NEW ORLEANS, LA -- Some 50 operating company owners and managers gathered at the Hampton Inn in this historic city for the latest in a series of users' group conferences held by CompuVend Systems (Metairie, LA). The event was organized as a forum for ideas to improve profitability under current conditions of high unemployment and consequent lower sales volume, and to acquaint CompuVend users with several initiatives designed to tighten control and boost operating efficiency.
Among these is a powerful and versatile new handheld computer from Psion Teklogix, the Workabout Pro 3, which makes full use of the mobility features incorporated in CompuVend's VendPro and OCSPro management software packages.
Keynoting the conference was Ben Ginsberg, a founder of American Automatic Merchandiser and publisher of Vending & OCS. Ginsberg, who recently retired from publishing, is being honored as Industry Person of the Year at the National Automatic Merchandising Association's OneShow annual convention in Chicago. He keynoted the first CompuVend users' conference in 1991. (PHOTO: Ben Ginsberg (left) receives "Best Friend of CompuVend" plaque from Alan Kronenberg at CompuVend conference.)
Looking back over more than half a century, the veteran journalist observed that the industry has undergone major changes, losing several of its highest-volume and highest-margin categories. Average profitability has turned downward, especially in the last 20 years. What has not changed, he said, is that, on average, the cost of goods sold amounts to 50% of revenue from sales. The key -- as never before -- is for operators to use their half efficiently; technology is essential in this regard. "Use what CompuVend gives you," he urged.
CompuVend founder Alan Kronenberg took up that theme. In his more than four decades in vending, he recalled, he has seen many of the changes Ginsberg enumerated.
"We can't do much about product costs; our competition limits what we can do about commission rates, and there's nothing we can do about taxes," he said. "What we can change is our operating costs. We have eight customers using our newest program who have increased sales 15% while reducing expenses by 10%.
"Look at your own attitude," the industry veteran urged. "People call us up and complain about the business. If you don't like vending, you shouldn't do it. If you want to stay in, you have to be profitable."
Kronenberg observed that CompuVend introduced its first handheld computer two decades ago. At that time, the company had the good fortune to form a relationship with Psion, the manufacturer or three of the handhelds CompuVend has offered since that time. The latest version adds substantial value, he reported.
In cutting costs, he concluded, it is essential to do it intelligently. There is a point at which reducing office staff impairs the ability to communicate.
CompuVend is developing a new organizational approach to optimizing internal communications. The CompuVend Accountability Program, or C.A.P., is designed to make sure that information is translated into action.
The conference was devoted to detailing the uses that can be made of the reports generated by VendPro and OCSPro, and their mobile extensions, RouteMaster and WarehouseMaster. CompuVend president Mark Kronenberg and customer service and support director Lisa Corley offered overviews of these reports and the problem areas they can pinpoint.
Corley pointed out that to get maximum value from a management information system, the key is to take one step at a time: "You can't eat an elephant in one bite," she summarized. Proceeding methodically, an operator can reduce shrinkage, improve efficiency, boost sales and adjust prices when needed. As the procedures are mastered, it's easy to identify areas of opportunity, prioritize efforts based on cash return and return on time and labor, empower and reorganize the staff, and delegate effectively.
CompuVend's approach to "total electronic accountability" recognizes that vulnerability exists whenever a product, or its equivalent in money, changes hands. The item moves from point to point around a "circle of control," being exchanged for money at the machine. That money then continues around the circle, eventually being converted into new product. Total accountability records each step.
The Psion Teklogix team described the new Workabout Pro 3. Mike McGuriman explained that the Psion Organizer of 1984 was the first personal digital assistant, and the acquisition of Teklogix brought expertise in wireless technology to the combined organization, which has devoted its efforts to handheld computers. "We don't do walkie-talkies, printers or set-top boxes," the speaker noted.
The Workabout Pro 3 has a QWERTY keyboard in addition to the familiar keypad, and can withstand a 6-ft. drop to concrete. McGuriman emphasized that when assessing the cost of a handheld, one should consider the total cost of ownership over the device's life.
The new handheld is modular, accommodating a variety of accessories -- optical and RFID scanners, a pistol grip, radio and/or telephone capability -- so the user pays only for what is needed, and can modify the computer easily if those needs change. Psion Teklogix's Michael Ghandy demonstrated its modular adaptability.
VENDING TIMES editor Tim Sanford led off the second day's program, offering a brief survey of the advances in technology and doctrine that have transformed the industry over the past half-century.
Sanford emphasized that operators today have access to tools that would have been considered science-fiction stuff during the supposed golden age of full-line vending. He urged operators to step back from everyday concerns, consider the tremendous power now available for taking control of the business, and use it to move forward confidently.