Proper handling of equipment damage incidents starts at the time of placement. Accidents, vandalism and theft will happen, so I discuss these issues during the sales process and negotiate terms for dealing with them. You need to be comfortable with the placement terms. Generally, our company carries most of the liability – unless malice is involved. We do not tolerate theft or vandalism.
We actually have had forklifts crash into our machines on 2 occasions. One instance was a driver mistake; he bumped the machine and bent the door. It was obviously an accident, and we repaired the machine at our expense.
The second incident was radically different: An employee lost $0.65 in the soda machine, climbed on the forklift, skewered the machine and completely destroyed the piece of equipment. This was done in plain view of the other employees. We demanded that the account replace the machine and terminate the employee. They were one step ahead of us, had already terminated the employee, garnished what wages were due him, and had contacted their attorney to sue for malice. (They won the suit and garnished his wages for the cost of the machine.)
Simple refund policy
Another much more common scenario involves an employee losing money and wanting reimbursement. We empower our route people to handle this situation themselves; they simply log the refund and add it to their paperwork. We use this policy because we found that it is better to keep the vending account management uninvolved – don’t give them reasons to replace you.
Eventually, you will have an employee who always loses a dollar, every visit, and upon interrogation, cannot really justify why he lost money. I call this “working the route driver.” When we realize an employee is working a driver, we contact the management with our concern, and set up refunds through an account management program. This does one of two things: (1) It stops the problem immediately (because the employee does not want to be caught stealing), or (2) it alerts us to an equipment problem. Nine out of ten times, the first option is what occurs. We always discuss this possibility during the sales process, precisely because it is so common.
And then there’s vandalism
Employees will bump, grind, beat and damage your vending equipment. Product hangs, or, invariably, the machine will malfunction just as that employee (who is starving to death) has deposited his last 50 cents. Take these actions in stride: they happen; it is a part of the industry. Offer a refund policy that allays the employees’ fears.
But what if an employee breaks the glass or does significant damage? I look to malice for responsibility. If an employee goes to his tool box and grabs a hammer to break the glass, the account is responsible. (Actually, the employee is responsible and we have had several companies garnish the employee’s wages to pay for the repair.) Because most companies don’t want people with this kind of behavior, I present the situation by saying, “If they are doing this to our equipment, what are they doing to your equipment or, worse yet, your customers?” Writing on machines, leaving nasty notes and other forms of vandalism are handled in a similar way; keep it professional and impersonal. Give the account solid business reasons to support your position.
Disasters and other losses
What about catastrophic loss of equipment, such as if the building burns down and destroys my equipment? We also cover possibilities like this during the sales process. Catastrophic losses are usually covered by the account’s insurance, added into their loss. Our company has had several incidents where the account location has paid for equipment due to catastrophic loss.
A word of advice: When placing an account, make sure you have some sort of agreement with the location about your liability and their liability. It is best to have this agreement in writing, prepared by a lawyer, to protect yourself and your investment. But this process often raises a red flag and can cost you an account. I usually discuss the issue during the sales process, and send them the agreed-upon terms after equipment is installed. After installation, the agreement is usually just filed in the vending file and forgotten. We rarely need to refer to the agreement after the initial sales process; when we do, we are usually losing or removing the account anyway.
Preparing for incidents early, discussing the possibilities during the sales process, and coming to terms beforehand can save you a great deal of aggravation.