Operators weigh in on pandemic-driven technology

March 17, 2021

About one year ago, it became apparent that the global pandemic was going to have a significant impact on the convenience services industry and especially coffee service, as offices suddenly closed. This article focusing on technology is the first of a three-part series that explores the challenges faced by operators around the country, the actions they took, the lessons they learned, how their business practices will change and their outlook for the future.

Confusion about surface transmission

In the first several months of the pandemic, it was commonly believed that COVID-19 was just like other viruses and that surface spread was a significant source of transmission. Today, scientists, including those at the Centers of Disease Control, have acknowledged that while handwashing, sanitizing and minimizing touchpoints is always a good idea, surface transmission is extremely rare.

When I interviewed facility managers last spring and summer, they were deeply concerned about doorknobs, elevator buttons, coffeepot handles, vending machine selection buttons and all workspace surfaces, including desktops. The sanitizing industry was born. Now those same facility managers are far more concerned about distancing and ventilation, since we now know that surface transmission is a minimal risk at best.

Technology – the rush to touch-free solutions

Amid a clear belief that touchpoints were dangerous and needed to be minimized, the convenience services industry responded with smartphone apps and a wide variety of touch-free ways to deliver snacks, a cup of coffee or to check out from a micro market kiosk without touching anything but the finished product.

Vaccinations are now happening at a rapid rate and just about everyone has accepted the fact that touchpoints are not a significant risk.

Does all of this touch-free technology simply get shelved as COVID-19 begins to appear in the rearview mirror?

Matthew Marsh – First Class Vending – “It’s just not necessary”

“If a client requests it, we can do it. From our experience, the clients that have received it are not using it. It is a neat gimmick, but I do not think it’s going to stick. It’s just not necessary.”

Tom Steuber – Associated Services – “As time goes by, it will be used less and less”

“Our thinking on this is that we will absolutely have customers who will insist on touch-free equipment, but as time goes by, it will be used less and less. In our own office, we saw people use it initially, but as people get more and more comfortable about touch points, they stop using it.”

Judson Kleinman – Corporate Essentials – “It comes up in almost every conversation”

“Touch-free technology is here to stay, but in a year or two it won’t be on people’s minds as much. Today though, it comes up in almost every conversation with clients who are ready to bring back their employees.”

Arthur Siller – Evergreen Refreshments – “It is the cool factor that might drive the interest, especially with younger people.”

“From our experience, we do not think touch free technology is going to be prevalent. We saw a big rush to touch free technology, to wraps on equipment, but from what we have seen, clients ask for it, we present options, but that is where it stops. The technology is very cool and appealing to many. It is the “cool factor” that might drive the interest, especially with younger people.”

Technology – the expanded use of video conferencing

Over the last year, video conferencing became a part of everyday life – for those working at home, to train and hire employees, to attend classes in all grades and to connect with family and friends. We have become a nation of Zoomers.

Will businesses continue using video conferencing, even after face-to-face meetings are acceptable?

Judson Kleinman – Corporate Essentials – “Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting”

“I think it is awesome technology that reduces unnecessary travel and the costs associated with that. It is good for business and the environment. There is a place for it – great for quick meetings with clients. It allows you to connect with more people in a short period of time. But I hope you are old school like I am and believe there is nothing that beats a face-to-face meeting. At the end of the day, this is more than just business, this is my life. It is about relationships and I truly enjoy being in front of people, helping my customers and being a part of their lives.”

Dave Mandella – American Food and Vending – “It is incredibly productive”

“As a vice president of marketing, I am using video conferencing more and more. In a larger company, to be able to jump on a video conference with a client or a rep in another market, has worked well. Friday is 80% Zoom calls for me and it is incredibly productive. We will continue to use it.”

Matthew Marsh – First Class Vending – “There will be a reverse run”

“I have been training our troops to reach out to clients by video conferencing and now, with everyone being so acclimated to video conferencing, we will offer it to clients by asking, would you like to meet in person, or would you prefer a video conference? I also believe that there will be a reverse run – meaning that as soon as some companies start putting emphasis on face-to-face meanings, it will cause others to do so, as well. I still believe in the importance of face-to-face, in-person meetings.”

C. J. Recher – Five Star Food Service – “Video conferencing can be a real benefit”

“Meeting in person is always preferred, but you are saving a whole lot of time and money with video conferencing and there are clients who are going to prefer video conferencing. In both metro areas and rural areas where it is a long drive to get from one place to another, video conferencing can be a real benefit. When there are two hours plus of driving for a 15-minute meeting, video conferencing makes sense.”

Time will tell

A year from now, maybe even sooner, we will know whether pandemic driven technology will carry forward to the post-pandemic world. Either way, we now know that operators, suppliers and consumers are capable of quickly adapting, finding ways to do business, overcoming concerns and communicating effectively, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Coming up next week: Operators share lessons learned from the pandemic.


Industry consultant and contributing editor Bob Tullio (www.tullioB2B.com) is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry on how to build a successful business from the ground up. Tullio recently launched a YouTube channel, b2b Perspective, designed to “elevate your business in two minutes” and is currently developing an online course, Leverage the power of LinkedIn to grow your business.

As he is a recognized industry expert in business development and sales, NAMA retained him to write and narrate the new online course, “Selling Convenience Services,” which is now available. Use discount code B2B10 for an instant discount and for free access to upcoming Q&A Webinars from Tullio in the coming months. Here is a free sample of the course.

About the Author

Bob Tullio

Bob Tullio is a content specialist, speaker, sales trainer, consultant and contributing editor of Automatic Merchandiser and VendingMarketWatch.com. He advises entrepreneurs on how to build a successful business from the ground up. He specializes in helping suppliers connect with operators in the convenience services industry — coffee service, vending, micro markets and pantry service specifically. He can be reached at 818 261-1758 and [email protected]. Tullio welcomes your feedback.

Subscribe to Automatic Merchandiser’s new podcast, Vending & OCS Nation, which Tullio hosts. Each episode is designed to make your business more profitable.



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