Many operators who are fastidious in most areas of their businesses, from machine maintenance to location relations, often fail to review the most basic elements of how their route drivers get from points A to points B, and beyond.
It could be argued that route efficiency is more important in bulk vending than other segments of coin-op because of the large territories they tend to cover. Even modest routes in bulk vending very often dwarf those in music and games, as well as full-line vending. Yet many bulk vending operators focus exclusively on their locations and not the time and resources required to travel between stops. They haven’t planned and executed a strategy when it comes to servicing locations.
Bulk vendors who have built their routes from a small number of locations sharing proximity into extensive operations often have their drivers using the same patterns. As any longtime bulk vending professional can tell you, routes are dynamic. Locations are acquired, lost and expanded. The machine density in one geographic area can change from year to year, as both prime and tertiary (filler spots, in industry parlance) locations are lost or added. However, few operators regularly sit down and do the hard work of calculating total mileage and estimated drive times with an eye toward improving efficiency.
It is still widely held by many operators that service schedules and route designs will evolve naturally into their most efficient forms, adapting according to location additions or losses. This may be the case for some lucky operations. There are drivers with a natural gift for figuring out the most efficient route strategies. On the other hand, hoping for the best is never a good business plan.
Route analysis is not easy. Even the simplest operations include a lot of so-called “moving parts.” Dissimilar equipment types require different service schedules and many locations have preferences of when vending personnel are welcome on their premises. And some locations catering to transient customer bases, such as transportation depots or tourist spots, usually require fewer service calls, compared to the frequent visits required to keep the capsuled stock in machines fresh at the local candy store and other perennial locations. Putting both location types on the same service cycle will likely cost sales at the candy store.
Mileage should be a leading factor in any route review. With the price of gas showing no signs of decreasing in the near future, few operators can afford the cost of inefficiency. Make no mistake about it, inefficiency is expensive. Miles driven between stops and traffic patterns all add unnecessarily to overhead, while outlying locations that seem profitable in the cashbox might prove only marginal, or worse, upon close examination of mileage.
Every route is different and there are no quick fixes. However, online mapping programs and a GPS system can prove to be a tremendous help when it comes to route efficiency. Not coincidentally, many of the improvements gained by reconfiguring stops and service schedules may have a positive impact on other aspects of an operation, such as reducing wear and tear on vehicles, enhanced service for locations and freeing up additional time to make sales calls.
At a time when operators are seeing their overheads rise and profit margins compress, few can afford to overlook the potential benefits to be gained by reviewing their route designs and seeking out greater efficiencies.