitener agreed. “The more I learn about it, the more confused I become,” he said.
The panelists agreed that open standards among technology providers is important.
Whitener noted that the industry has had a hard time attracting bright business people and asked the panelists for suggestions.
Hogan said his company has a nationwide management training program and hired 12 recent college graduates with no vending experience for management positions.
Whitener ended by asking the panelists to comment on the industry’s future.
Ellis said his company will be providing more of a retail experience to customers and will succeed in attracting more vending users.
Barlow said the future for vending is positive.
Hogan said that vending will continue to be about convenience. “The non-traditional user is going to change,” he said.
During the question period, one listener asked when the interactive screens on display at the last National Automatic Merchandising Association OneShow will actually be available to operators.
Barlow, whose company has deployed 500 such machines, said they have not yet decided on the size of the video screen based on consumer feedback.
Ellis, whose company also showed machines with video screens at the last trade show, said pilot tests will begin soon. “Technology must be self funding,” he commented.