Dependable Vending: More Than Just a Name

Sept. 18, 2020
How Dependable Vending used technology — and micro markets — to expand service offerings throughout its large territory in southern California

Covering an expansive area in southern California’s Inland Empire, Dependable Vending lives up to its name by providing consistently superior service across its southern California territory. With 1,400 vending machines and 85 micro markets located in distribution centers, offices, call centers, airports, fulfillment centers, hospitals and schools, among many other accounts, the company relies upon technology to keep operations running smoothly and to manage 65 employees.

“The way we handle this large of an area is through technology that we’ve incorporated,” explained Patrick Maule, general manager of Dependable Vending. “So, we know when we need to service, where we need to service, and how to merchandise the machines appropriately to accommodate this.”

Dependable from day one

Launched in 1979 by current owner Mark Oliver’s parents, Dependable Vending originally offered office coffee service and vending machines to area businesses.

“My grandparents were in the military and had they had to go overseas, so my father filled in,” said Zachary Oliver, Mark’s son and vice president of the company. “At the time they had started coffee and water too, and my dad took it over and incorporated the company and started to make it into a business.”

Oliver explained that the company subsequently split into two separate entities: His aunt handled  coffee and water accounts, launching Dependable Coffee and Water, and his father took the vending business, managing Dependable Vending. Over the next few decades, the company expanded far beyond vending, even offering coffee service again due to customer demand.

“To be quite honest, with all of our services, it’s always been geared around the customer,” Oliver said. “It’s frustrating to have to reach out to five or 10 different service providers and vendors, so as we have grown, we’ve taken on ice machine rentals, water filtration and coffee. And, we have rebranded. Dependable Vending is still our legal name, but our DBA — which we operate under — is Dependable Break Room Solutions. This signifies what we’re after: to be the complete break room solution provider.”

Micro markets change the game

Oliver admits that when he first heard about micro markets, he was a little skeptical about incorporating the new concept into the company.

“There’s always a lot of ‘fly by night’ stuff in the industry, where people will come out with equipment like salad machines or burrito machines,” he said. “You know, I’m sure we’ve done our fair share over the years, but we were hesitant about getting into micro markets initially.”

Like many operators at the time, Oliver recalled being concerned about theft in an unattended retail environment.

“But, a couple of years into it, after we saw that it was established and here to stay, Patrick and I decided to give it a shot,” Oliver continued. “Obviously, it’s taken off. Any account that did maybe $200-$300 a week for snacks and soda in their office is now a $700-$800 a week account because we’re able add a lot more SKUs and product options.”

Dependable Vending’s implementation of micro markets also reduced the number of service calls the company was accustomed to handling, making room for further growth.

“It allowed us to focus our technicians on different product lines such as water filtration or office coffee, and really allowed us to expand into different arenas, which has been great,” Oliver enthused.

Technology Solutions Enable Efficiency 

Expanding service offerings necessitated technology upgrades to streamline operations. Oliver said that the company transitioned to USA Technologies’ Seed software over the past year.

“It just fit our dynamic for our long-term goals and aspirations for scheduling and taking care of our vending and micro markets,” he said. “For our micro markets, we use Vendors Exchange, which has been a fantastic transition for us. Our warehousing is done by LightSpeed Level; 100% of our product is picked through LightSpeed’s warehouse pick-to-light system.”

Oliver noted that since these different technology solutions easily integrate with each other and communicate, it’s increased efficiency in the operation. Noting that the company had experienced the massive undertaking of a technology implementation before, he’s been extremely satisfied with the recent transition to Seed.

“They’ve been fantastic — I’ve got nothing but positive things to say so far,” Oliver said. “Jason Pardue, who is our account manager, has really helped us out. We’ve gone through the ringer the first time in implementing everything. Patrick and I know what to expect, and what to learn. We understand the dynamic, so this transition was not nearly as hard as the first transition.” 

Oliver and Maule understood that investing in the right technology would enable them to provide the best service possible to their accounts.

“So, if we have to drive 50 miles to our first stop, then we’re going to do that frequently enough to keep the customer happy and satisfied with the best service possible, but also not do it more than we need to,” Maule explained. “All of our machines and equipment are electronically hooked up to the office, so we have immediate information of what our equipment needs are in the field.” 

COVID-19 hits businesses hard

The company’s service area includes Riverside County, Los Angeles County, Orange County and San Bernardino County, where the company has been based for more than 40 years. Oliver said that the company expanded into other counties, especially in the past five years, based on customer demand.

“The demographic that we go after is primarily distribution, as well as hospitals and 24-hour facilities,” he said. “We’re not very heavy in schools, which has been a blessing during this time. I know there’s a lot of operators out there that are very heavy in schools and [COVID-19] has really hit them hard. It has hit us hard, but not as much because we have quite a bit of essential business that has stayed open.”

Like every operation, Dependable Vending had to incorporate new protocols to operate during the COVD-19 pandemic. Maule explained that the company implemented appropriate safety and sanitization protocols in the warehouse, for delivery drivers, and in the field when employees are visiting clients.  

“Our customers have their restrictions and rules and regulations as well,” Maule continued. “We have to go in certain doors, see certain people, get temperature checks, limit the personnel to a certain number of our personnel to let in and let out.”

“Obviously, we’re essential and we’ve got to continue to operate, but Patrick has been great in terms of creating a lot of the processes and procedures that we’re following,” Oliver added. “But, ultimately, I think the key is making sure that we compartmentalize. So, as an example, with our drivers, we’ve switched them from clocking in and sharing a time clock to them clocking in on their iPad by downloading an app.

“People who operate in one building stay there as much as possible and don’t cross over,” he continued. “As drivers come back, they get a new set of gloves, they really don’t touch anything; we compartmentalize and the product comes back, it gets put away, but nobody touches it for 12-24 hours. The big thing is, we’re just trying to limit the contact that we have as much as possible, and transitioning a lot of stuff electronically, as much as we can.”

“We’ve eliminated any external personnel from coming into our building or in our offices,” Maule added, noting that instead of meeting in person, the company conducts virtual meetings through Zoom or Microsoft Teams. “No brokers have come by, only the delivery people, but they’re usually kept at the dock and the products are brought in. Any brokers who need to produce samples are mailed in.”

Oliver said that each of their customers has a different set of rules and regulations, so they’ve adjusted to servicing them as needed.

“Some customers only want us to service once a week,” he said. “We’ve got other customers who have asked us to completely empty the equipment and until this is all done, they’re just not going to allow us into the facility. Everybody is a little bit different, but ultimately, we’ve got to operate and we do it in a calculated fashion.” 

A strong company culture

While navigating the company through a pandemic has been challenging, Oliver said that they made the decision to not let anybody go.

“When everything hit with COVID we made a clear and distinct decision between me, Patrick and my father to not let anybody go,” Oliver said. “Obviously, we had to make some tough decisions, but one of those was making sure that everybody was employed and everybody had benefits.”

Oliver said noted that the company has many employees who have been with the business for a long time, including Maule, who started with Dependable Vending in 1989. He also points out employees Greg Gerber (sales manager), Ignacio Marquez (service manager) and regional managers Tom Depaola and Elias Medina, who have been with the company for more than 20 years.

“We treat everybody like family; we hold everybody accountable for making sure that they operate at the highest level,” Oliver said. “And, as we’ve grown, we’ve been lucky enough to find people who buy into the same culture and loyalty that we’ve got here. Service is very important to us, making sure that our clients get the highest level of it. At the same time, we also extend that loyalty to our employees.”

Maule enjoys the many challenges his job offers, the variety in the day-to-day tasks, and the camaraderie it provides.

“We all wear different hats — in one day, you may wear a half a dozen hats. It’s never a dull moment — each day is different,” Maule said. “I just realized, earlier this year, that I’ve known some of the brokers for 10, 15 or 20 years — we’ve grown old together. We’re all out there to do the very best job that we can.”

Oliver admits that he initially didn’t want to work at the family company, but he has grown to appreciate the multifaceted opportunities convenience services offers. He said that on any given day, he could be working on accounting, or selling an account, or working out in the warehouse.

“In a lot of companies nowadays, you only wear a couple of hats,” he explained. “We’re not corporate America — there’s flexibility. I can be all over the place throughout the day, which, for somebody who’s got high energy and does not like to sit still, really suits my personality. I get a lot of joy out of the company.”

Looking ahead

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for operators, Oliver and Maule are hopeful that the convenience services industry can have a strong recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I certainly don’t like to benefit at the expense of others, but ultimately it’s been good because a lot of people have not been leaving [the workplace], and they’ve been staying at their facilities,” he explained. “You’ve got a half-hour break and there are only a couple of restaurant options that need you to call ahead and plan, so I think it really bolsters the convenience that we provide.”

Oliver also recognized how the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technologies that are commonly used throughout micro markets, but are still somewhat novel in the public-facing retail world.

“I think it’s fast-tracked a lot of technology where you don’t really have to touch much when you come to a location or a micro market to purchase,” he said. “I think it’s going to force a lot of cashless [payments]. Each year, cashless becomes a bigger and bigger portion of our revenue. The convenience that we provide and the ability to have products at the location really comes to light.”