Elliot Maras, editor of Automatic Merchandiser Magazine, recently addressed the managers meeting of the Cuyahoga Group, the Maple Heights, Ohio-based Canteen franchise, on trends in the vending industry.
Maras told the gathering the vending industry is in a transition phase. He said the traditional operating methods, namely manual route accounting, are being replaced by more automated systems. In addition, a host of new technologies are on the horizon that will improve the quality of vending service.
Maras said DEX data reporting, cashless transactions, LED lights, energy efficient machines, video touch screens are among the technologies that are taking hold in the vending industry. He said the industry has been challenged to invest in these tools at a time when the market has been economically challenging.
While the technology tools represent big investments, Maras said the bigger challenge that companies face is the need to change employee tasks. DEX-based management systems change many employees’ roles. In addition, he said the new roles often demand employees to be more committed than ever.
“Technology does not minimize the human element, it magnifies it,” Maras said. “Data input mistakes that were once glossed over in a manual accounting system can create very expensive headaches in an automated machine-level inventory management system.”
He noted that the public is more appreciative of vending machines than in years past, a development that bodes well for the industry.
He also noted that the Google Wallet, a new development, will make it possible for consumers to use their smart phones to buy from vending machines.
He noted that the fastest change taking place today is the installation of self checkout markets. In the proper location with the right execution, he said the self checkout markets can deliver three times the sales of a vending bank. He said it will be a few years before it is known if the self checkout markets will be successful long term.
Maras also noted that the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, a compact fountain beverage dispenser that allows customers to custom order a beverage using a touchscreen, holds great promise, even though the machine is not yet available as a vending machine. He noted that Coca Cola Co. is in the process of rolling the Freestyle out to restaurants.
During the question and answer period, Maras said there will be machines that are completely cashless in the future.
“Technology is changing our industry in positive ways,” he said. “It requires a more dedicated and educated operation to use these new tools successfully.”