Giving The Market What It Wants

Posted On: 1/6/2020

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Everyone who has watched this industry for awhile will have seen that it doesn’t advance along a smooth upward slope. Progress is stepwise, with periods of innovation alternating with periods during which the early adopters become familiar with the new products and start finding additional uses for them, while their less adventurous peers start coming on board. During these apparent lulls, the new concepts are refined and improved as the result of experience and user feedback. This assimilation changes the business environment and fosters a new round of innovation.

Looking back, a decade or so at a time, will show this process in action. And looking ahead, as we do in this issue, will illustrate the assimilation as it widens and deepens.

This month, we present the story of a growing Nevada operation whose founder credits much of its success to forward thinking and a commitment to seeking out the best available technology. Next month, we take a look at ways to adopt fastevolving information technology to your business, including route management solutions, data capture and retrieval, prekitting orders and the advantage of internet tools to improve communication and stay current with market desires. And it bears repeating: patrons must be able to pay with whatever is in their pocket. We need to make it convenient for customers to make purchases by their chosen method, whether cash, credit card or mobile services. Speaking of payments, also in the next issue an article by Ed Kozma of Crane Payment Innovations will explore “the ‘5 Cs’ of connectivity,” which urges readers to consider cost, capability, complexity, compatibility and change: “In the connected world that is all around us, that we live in every day, the development of the next greatest thing is just around the corner.”

Engineering has made wireless connectivity possible, and then affordable, enabling better communication among operators, locations, consumers, suppliers and unattended points of sale. Of course, one size does not fit all. Every location has different needs, and each calls for a well-thought-out approach to meeting them. Finding and applying the best technology is essential, but the starting-point of the search is finding and applying something that will benefit the customer and the operator alike. And let us not forget that technology cannot compensate for a dissatisfied customer, nor substitute for a lack of effective operational processes.

Today’s vending technology makes all sorts of in-location programs possible, ranging from coupons and promotions to detailed information about who is buying a product, playing a game or listening to a song on the jukebox, and when. Suppliers are well-advised to seek out imaginative operator partners, make sure they have the systems in place to carry the supplier’s marketing message to the consumers standing in front of the machines, and to collect information about customers that would be difficult or impossible to obtain in any other way. It is essential for operators to recognize the possibilities, encourage their suppliers to help explore them, and be receptive to ideas that can boost sales by making customers happier.

 There is also real opportunity for the determined entrepreneur. During the rapid growth of the vending industry that started seven decades ago, many operators got their start with a couple of machines, good human-relations skills, a methodical approach and a capacity for hard work. This still is a workable formula; but another approach is starting to get results for people whose experience and education has familiarized them with the networked digital present. With a practical but imaginative business plan and the ability to secure financing, an entrepreneur might target sophisticated prospects with unique high-end product and service packages. The key to success with this approach will be to recognize that vending, micromarkets, refreshment services, amusements and automated retailing in general are people businesses, and teams of capable, well-trained and creative individuals are fundamental to success. The demand is there, and the tools needed to meet it are now available. What’s essential is imagination –and the capacity for hard work.

If you’re a supplier to this industry, you’ll take good care of your existing large customers, but I would not overlook the wide variety of small operations, which may not always be small. Vending Times will also heed this advice and continue to speak to readers, large and small, and support the industry it has served nearly 60 years. The way we present that dialogue may take a different form tomorrow, just like your business, but we know that timely information is necessary for success, and therefore a valuable asset to readers. We all need to keep pace with this dynamic industry, give the market what it wants and at the same time stay true to core business values. Things really are starting to get interesting. Stay tuned.