C&S Vending is a one-stop shop for vending, micro market, pantry, office coffee and water service.
“My father was doing vending part-time,” Andy Owen reflected. “He was also a boat and car salesman, so three jobs at the same time. He ended up realizing that the vending route had a lot of potential, so he left the other two jobs to work on vending full-time.”
Dad always knows best
Upon graduating college in 2006, Andy Owen wasn’t sure which direction to go. From door-to-door sales to working as a bouncer, he struggled to find something that really stuck. One day, his father called and asked him if he could take over a route for a couple of weeks while an employee was on vacation. He took on the route and stayed around to fill in wherever his father needed the help. His responsibilities gradually expanded from delving into technician work to general warehouse duties. “I kind of was doing everything,” he recalls.
When Owen arrived, C&S only offered vending and minimal pantry and office coffee service. The company was also entirely analogue, “aside from a few Excel spreadsheets,” he joked. “My main goal was to get the company set up on computers, so we weren’t stuck in the money room counting all of the cash by hand.”
Owen implemented Vending Essentials, a somewhat rudimentary VMS software. “It basically just gave meter readings on all of the machines. That was about all it did,” Owen recalled. With the not-so-cutting-edge software in place, he soon discovered that one of C&S Vending’s employees had been stealing products and putting them in a storage unit. That moment ignited Owen’s passion for the business. “I could really change things,” he realized. “I could make a difference.”
The right man for the job
When C&S Vending’s general manager left in 2008, Owen stepped up to the task – which isn’t to say he was fully prepared for the undertaking. “I was just thrown from the frying pan into the fire. It was complete chaos trying to learn everything,” the operator said.
Streamlining success with software
Owen got to work optimizing all facets of the operation. At the time, C&S was still running cash-only vending machines. As a part of his optimization plan, he sought to implement credit card readers, but he wanted to avoid financing the project until he was sure the technology could be seamlessly incorporated into the routes. In 2013, Owen came up with an outside-of-the-box solution to introduce Cantaloupe’s VMS. “I didn’t want to outlay the cash in order to see all of the benefits. So I asked Cantaloupe if I could demo their software on just one route and keep all of the machines offline,” he said. Cantaloupe offered him a 30-day free trial, which gave Owen plenty of time to restructure his routes for maximum efficiency and profitability. The operator was then able to slowly roll out the readers onto all of the machines.
According to Owen, the biggest benefit of integrating Cantaloupe’s VMS was planogramming and scheduling. The integrated documenting system saved the route runner an extra trip to complete the delivery, reducing time spent per stock by up to 40%. “Back then, you would have to go into the account, collect the cash, inventory the machine, go back to the truck, pick everything, and then go back in. Now, once you walk in, all you have to do is collect the money and stock the machines. Everything is done in one trip and in much less time. We also know and have a record of which products go where in the machines, allowing us to keep much better control of things remotely,” he said.
C&S continues to advance its technological capabilities to offer the most user-friendly experience for both its employees and its customers. For its customers, C&S has a QR code on all of its vending machines to easily submit reviews, request service and offer product ideas. The vending machines are equipped with contactless payment to make transactions as easy as possible.
The people want coffee!
Owen saw that C&S was leaving money on the table with its tunnel-vision focus on vending, so he started making the push for office coffee service (OCS). During Owen’s first few years with the company, C&S supplied a simple air pot and brewer setup.
Since then, the operator’s OCS progressed to include high-tech coffee and espresso machines. Its arsenal of coffee tech includes de Jong Duke’s Nio and Virtu, Nespresso machines and Bravilor’s Sego 12.
Offering premium coffee technologies has been instrumental to C&S’s customer retention. Whereas customers are quick to jump ship when using a standard coffee pot, the high-quality coffee machines are too beloved to let go. “When you get that revolving door, it’s messy for everyone. I like to keep customers for a long time,” Owen said.
Fueling innovation, one pantry at a time
C&S hit its stride in pantry service. Located in Silicon Valley’s largest city, C&S was well-positioned to cater to the ever-blossoming tech industry, where pantries are a must-have for startups and tech giants alike. “I’m guessing it started with people wanting to do something nice for their employees, and so they can work longer hours,” he hypothesized. “But in my opinion, that’s secondary in the thought process of these companies. The main reason companies want pantry service is employee retention. Employees are very highly sought after here, and they can just bounce from Google to Facebook, from here to there. So, if a company offers pantry service, and another company doesn’t, it’s going to be very difficult for that other company to bring people in and retain their current employees.”
Good ol’ reliable
When COVID-19 hit, C&S lost 90% of its pantry customers overnight. “I remember very well. It was around noon,” Owen recollected. “One of my employees came up and told me that the government had their meeting, and we were all getting locked down for two weeks inside.” Only one thing kept C&S’s head above water: vending. With vending machines placed in public spaces and essential businesses, C&S was able to stay afloat and ride out the COVID storm. “Vending is what saved us,” he emphasized. “If it weren’t for vending, we would have probably been out of business or just in very poor shape.”
C&S primarily operates snack machines, and Owen isn’t seeking to reinvent the wheel. “We run older AP vending machines and renovate them. Tear out the guts, new boards, new everything. I don’t see a real need to buy expensive new equipment when the older ones work perfectly fine,” he said. On the beverage side, C&S almost exclusively runs Coca-Cola machines.
A clean slate
By April 2020, C&S was forced to let go of all of its 22 employees. “I joke that I fired myself and my dad too,” Owen said. In the following months, he analyzed their previous roles and found redundancies and was able to better restructure the company.
Prior to the pandemic, C&S had separate routes for vending and pantry/OCS. With time on his hands, Owen re-trained his drivers to cover all facets of the business. In doing this, C&S was able to service its customers more frequently – and the customers loved it. The simple tweak killed two birds with one stone: Delivery routes became significantly more efficient, and the customer experience was elevated.
A not-so-small family business
Over the years, C&S has acquired a handful of small, typically one-man operations. When looking at a business to buy out, Owen ensures it is a strong strategic step forward. “Sometimes, we don’t even buy companies for their routes or customers,” he explained. “For example, we bought a company that was essentially just for equipment. They had an insane amount of equipment, something like 50 snack machines.”
Despite Owen’s father being retired, C&S remains a true family business. “My daughter works here,” he said. “We have three employees who are all brothers, and one of their wives works here. We also have a father-son duo on staff. We have a very tight-knit group.”
With so many close friends and family on the team, Owen genuinely looks forward to spending the day at the warehouse. “I get to hang out with my friends all day!” he declared. “There aren’t many people that wake up and say ‘Hey, I get to go to work every day.’ I consider that a huge win.”
COVID transformed the vending world immensely, and Owen thinks these changes are here to stay. “We’ve been dealing with the hybrid work model for almost three years at this point. We’re completely accustomed to that.”
With C&S Vending’s tight-knit operation and strong backbone of employees, the company is well-equipped to forge ahead for years to come. “Of course, it isn’t ideal if people don’t return to the office full-time, but we’re structured for it. We’re totally ready,” the operator concluded.