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May 29, 2019
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The Next 30 Days: How Technology Is Facilitating Positive Change and Business Growth for Unattended Retailers

How technology is applied to running your business and operations can shape not only success, but the relevance of an unattended retailer in an increasingly automated world. Many are still operating in a place where they don’t really know what they need, wither it be vending, OCS, or micro-markets. Trucks are overloaded. Drivers may have to service five locations in a single stop, which requires a more manual process of back-and-forths and guessing. Systems don’t speak to one another which makes it impossible to understand data or predict outcomes in one place. It’s nearly impossible to proactively predict and run your business when you’re always playing catch up and making decisions in the dark.  

The truth of the matter is that this inefficiency can have a lasting impact that extends well beyond day-to-day delivery and machine replenishment. It can impact everything from hiring and retention, to customer service, profitability and scale. 

With technology and cashless connectivity on a growing number of machines, software can now tell unattended retailers when to go, where to go, and what to take on a single platform. This is shifting businesses away from the guessing game and enabling operators to run their business proactively. From a management perspective, you can spend your time thinking about the next 30 days, rather than figure out what happened in the last 30 days. 

During NAMA in Las Vegas last month, I sat down with three unattended retailers from across the country to discuss the challenges they’ve faced in growing their business, their experience in adopting next-generation technology platforms and how the decision has made an impact. 

The panel for “Streamlining Office Logistics with Technology” was comprised of Jared Detwiler, Vice President of Operations, One Source Office Refreshment, Duncan Smith, President and COO, All Star Services and Bradlee Whitson, Operations Manager, K&R Vending Services.

According to the group, a challenge to growth is the need to operate multiple types of software, which can result in inefficiencies from training, to understanding data and scaling while offering the best customer service. 

Duncan Smith, President and COO, All Star Services, underscored this sentiment. “We pushed hard to incorporate every line into one software platform so we don’t have office staff mining data on multiple platforms, and having to train drivers to use multiple handhelds,” he said during the panel. “We also had an issue of training and bringing in and retaining new employees. Multiple systems was too much to learn… if you are fragmented, you can’t add business quickly, do it right and be effective and provide customer service.”

Jared Detwiler, Vice President of Operations, One Source Office Refreshment, echoed this sentiment. “Just to go through the training of teaching the scheduler how to work on four different platforms was difficult. It’s so much easier to have account managers report on all data, go to customers and speak from one cloud-based system they can utilize on their phone. The key to software is to make sure you have data to run your business efficiently and profitably. Data on one system means that the work staff is more organized and productive.”

Bradlee Whitson, Operations Manager, K&R Vending Services also noted, “One thing we realized was there was fragmentation in data, processes, procedures and training. We spent more time reacting, fixing and merging data and we weren’t improving ourselves as a business. With one platform we get things right the first time, our team is all on the same page, and our company can grow at a much more controlled pace.”

That said, while everyone understood the benefits of a single technology platform, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to adopting technology.  

Mr. Detwiler noted that their approach was more of a test run than a full integration out of the gate. “We went out on four out of our 10 routes as a test run. After the first 90 days, we immediately saw the time drivers were saving, and were able to convince our drivers that it was a better system by results. We also had greater visibility into machines and productivity of employees. After we completed the four routes we did a full blitz, and operationally focused on getting efficient.”

Bradlee Whitson, Operations Manager, K&R Vending Services said they took more of a rip off the band-aid approach.  “We didn’t do piecemeal. We went head first. Our goal was to minimize the pain and maximize the benefit.”  

Mr. Smith took a step-by-step approach, “We invested in the operational efficiencies of pre-kitting and remote monitoring first. Next for us was cashless, which we rolled out across our machines over a 36-39 months transition.”

Going cashless has also allowed these companies to more easily train employees and increase employee retention.

“How we train is different,” said Mr. Smith.  “In the past, we were training route people to be salesman. Now we’re telling them what’s selling, so they’ve become more of a customer service person now.  Having this efficiency is empowering, as they can do more now.”

Mr. Detwiler added, “Our retention is much better.  Having one platform just made the job easier, and it’s more clearly defined when they service machines. And our guys are making more money now than under the old model.” 

Mr. Whitson added, “What it has done is simplified the job and tasks employees have to execute… They can focus on customer service and experience that help make our offering stand out.” 

Having a single platform has also helped with customer retention. 

Mr. Smith noted, “We were able to share information with a customer and tailor reports with data specific to that customer. This helps keep machines more full and puts a selection that their customers want in the machine. It also lets our drivers be customer service people, engage with customers and improve information going to clients.” 

“Data is key with meetings with contacts,” Mr. Detwiler noted. “You can show your customer line item data, and charges over time, as what is selling and why. This makes sure you are educated about their business and can have good conversations that develop relationships long-term.” 

“For us it’s about control,” said Mr. Whitson. “Realistically I control my customers vending experience. What products are in machine, how full it is, how merchandising is done. With a single platform, I have the tools to identify if there are issues, like whether the credit card reader is down, and to control the customer experience.” 

Mr. Smith wrapped up the conversation well. “A single platform technology controls what you do in the office versus the field. We found that now that the office teams do merchandising, adjusting and changing products rather than manually integrating platforms. This helps with efficiencies and better consumer experiences.” 

Mr. Detwiler said, “It’s a sales tool. You get potential clients to look at how you run your business, and challenge them to ask other operators, it’s an advantage for getting new business.”

Mr. Whitson noted that what makes his company stand out is intangible things, and technology becomes a foundation. “We all sell the same product. I can now go out there and show a different vending experience and OCS experience than my competitors. I can also execute on what I’m promising. This is not just increasing our new business wins, but improving contract renewals.” 

“The software we have isn’t proprietary, and the products aren’t proprietary, but how you utilize software and sell on that can push the company to do things better and differently using technology,” said Mr. Smith. 

Technology is driving change for unattended retailers, positively impacting not only employee and customer satisfaction, but operational efficiency. Having a single technology platform that integrates every business line enables companies to be more efficient and grow as their sites are fixed on the future, not playing catch-up with the past.  As automation continues to drive the evolution in unattended retail, operators that invest in these capabilities are poised to continue to grow to meet the needs of the future of retail. 

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