SEATTLE -- Rubi coffee machines are reappearing at supermarkets, colleges and workplaces throughout the country in all their bright red glory. Seattle-based Feniks Inc., Rubi's new owner, reported that it has been making rapid inroads by partnering with vending operators to reestablish the business that it purchased in April from Outerwall Inc. The Bellevue, WA-based operator of Redbox and Coinstar machines had abruptly shuttered the coffee machines in December.
Feniks (pronounced "phoenix," symbolizing Rubi's rise from the ashes) was founded by Jim Craig, Travis Pierce and Doug Coppenbarger, three original Rubi team leaders at Outerwall. | SEE STORY
Since its official kickoff in April at the National Automatic Merchandising Association's OneShow in Chicago, Feniks has deployed Rubi Micro-Cafés in its hometown Seattle market at seven Winco Foods supermarkets, community and technical colleges, and a warehouse distribution center. According to Craig, locations continue to sign on.
In Seattle, the company has partnered with Vista Vending, which had deployed Rubi machines throughout the city during Outerwall's pilot. Rubi machines are also up and running in a southern California community college and a bingo hall in partnership with Vend For You (Van Nuys, CA).
photo | WELCOME BACK! At Stanbridge College (Irvine, CA), a student hugs Rubi machine, which returned to campus as one of Feniks' first installations after being pulled when the program ended at Outerwall.
Feniks has struck up more recent partnerships with Advantage Vending (Bellingham, WA), Mark Vend (Chicago) and Tamalpais Vending (San Francisco), and is in talks with other operators across the country.
"We're having good conversations with retailers and operators and a lot of interest from colleges, universities, healthcare and workplaces. We think there's an unmet need for high-quality coffee in those spaces," said Craig, Feniks cofounder and chief caffeinator. "With Outerwall, the business was primarily retail, which we foresee will be less than half of our business long term."
Craig is confident that the Rubi Micro-Café experience will lead consumers to try its machines at a higher rate than operators have seen with other coffee venders, and that the premium quality of its drinks will raise their expectations and keep them coming back.
"A lot of locations like colleges won't do 'old school' vended coffee, but they see how Rubi works and respond to the modern look and feel and touchscreen, which elevates it more to a café experience," Craig said. "The elevated experience, bean-to-cup quality and ongoing engagement via our loyalty club leads to greater repeat visits compared to the 'coffee of last resort' that can sometimes be associated with older-generation coffee equipment."
photo | HIT THE GROUND RUNNING: From left, Feniks' Travis Pierce, Jim Craig and Doug Coppenbarger showcase the Rubi Micro-Café at the NAMA OneShow, where they forged alliances with operators interested in placing the machines.
The Rubi Micro-Café grinds whole beans and brews each cup on demand using French press technology. Customers use a large tablet-style touchscreen to customize their drinks, order and pay. An video takes the patron through the brewing process, from grinding to steeping.
Rubi's custom-formulated soluble beverage mixes produce specialty drinks that rival coffeehouse quality, according to Craig, and its half-and-half soluble creamer reportedly outperformed the real thing in blind taste tests.
Rather than dropping from an automatic turret, cups are housed behind a door that opens with each vend, allowing patrons to pull their preferred sizes and place them under the machine's dispenser. "We changed it up to not have the cup automatically drop, so consumers can be more involved in the experience," explained Craig. "Consumers can also use their own cup by putting a travel mug in place and not opening the door, which also helps with green, sustainability initiatives." Lids are also dispensed from a separate closed compartment that opens with each vend.
The Rubi machine is assembled by Crane Co. to Feniks' specifications. It uses Crane's soluble dispense system, along with other separately designed and sourced components, including a custom brewer. Consumer-facing elements -- the touchscreen PC, the user interface, and the cup and lid dispensing systems -- were designed by Feniks.
Feniks is targeting locations that drive at least 30 vends a day. Each Rubi machine holds enough coffee, soluble product, cups, lids and sleeves to vend 500 cups between service cycles. Rubi Micro Cafés connect to the Internet to provide real-time status updates, which Craig said give Feniks a crucial link to ensure the success of its operator partners.
"Since all Rubi machines are wirelessly connected, we get alerts," he said. "If machines are not cleaned well, they will break down. We'll know and take corrective action. We're able to keep a good handle on the machines and coach operators as needed to ensure the quality in the cup is delivered and to identify and rectify any challenges."
Feniks is not selling its machines, but instead is partnering with operators that it feels are most capable of upholding high standards.
Helping operators build and reward a repeat customer base is the Rubi loyalty club. Customers can sign up at the kiosk, online or by text. Feniks sends participating customers messages to announce new items, special promotions, and rewards that they can earn when they check in at the kiosk.
"Going forward, we intend to build a modern coffee experience which will match consumers' natural progression toward technology-oriented engagement with brands," said Craig. "Connecting with consumers via personalization, loyalty programs and mobile payments will be core components of the Rubi Micro-Cafe experience.”