There are several means of technology that operators choose to help manage their business better. These are technology items such as credit card readers, vending management systems (VMS), micro market kiosks, digital mobile request platforms, websites, customer order portals and warehouse prekitting fulfillment automation.
Whether you’re an operator who has not pulled the trigger on technology, or you’re in the process of implementing technology for your vending, micro market and office coffee service company, here are some things to expect when adding new technology.
Credit card readers
When I speak with operators who want to move to a VMS, the very first step is installing credit card readers. This can be a painful process, especially if your vending machines are older and out-of-date. Your plan is to roll out and install credit card readers only to find out that some older machines will not work with a credit card reader. You then must either upgrade the EPROM (erasable programmable read-only memory) in the PCB (printed circuit board) in the machine, or you may even have to swap out the whole machine. There are a few companies that make replacement doors for the vending machines that will enable you to make that machine look new with the latest tech to install card readers. Some even have a dedicated cut-out slots to install the card readers on. For others, you may have to drill holes in the facing to mount the readers. Some machines may not have good enough sales to install a card reader or upgrade the machine. Make sure you your technicians are trained to install the readers level on the machines, with the internal wires zip-tied together to keep connections from coming apart. Get them the right tools to be able to drill holes for the antennas, longer socket extensions to reach the validator to remove during the install process, and a way to clean up their mess when they’re done.
Most VMS software will allow you to prekit a machine even if it doesn’t have a card reader on it. It will use historical sales. Now, ready for the good part? Sales traditionally go up, allowing you to make more money. You want to offer your customers every way to take their form of payment. So, while the installation process may be a painful, uphill climb, the payoff will be there in the end to increase your sales and allow telemetry to work better with your VMS.
After the card readers are installed (or after most of them are installed), it will be time to implement the VMS portion. Do yourself a large favor: While your service techs are going around and installing card readers, have them take note of the machine serial numbers, card reader serial numbers, models, manufacturers, spiral counts on all shelving, prices on items, and add a disclaimer sticker for vending prices if necessary when using credit cards. You will need all this data when you begin to build your VMS platform.
All the above will help you have clean data moving forward. A VMS will give the managers and owners the power to control what goes into the vending machines. Having control over what goes into the machines will help you increase your sales by removing non-selling products, double up on higher selling items and par levels on products. This is to keep it with the right number of products that do sell, and correct prices so that the DEX file prices equal the machine-labeled price that equals the VMS-entered price. All three need to match in order to make sure that reporting is correct, and that what the customer pays is what the machine has on its price tags, if any.
Take the time to really learn how to run reports in your VMS. Reports generated are only as good as the info that was input into the VMS, so make sure you have good, clean data going in. The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” holds true in this: If your card reader serial numbers don’t match with the vending machine serial numbers in the VMS, it could cause you to read bad data and make mispicks from the machines.
A good VMS will allow you to prekit, giving you the power on what the driver puts in the machines. What happens in a lot of cases is that the planogram (POG) is not correct, either due to driver negligence, or incorrect data entered into your POG. Because prekitting sends the drivers out with exactly what they need, the drivers no longer carry extra products. If the data is right, these modern-day VMS systems are spot on! If you have a driver who is always complaining that the prekit is not right, first check the actual machine machine versus the POG and then do a machine inventory. Many operators are lax in making the route drivers do a physical inventory each visit. If the machine is filled properly, doing a machine inventory should take very little time. If a spiral is filled to the back, the driver doesn’t have to count the products; they can go with what the POG says and make sure it filled to par or capacity. The allows the next prekit to be correct.
Finally, implementing a good VMS will increase the value of your business. When it comes time to sell your business, having clean, accurate data will help get a better price for your company. If all you have is bank statements to show sales, then a qualified buyer is taking on more risk than usual and generally would offer a lower value for your business.
Kiosks are an ever-evolving technology. Customers are learning to adapt to be in the self-checkout world. The biggest implementing pain point when using kiosks integration with the VMS. Some providers offer an all-in-one system that has VMS, OCS and kiosks all in one software platform. Some VMS companies are now integrated with the major kiosk’s providers. So, what does this integration mean? If you use a VMS with a separate kiosk provider, the inventories do not work together. The sales reporting is separate, and the routing is not on the same platform for the drivers. They may have to use two different software systems to run both micro markets and vending off the same truck. Either way, whether you use two or more different providers or an all-in-one system, make sure you use the same SKU (stock keeping unit) or bar code, and the same item description. This is important if you decide to ever use a warehouse automation system like LightSpeed Automation. Best practices from the beginning — use the same exact info on all SKUs.
Digital mobile request platforms
A digital mobile request platform is a way for the end customer at your vending machines or markets to communicate directly to the operator, thus bypassing the problem of bothering the point of contact at your customer’s location. There are various ways to do this.Some are electronic, integrated or built into the card reader to communicate back and forth for things like broken machines, lost money, stale products and more. The system contacts the operator so that the operator can respond in various ways to keep the end user happy. One system is as easy as a sticker with a QR code on each machine. The customer uses a smartphone to take a picture of the QR code, which submits a request that goes directly to the operator via email or text. The operator can then correct the issue within minutes or provide the customer with another solution.
This is a direct reflection on your company image. If you are thinking, “I already have a website,” here are some things to think about: A modern-day website can not only help you grow your business with new leads, it can also help you get new employees and provide you a professional image. While you may not want to spend a few thousand dollars on a website, at least shop around and have someone build you a nice one- or two-page website until you can afford to build a better website. Many operators cut corners on this. Most don’t know that Google “crawls” your web pages – so if your web page never changes or gets updated, your Google ranking goes way down to the point where new customers won’t find you when doing a search. Face it, nobody uses Yellow Pages anymore. They Google everything these days and if you invest in a great-looking website and have that website professionally managed, updated and changed, your Google results will go way up and will help you get found by new customers looking to change vending, markets and OCS providers. This is much cheaper than hiring a salesperson to go old school and cold call.
Customer order entry portal
This relates to the OCS and pantry service sector. Pantry is becoming one of the largest employee perks out there. Companies like Google, Facebook and others are essentially giving away products to their employees as employee perks. Typically, some employee at the location must create an order and place it with the refreshment provider. It makes it so much easier if you use a system that integrates with not only your website but your VMS. If the customer places an order online via your website, there are systems in place that will integrate that order into the VMS. This eliminates an operator’s employee from having to recreate an order by hand and risk data entry order problems. Then the order can be picked from the LightSpeed Automation system or picked by paper or a similar system to deliver it. This process will keep your customers happy and keep your orders more accurate.
Warehouse "picking" system
Once your company has completed the installation process of credit cards, VMS, kiosk and prekitting, it’s time to complete the integrations with a faster, more efficient way to pick the individual orders from your warehouse inventory.
Most start off with picking orders, one at a time, on paper. This is painful and very inefficient. If your warehouse staff has 100 machines to pick for each day, they must circulate your warehouse 100 times each day of picking orders. How cool would it be to only have them circulate it 25 times instead?
This is where a warehouse fulfillment system can complete the round of integrations to help your company be more successful. You can expect to pick orders faster and more efficient by using a picking system like LightSpeed Automation, which has been an industry-changing provider for assisting operators in warehouse fulfillment. Because they are already integrated with the major VMS and kiosk providers, they can work with your picking team so you can save labor, time and warehouse space.