During tough economic times, it’s vital for companies to keep a competitive edge without breaking the bank. Vending owners and operators using outdated vending management software are finding it increasingly challenging to stay competitive with other operators who are able to more efficiently manage routes, inventory and sales.
Old systems are not always user-friendly and intuitive, and they can take a long time to uncover problems or errors and reconcile discrepancies. Today’s vending management systems can solve these problems, and operators are realizing that they can’t afford not to have them.
Black Tie Services in Baltimore is one such vendor that has successfully updated its business model to include advanced vending management software. For more than 20 years, this family-owned and -operated business has provided vending, coffee, water and food services to the Baltimore metropolitan area and the Washington, D.C., beltway.
Back in 2002, Black Tie added MEI EASITRAX® software to help manage its nine routes (eight vending and one office coffee service). The system has components for managing inventory, forecasting future product needs, pre-kitting snack items on the truck, and reporting. All of these features significantly improve an operator’s cash accountability.
“Our old system made it difficult to track sales accurately,” said Scott Meskin, president of Black Tie Services. “We did our research carefully and chose EASITRAX because it was the best system and value.”
A Rocky Start
Like most vending operators, Black Tie’s employees had their own work methods and procedures. Even though many of these were manual and inefficient, employees were used to their way of doing things, and resisted change.
For this reason, the initial software integration was met with some resistance. Employees in the financial department, the route drivers and even the president found that learning a new system takes time, and the changes seemed overwhelming. Consequently, much of the new software functionality was ignored.
“When we began using the new system, MEI explained in detail how we should set everything up,” said Meskin. “But we didn’t listen and decided to go it alone. The hand held computers sat around for two years without being used. We still counted money manually because we hadn’t even connected the coin counter to the new system.”
Black Tie Services eventually realized they were missing out on major opportunities and needed to use the new software to its highest potential. So, they went back and started to refine their information and double-check for accuracy and consistency. They took MEI’s advice on the proper way to set up the system, and their meter readings, inventory and sales measurements improved immediately.
“If there’s anything I would have done differently during this process, it would have been to put in the time and effort at the beginning and listen to the experts,” said Meskin. “MEI knew my vending business better than I could have imagined.”
Using Labor More Efficiently
As soon as Black Tie Services made the commitment to refocus on EASITRAX in 2009, their financial department no longer had to spend an entire day counting money and was free to work on other tasks. At the touch of a key, the software accurately counts money to the cent.
“With our old system, we counted money for three-quarters of a day, and we spent the rest of the day going back over results and reconciling meter readings because the numbers never came out right,” said Meskin. “Now the meter readings are sent to the system automatically.”
Black Tie Services’ route drivers were initially hesitant to use handheld computers to record meter readings, but they have since realized what a time-saver the software is. The drivers are no longer required to carry a pen and paper and write everything down. If a decimal point is left out by mistake, the system will intuitively correct the human error.
Providing Insights to Improve Operations
Meskin also credits the new software with helping him refine his product mix to improve his sales and profits. Simple reports that are automatically generated allow operators to track the success of products and to see which items have been over- ordered and which ones need to be refilled. The software also provides alarms that tell when machines need to be serviced, eliminating unnecessary service calls and lost sales from “out of order” machines.
Another goal for Black Tie was achieving true cash accountability. By plugging the handheld into a machine, the software can count how many bills and coins should be stacked in each machine with accuracy to the penny. There is never any discrepancy or fluctuation in meter readings, which makes it impossible for employee theft to go unnoticed.
When Black Tie first started DEXing, they uncovered a route driver’s attempt to falsify meter readings in order to steal almost $30,000 in ten months. “I would have to say the system paid for itself the day we had that route driver arrested and removed from the building in cuffs. He never stole from us again, and every route driver got the message that they were no match for this new technology.”
The company recently caught an employee stealing 25 cents from each collection, and the red .25s on the route ticket page lit up like a Christmas tree. Previously, when Black Tie drivers used meter readings, $9.00 fluctuations in cash overages and shortages were always OK, but with DEXing, the numbers need to be perfect.
“Partnering with an experienced technology provider was key to our success,” said Meskin. “MEI has the greatest technical support. If I need a report or have a question, I can call them and someone is always there to help.”
Looking to the Future
Black Tie Services is already planning its next steps to further improve route efficiency and tracking. The company is now integrating forecasting and pre-kitting in the warehouse using the LightSpeed pick-to-light system. Remote monitoring using telemetry will be the next step.
EASITRAX users who have progressed to pre-kitting have been able to reduce the number of routes by 30% or more while actually increasing the number of machines in the field. Each route eliminated results in cost savings of $75 – $100K. Weekly route revenues often double or triple to more than $20K per week.
“EASITRAX has certainly given us an edge over competitors who don’t use it,” said Meskin. “It’s a huge selling point for customers, so we highlight the technology on our website and in our proposals. I highly recommend this system to anyone considering upgrading.”