There are a lot of reasons to visit Memphis. Paul Simon describes one in the title song of his album, Graceland. If you're a devoted Elvis Presley fan, visiting Graceland might the trip of a lifetime.
It was an interesting experience to tour Elvis Presley's Memphis home. We tried to recall the first time we each saw Elvis Presley on television. Was it his national TV debut was January 28, 1956 on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show? Or maybe it was the more renowned appearance later that year, on Sept. 9, on The Ed Sullivan Show. We recalled, smiling, seeing him live at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. It was June 1973.
Friends, who grew up in Memphis, suggested that we must go to see The Peabody Memphis Ducks. Every day the five Peabody Ducks march to the hotel's lobby fountain at 11 a.m. They return to the Royal Duck Palace on the hotel's rooftop at 5 p.m. It was a brief, but enjoyable show seeing them proceed in line to a Sousa march.
Now let's get to the real reason for folks in our industry to go to Memphis. Located about seven miles apart, you'll find two iconic and innovative vending machines. A better description would be to call them automated convenience stores (ACSs).
We stopped at the SmartMart located at 5133 Park Ave. The company's website describes it: "SmartMart is a drive-thru fully automated store that allows customers to shop 2,800 products (SKUs) from the comfort of their driver's seat." It's a big store - 53 ft. x 8.5 ft. There are four shopping points with touchscreens and delivery access. Payment can be made with a credit card reader, ID reader or cash. Shoppers can access the store from their vehicles or on foot. SmartMart was first opened in 1996. In 2011, the store was upgraded to new technology.
More interesting to me was the Quick Fuel Automated Fueling Station at 4589 Old Lamar Ave. Services include unattended fuel pumps for trucks and cars. There is a self-cleaning restroom. And, of course, an automated convenience store. The unit appeared to be, according to my recollection, the second iteration of Shop 24, originally from Belgium, and now apparently defunct in the U.S.
From what was posted online, Quick Fuel has about 50 automated fueling locations. It is not clear how many of those sites offer the automated convenience stores.
My contention continues to be that robotic stores will be a big part of the future for retail brands and product manufacturers in many diverse categories. That goes far beyond what we do – selling immediate consumption food, snacks and beverages. It will be bigger than grocery products – although supermarkets and mass merchandisers will probably be among the leaders in deploying ACSs.
Have you thought about how your business could capitalize on ACS? Not too long ago, in a conversation with a hospital foodservice director, he said that there were an increasing number of requests for him to offer milk (quarts and half-gallons), bread, bananas and other grocery staples. The hospital staffers were hoping to avoid making a shopping stop en route home.
This could be an opportunity for you. Why not add grocery staples at some of your sites? These are categories and SKUs you could be selling. Think about it. It's an entirely new path to selling more stuff.
» Paul Schlossberg is president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX, area, he can be reached at Paul@DFWConsulting.net or (972) 877-2972 or www.DFWConsulting.net.