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Operators Assess Latest Vending Management Software

Posted On: 2/19/2009

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ST. LOUIS -- Developers of vending management software always have emphasized that the operators who obtain the most immediate and substantial benefit from improving their information technology are those who already are managing effectively without it. Upgrading a well-thought-out, good-working manual system usually has been a straightforward task; a desperate attempt to bring order out of chaos by installing a computer system never has been straightforward, and seldom has yielded good results. This was found to be true in the early 1980s, and it still is.

The same principle applies to today's state-of-the-art enhancements. Addressing this point was a panel session held at the recent National Automatic Merchandising Association 2008 Expo in St. Louis (see VT, Dec. 2008).

Moderated by Dr. Michael Kasavana, NAMA Endowed Professor at The School for Hospitality Business of Michigan State University, the technology seminar featured two consecutive panel discussions. The first panel was composed of software supplier experts Glenn Butler and Bill Lockett, Streamware (Norwood, MA); Cliff Fisher, MEI (West Chester, PA); Warren Phillips, Validata Computer & Research (Montgomery, AL); and Mark Kronenberg, CompuVend (Metairie, LA).

As we reported last month, the software developer panelists emphasized the importance of taking a well-planned, incremental approach when seeking to take advantage of the latest technologies.

A good management information system is the foundation on which new capabilities can be assembled. The basic functions of vending software always have been auditing -- cash and inventory tracking and settlement -- and route scheduling. Once "base" software that provides these functions is installed, understood, working well and producing the results desired of it, one is ready to build on it. The important thing is to choose a software package that offers excellent basic functionality while possessing the potential to support new functions as the operation recognizes a benefit to be derived from them.


The second step might well be to replace paper-based data recording with handheld computers in the warehouse and on the routes, to improve the speed and accuracy of data entry and input. The third step, following logically, would be to implement automated data retrieval from DEX-enabled machines, further reducing the time needed to obtain usable reports and enhancing accuracy. An important benefit to making full use of all DEX capabilities is that it provides the line-item, SKU level detail needed to analyze sales accurately.

Once the base software is receiving the complete set of DEX data, the operator can perform that sales analysis and use the information to make improvements. When this has proven to work smoothly and produce good results, it becomes practical to add another tier of sophistication. This can be wireless interrogation of the machines from the route truck at curbside, to save driver time and effort. It can be remote machine monitoring, perhaps as the basis for dynamic "on demand" service scheduling. Or it can involve using the database established and refined by ongoing sales analysis to forecast machine restocking needs, and prepacking ("pre-kitting") the order for each machine in advance, in the warehouse. Any of these can improve route efficiency dramatically, while enhancing customer satisfaction (and sales) by minimizing the chance that a machine will run out of a popular item before its next scheduled service.


The second panel offered an operator perspective on software as the foundation for progress. The operator panelists were Gerard Fantano and Christina Warner, U.S. Navy Exchange Service Command (Virginia Beach, VA, and San Diego, CA, respectively); Janet Stansfield, Stansfield Vending (La Crosse, WI); Mickal McMath, M&M Sales/Canteen (Lafayette, LA); and Michael Moore, AA Vending (Port Allen, LA).

The Navy Exchange Command uses MEI Easitrax software to manage its worldwide vending operations. Fantano and Warner recalled that they were early adopters of line-item sales analysis, and the results have more than repaid the effort of upgrading to automated data collection and retrieval.

Among many other benefits, they said, this level of detail helps an operation adapt to demographic changes in its local clienteles. "Technology can give you more data than anyone can use," Fantano pointed out. "You have to decide what you want to do, what kind of business you want, and then plan to get the information that you need to accomplish that." A good management information system is the key to obtaining and managing that information.

Stansfield Vending, a full-line operation now managed by the third generation of its founding family, uses Validata's RouteSail management suite. President Janet Stansfield agreed with the supplier panelists that making progress in manageable steps is essential to choosing, and getting the best results from, the available technologies.

"You want a 'migration path' that allows you to move at the speed you choose," she said. RouteSail is an information system that is well-suited to this operation-specific pace, she added.

AA Vending, a subsidiary of Lyons Specialty Co., is a full-line operation founded in 1948. Moore chose Streamware's VendMax for AA's vending operations, and has been using the software since 2002. The company is in the final phase of a comprehensive upgrade to automated data collection and retrieval, and the results have demonstrated the value of the new technology. "You've got to DEX," Moore emphasized. "The data is there, and you need it."

M&M Sales/Canteen was established in 1972 and became a Canteen franchisee in 2004; it runs 29 full-service routes. McMath, a second-generation operator, uses Validata RouteSail to manage the business. He is alert to new technologies that enable the company to meet specific customer needs profitably -- for example, he told an earlier NAMA technology seminar about his use of the PayKey cashless system for a jewelry manufacturer whose employees are not allowed to carry cash onto the premises (see VT, July 2008) -- and he has found that RouteSail provides a stable foundation capable of supporting these client-pleasing innovations.