One difficult issue facing vending is the shrinking customer base at locations. During the past 10 years there has been a lot of consolidation in the business sector. This has left vendors with a high percentage of B&I accounts in a delicate position. They have been forced to reevaluate the machines at locations. Sometimes the drop in sales is the only notice vendors get that now there are fewer employees at a location. Despite the recovering economy there are areas where employee levels haven’t returned to normal. This makes the issue of evaluating if you have the right number of machines and types of products at a location even more important to profitability.
Looking at employee counts
The human resources department is certainly a window into how many employees there are at a location. A quick call or email could probably get you the official number. However, many HR professionals are unaware of work-at-home arrangements of various employees with their bosses, so the number of actual employees on a given day could be much less (in business accounts). They will also be unable, or unwilling, to give you specifics about the workforce that remains, attributes such as age, gender and product preferences. These can make a big difference in which selections you should offer in the vending machine.
The route driver is another great resource that many companies rely on. And while a great driver with superb customer service skills can give insight into the employees on site, you are still relying on his or her perception of the location. A driver might be more focused on cleaning, filling and fixing machines – a great quality, but that won’t give you insight in to the consumer mix.
Revival of sampling events
So where is this all headed? There is one event I think needs to be resurrected more often at good-sized business locations – the sampling event. It was probably something that you did at the start of getting an account, but haven’t thought much about since for your long-term contracts. I think this is a perfect opportunity to revive the concept and gain valuable insight into what is happening at these locations.
People naturally chat over food. Offering free samples gives you a chance to talk to the employees and get their immediate feedback (either verbally or with a short paper survey) on what they would like to see and would buy from the vending machine. Side conversations about how many people work from home, how focused the office is on healthy products or if they all go out to lunch on Fridays can provide more intelligence with which you can make decisions on what and how to service. It also gives the employees a name and face for the vending operator. That’s a good thing. Your company becomes a person, a team – not just a machine that could be cheated or swapped out.
Onsite events and promotions are a key component to the new micro market segment, but vending doesn’t often recognize their value. In today’s world, they are more valuable than ever. Along with sales data and good business decisions, they can turn an average performing location into an all-star.