Thursday, September 28, 2006

Multiple Benefits of DEX in Vending Machines

You can make your Antares operation more efficient by accessing electronic data from your vending machines. Electronic data exchange is a technology with a lot of promise. Some additional investment would be needed, but the payoff would be great, if other operators’ experiences are any indication.

One your route is up and running, you will realize that you have made a worthy investment. With this system in your Antares operation, the drivers will bring back their handhelds and download the data to the company’s home computer. You can then view your machines’ cash transactions on the computer and compare them with the cash collected in the money room. In this way, the driver is unable to cheat you. There are also other benefits that come with this system.


The handhelds also recorded sales by column for all the snack and soda Antares machines. This would enable you to tailor your product offerings to customer preference. The machines could be planogrammed so that the best selling items would get the right amount of space. You can mix the spirals with different products, based on the location’s sales history, and thereby menu the columns to sell at a more uniform rate.

Time savings a major plus

By not having to read meters at the Antares machine and count products, a 10-minute job for the route driver will be cut down to less than a minute. The time saved will enable some routes to add one more stop.

By plugging the DEX cable on the handheld into the DEX port on the machine, the driver downloads the transaction data and immediately sees what’s needed in the machine. At the end of the day, the driver will place the handheld into a telephone modem and send the information to the warehouse. The computer will then prepare a pick list for the next day, which warehouse employees use to prepare the next day’s order. There will be no need of the driver to go to the warehouse.

Built in DEX ports rarely have service problems once they are interfacing with the computer. The problem with DEX ports so far has been being able to rely on them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Category Management to Build Vending

Category management, computerized route accountability and point of sale promotions are all current buzz words in the vending trade. You can use all these tools to build your Antares vending business. The use of technology can help you to remain competitive. You might find that technology will enables you to service small accounts profitably and to take on accounts that vendors would pass by.

How vending compares to c-stores

Category management is a system that simplifies product selection at the route and warehouse levels. It would enable the Antares operator to control the machine menu. To do this, the operator must have a way to track individual product sales accurately. Investing in handhelds computers is something that you would need to do.

Vending and c-stores are both retail outlets with limited selling space. In both, a product is sold, but more importantly, a convenience. The vending market has far more limited space and that space has to be treated like gold.

Key to success: supplier support

A major difference between the two channels was in supplier support. A lot of Antares vending operators have complained about suppliers’ fill rates and pull errors.

Handhelds: Better inventory control

The initial training may be difficult for the driver. One downside is that if a handheld is not working, a manager has to ride the route to do the old manual system. But the benefits are numerous. Besides better inventory control in your Antares business, the handheld system would allow you to eliminate a warehouse position.

Spiral-level data invaluable

The information that you can get from handhelds is invaluable. With this information you can tell the manufacturer exactly how many units have moved in any given time period and you can also show the product suppliers how their products moves in comparison to competing products.

Category management is a key factor in your Antares operation’s choice of product. You can create a planogram for every snack/drink machine configuration for every location type. A few slots per machine are left up to the discretion of the route driver, who can choose between a few specific items per category.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Manufacturers Cite the Benefits of Customization

Operators just starting out usually have limited capital. This should be a reason to buy a customized vehicle, not a reason not to. A vehicle with fewer racks, room for refrigeration or a less expensive cooler using ice packs means the same vehicle can be used for years by adding more racks and changing out cooler options.

Antares operators as well as other operators have been making requests for roll up side doors, but when the operators hear the price, some balk. It costs about $2.000 to have two doors put in. it all just depends on how the warehouse is set up. If the warehouse has a low dock, it is a disadvantage because the driver has to get off the dock to load from the outside.

The new trucks with the side doors are more efficient, ergonomic and safer. Placing shelving systems in existing trucks is better than nothing, but full benefits will come with the roll up side doors. The highest demand for the roll up doors comes from medium sized vending companies. There is also a big demand from small companies with few routes, because they have also seen the benefit firsthand.

Customizing the route vehicle for your Antares operations will definitely improve efficiency. If a truck breaks down and a driver has to use a different vehicle, he or she still knows where all the products are located and thus will not lose any time searching for it.

Some Antares operators prefer to have the installation done in-house instead of sending the vehicle to a manufacturer to get it customized. The operators can decide to buy kits and place them in the vehicles. By making the installations on your own, it would take you longer, but you would get the exact specification that you would want. Route drivers have input into what they will need that will make their job much easier.

In the end customizing the interior of a vehicle with high quality material that is meant to take a beating, hold the weight and adjust a growing business, will save cost for your Antares business in the long run. A well designed interior is worth its price when it comes to product poundage, route driver ergonomics and efficient servicing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Vendors have a Dual Customer Focus

When promoting your Antares business there are a few things that you need to keep in mind. Firstly you need to know who you are targeting with your message. There are actually two groups of people that you need to target: the people who actually make the decision about the vending service, and the people who will use your Antares vending machines everyday.

The majority of the people who decide what vending services their companies use tend to be either personnel managers or purchasing managers. In a workplace, the actual consumer of the products is an important group to reach.

Your Antares operation needs to stand apart from the competition. There are a number of things that can make u different. It can be the freshness of your products or the use of technology. You can stand out by providing high quality products and services.

What media do you use to communicate?

There are several forms of media that are used to promote your business. Some are more appropriate for business to business companies than others, yet all need to be considered.

Print media includes newspapers, magazines and Yellow Pages. Broadcast media includes television and radio. Vending and office beverage operators are business to business companies and cannot justify investing a lot in these consumer oriented media. Instead, they normally communicate through a direct sales force via sales calls or direct mail.

Your assets can double as media

The two forms of media that very few people use and everyone has available are delivery and service vehicles and vending machines. You can transform these assets into forms of media to promote the message of your Antares operations.

It is very inexpensive when compared to other forms of brand promotion and advertising. Vehicles can be used to promote the company to prospective and current customers.

Antares vending machines are another asset to transform into an advertising medium and reinforcement tool. Your logo, your color scheme, your tag line and your website could be imprinted across the top and bottom section of your vending machines.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Some Operators Resist Change

There are some operators that claim cocoa and sugar costs have not been raised enough to justify the candy price increases. Prices at retail stores just keep lowering, meaning that other retail channels have not had to pay higher prices. Antares vending operators as well as other operators have simply opted to reduce candy bars to the top selling standbys in order to reduce costs. This raises questions about what to do with the remaining candy slots. Historically, operators bought a variety of candy SKUs (stock keeping units) whereby all the SKUs from a particular manufacturer would fall under one rebate program.

A number of Antares operators have reduced its candy bar offering to the main core sellers. They have decided not to raise prices on the top sellers, out of fear of being undersold by competitors, and rather to add more of the larger size offerings.

The larger size confections (LSC) have been slowly gaining acceptance in the last two years. Many of these offerings allow Antares operators to make an acceptable profit margin as $1. 00. Operators have found success with these larger size products unanimously agree that they use the larger size offerings in place of and not in addition to the regular size version. This is the same strategy that has proven effective for large size snacks. Some operators are even using king size bars, which cost more and usually require a selling price higher than $1. 00. This will allow an acceptable profit.

The LSC’s have sustained 100 percent of the regular size versions, where the king-size bars have delivered at 85 percent. All this will increase the Antares operations value to the customers as well as the consumers who are using the machines. It is not just a matter of price increases.

The fact that candy prices are rising is reason enough to try some of the larger size products. It is uncertain how much momentum there is behind the push to larger size candy. Some Antares operators pointed out that this movement is contrary to the consumer demand for healthier offerings in vending machines; larger size candy means more sugar and calories. Some operators think moving to larger size candy is compatible with their current emphasis on healthier eating.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

About Global Positioning System

GPS fleet management systems utilize a network of satellites that transmit radio signals to ground based receivers. GPS technology combined with analysis and mapping software, can provide an Antares operator with up to date information on vehicle activity, including graphic annotation of key events such as service stops, excessive speed, variations from the route and more.

GPS systems have proven particularly useful in facilitating service dispatch operations, thereby enhancing customer service in a more efficient manner.

Early users were more challenged

Installing a GPS system in the early days was very challenging. Cellular signals were not always reliable and there were also issues with the GPS hardware and software. The receivers also sometimes drained the vehicles batteries if the driver didn’t turn the engine off when he left the vehicle. The system at that time did provide certain benefits; it identified route redundancies and could also identify the location of a stolen truck.

Handhelds and electronic locks

Some Antares operators see GPS as a way to compliment the accountability that handheld computers and electronic locks provide. Route handhelds provide an activity record for route drivers while electronic locks do the same for machines

GPS keeps employees honest

Employees of your Antares operations will be more honest and productive because they will know that they are being watched. The route drivers for example, will not use the trucks for running their personal errands and they will also not be able to over speed. These are the things that can waste fuel for your vending operations. Keeping in mind the high cost of fuel, the GPS would be a great way for you to check on the fuel consumption.

In addition to all of the efficiencies and enhanced accountability that will be provided, many Antares operators also noted that GPS provides a good selling tool. It assures customers that service needs will be met. Below are some of the GPS benefits:

· improved feet efficiency

· faster response time/improved customer relations

· improved employee accountability

· reduced fuel costs

· reduced liability and insurance costs

· decreased vehicle wear and tear

· automation of vehicle record keeping functions

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Vendors Slow to Respond to the Ethnic Market

Antares vending operators on the lookout for ethnic products are having an easier time than they were a few years ago. A survey found that 90 percent of operators believe that product suppliers are providing enough variety of food, snacks or beverages to meet their customers’ requests.

This is a welcome development for those operators who recognize the rising demand for ethnic products. The industry as a whole, however, seems to be slow to recognize the need to cater to this growing market.

Ethnic market expands

Nearly three-fourths of vending operators recognize that their customer base is becoming more ethnically diverse. Antares operators reported that the biggest gain was in Hispanic customers.

A large percentage of operators also cited African Americans as an ethnic group being served. However, other surveys have indicated that this group does not have specific product demands.

While most Antares operators recognized a gain in ethnic customers, only about 40 percent of all operators reported success with the products targeted to these consumers. This reflects the fact the fact that only a minority of vending operators have offered these products to this group.

The Antares operators that have met ethnic demands have reported positive results. The challenge, however, has been in determining how much of the product mix should be geared to the ethnic audience when the customer base is mixed.

Ethnic products for all categories

The largest portion of ethnic products has been offered in the salted snack segment, closely followed by food. This category has offered the greatest product variety for several years, and snack machines have more facings than other types of machines.

Antares vending operators have also provided ethnic choices in the cold drink category. The Jarritos soft drinks have proven particularly popular, and not only among ethnic customers.

As ethnic customers continue to rise in number, vending operators will find it necessary to carry products that target ethnic customers.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Truck Weights Gives New Importance to Driver Comfort

Product upsizing, particularly the 20 and 16 ounce cold drink bottles are taking up more space, and the loads are getting heavier on both the driver who is lifting them and the vehicle that is carrying them. As a result of this suspension systems have to be stronger. The body has to have more room, and the bottles have to be arranged in a way that minimizes how much he has to bend and lift.

Antares operators now have to consider vehicle capabilities, ease of use and driver comfort features. The traditional step in van continues to be the vehicle of choice among vending operators. The advantage step vans offers ease of loading and has become critical with the growth of bottles. Step vans enable the driver to access the merchandise without leaving the vehicle.

More options to consider

Many Antares operators are also discovering that there are other options to consider in trying to minimize the driver’s work load and at the same time achieve greater cost efficiencies. Bigger chassis, while a higher capital outlay, can offer enhanced driver comfort, better maneuverability and thus greater cost efficiency over the long haul.

As with any product, individual needs must be considered. Operators with dedicated food trucks are more likely to want built in temperature control.

The increase in truck loads has encouraged Antares operators to pay more attention to driver comfort, both inside and outside the truck. The ease of loading is the top priority in purchasing a new route vehicle. This is why Antares operators are advised to purchase a dedicated beverage truck so that the route driver can only transport beverages. The snacks can be transported separately. This will ease loading of the trucks. A comfortable truck will improve the driver’s morale and thus enhance his or her attention to the task at hand.

The most common mistake that operators make when buying a truck is underestimating the vehicle weight. As an Antares operator, you will need to assess the actual weight of a typical route truck before deciding what size chassis to get. You will need to determine what capacity of drinks they need to carry on the trucks.

When it comes to chassis selection, there are some considerations you will need to keep in mind for your Antares business. These include: warranties, proximity of service centers, fuel economies, turning radius, low frame height and driver comfort.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Operators Struggle with Currency Machine Upgrades

The challenge to adapt vending machines to accept new currency designs has been costly and stressful for Antares operators. The major area needing to be retrofitted to accept new currency designs is the bill changer. There are modernized bill changers like those found in Antares vending machines that accept the new 5s, 10s, and 20s.

One other concern involves the one dollar coin which is in circulation within the machines. The four and five dollar tube changers were intended to stimulate the flow of dollar coins throughout vending machines. They have been a great boon, especially to stand alone changers. This excludes validators

Operators don’t waste time upgrading

There are two separate issues: the dollar coin and its acceptance, and the ability to pay out the dollar coin as change, and the redesign of the currency. Many Antares operators as well as other operators would like to see the paper dollar bill eliminated. This is a feasible thing to lobby for, because it would facilitate conversions of bill changers to take the new currency designs.

The cost crunch is on

Conversion kits are selling like crazy among operators, because they are in demand. It is quite expensive to buy new bill changers. The cost of new bill changers has put it out of reach for a number of operators.

It is also getting expensive to keep Antares vending validators updated. The old validators are mostly 1s. To make them current, it would mean upgrading them to accept 5s, 10s and 20s. All new Antares vending machines have been updated to accept the new currencies. Inflation has made the $5 bill more common in Antares vending transactions.

The vending industry has been buying new coin mechanisms that have an extra tube on them for the dollar coin. These coins are ordered from the bank, but the operators don’t usually get them back, because people still hoard them. For your new Antares vending machine, you will need to change out slowly to the new demand for currency acceptance.

The challenge to convert to new currency designs has been cost intensive, with some problems keeping up with the demand. But for the most part, the new currency design conversion challenge is just another cost of doing business.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Evolution of Category Management in Vending

The evolution of category management in vending is one of the most important changes taking place. There are some Antares vending operators as well as other operators have implemented category management in their operations.

The vending industry is following a pattern that has been set by supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores. Category management system has emerged as a standard operating procedure. There are a number of benefits that come with category management, the most important being that it gives creative power to the Antares vending operator.

Once category management becomes a standard practice in your Antares business, the relationship between product manufacturers and operators will be very different. Antares operators armed with marketing data will commit to larger volumes of the selling items. In return they will expect suppliers to provide better prices and more merchandising support.

At one time supermarkets, drugstores and convenience stores were confusing for people to shop in. today, most stores are well organized, well stocked with the top selling merchandise and have lots of visually appealing point of sale signage. Most of this has happened because of stronger retailer/manufacture partnerships. The same can happen with your Antares business once you have implemented this system in the operations.

With this system, Antares vending operators will take a lead role in a proactive rather than reactive role in marketing and merchandising. They will set goals for the product suppliers to meet, rather than the other way round.

As technology gives operators better reporting tools, we can expect to see new applications beyond the traditional venues. We can also expect that applications will be found beyond the traditional snacks, food and beverages.

Most industry veterans will agree that automatic merchandising is growing beyond its traditional role. Technology in the vending industry is causing things to change faster than they have in the past.