Smart Phone Ap and the Vending Machine An interview with Neil Swindale of VendCentral
Excerpts from the interview:
Smart Phone Ap and the Vending Machine “There’s a big opportunity in mobile right now and we thought it was good timing to tweek it so it can fit the needs of vending companies around the country…”
“It allows the customer to pick up a smartphone, scan a QR code on the vending machine and it comes right to our mobile request platform and from there a customer can communicate directly with the vending machine manager.”
“It’s a two step process: 1. We design the app where they tell us what buttons go on it. The default buttons include request a refund, tell us how we’re doing, report a machine issue, request your favorite product… 2. We redesign your sticker that goes on the vending machine… include the phone number and the QR code that takes customers to the mobile request platform.”
“It involves a small upfront fee and a small ongoing monthly fee… It’s very affordable.”
“We’ve had customers tell us this is exceptionally good on a sales presentation to really help win accounts… an app for customer service.”
Smart Phone Ap and the Vending Machine Tom: I’m Tom Shivers with the Vending Business Show here with Neil Swindale of VendCentral. He’s been in the full line vending business for 15 years, and sold it his own business. Also, he previous to that worked with Coke, Frito Lay, and Nestle Water. So, thanks for being here, Neal.
Neil: I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you very much.
Tom: Today, we’re talking about your smartphone app for vending machines. What inspired you to create that smart phone app?
Neil: Well, we’ve been working on it for about a year, but we put it on the shelf, and I recently came back from the NAMA Coffee and Tea Show in New Orleans, and I sat next to a computer engineer on the way home. And all we did was talk about mobile, and how things in the mobile community are blowing up. And I told him a little bit about the app that we started a year ago, and he was the guy that just kind of inspired me to take it off the shelf and continue with that development. Because with, I think over 75% of the people that own cellphones have got smart phones. So, there’s just big opportunity in mobile right now, and we just thought it was perfect timing to bring it off the shelf and tweak it so it can fit the needs of vending companies around the country. And sure enough, we launched it about two and a half months ago, and it’s selling like hot cakes. So, we’re pretty excited about it.
Tom: Well, what does the smart phone app do exactly?
Neil: So basically what it is, when you’re shopping out of a vending machine, certain things can happen. You could potentially lose your money. You could … A product could get stuck. Maybe your Diet Coke selection is running out on Tuesday and the route guy’s not getting there ’til Wednesday. So, the smartphone app allows the customer to pick up a smartphone, scan a QR code that is on the vending machine, and it comes to what we call our Mobile Request Platform. And from there a customer can communicate directly with the vending machine management. Instead of either picking up the phone and calling, which a lot of people don’t like to do, or going over and bugging the facility manager to tell them their problem and the facility manager’s busy doing what they do, or timing it to meet the route guy. So, this way the customer can talk directly with vending management and let them know what’s going on.
Tom: How does a vending operator get started with this smartphone app?
Neil: So basically, it’s a two-step process. One is we design the app, where they tell us what buttons are going to go on it. Now, the default buttons are request a refund, tell us how we’re doing, report a machine issue, request your favorite product. And then we’ll do two or three buttons underneath it. One, if you’ve got a company video, we can link to the company video. We can refer you to friends if they think that the service is quite good. They can refer it to a friend by clicking a different button, and then another button usually clicks over to the full website. And then we’ve had other companies expand it out to include their micro markets. One customer’s put a link directly to his Yelp account. So, the platform is easily expandable to suit whatever a vending company’s doing. So, that’s part one.
Neil: Part two is we’ll redesign your sticker that goes on the vending machine. So right now, it’s probably just got your phone number on there and probably an email address or a website address. Now, we’ll redesign the sticker, include the phone number, as well as the QR code that the customers will scan to take them right to the mobile request platform. So, it’s pretty simple. It takes us probably about two to three days to get the mobile app programed and up and running. And then usually three to four days of back and forth designing to get the sticker exactly how a customer wants to see it.
Tom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, so what is the cost for getting going with one of these?
Neil: We’ve got a price list and it’s three tiers, just depending on the size of the company. But it’s basically a small, upfront fee and then a small monthly fee to keep it going, and it’s not a monthly fee that’s per machine, it’s just a flat monthly fee. And then at full service, we buy the domain name that hosts the platform, we support the platform. We expand the email bandwidth out if necessary, if a lot of calls come in, we can expand that out. So yeah, it’s very affordable. We’ve got about 25 customers up and running on it already, and we’re only two and a half months in, and I’ve sort of had a lot of communication with the first customers that took it, and they said, Neil, this is the slickest tool that has come through the vending channel for a while that can legitimately help us grow our business and save our business as well, for extremely affordable price.
Neil: A lot of this kind of wireless technology that is out there now that you can get some pretty good data and improve on customer service, it’s pretty expensive. You’re paying, you know, sometimes $10, $12 per machine per month to get that sort of data, and it’s sort of more machine data, whereas ours is a lot cheaper than that. I mean, basically we’re talking 100s of dollars upfront and then somewhere between $25 and $100 a month for the monthly fee. It’s extremely affordable. We’ve had a lot of customers tell us that it is exceptionally good on a sales presentation, so it can really help you win accounts. And that’s the thing about vending is that everyone’s doing pretty much the same thing, and you’ve got to differentiate yourself from the other vending companies, and one of the ways is obviously customer service. So, to have an app that is designed specifically for customer service, it’s a big point of differentiation.
Tom: Anything else operators should know?
Neil: No, I think get in quick. Like I said, it’s brand new technology and it’s just a great way to one up the other venders. If you’re walking in on a sales presentation, what some other customers have done and stuff, put the QR code on their sales presentation, and then they get the facility manager in the meeting to scan that QR code, and then the facility managers will immediately see the platform, and they’ll get it. I mean, it’s very simple. Once they see that platform, the facility manager will totally understand how it can benefit them.
Neil: I think in the past too, vending owners invest a lot of money in setting up these customers with equipment and everything, and we kind of put our faith in the hands of the route driver. And the route guys are out calling on maybe 30 or 40 customers, and this app just supports the route guy. The management are going to see requests coming in from this app, and they can actually go to the route guy, and say, hey listen, we’re getting quite a few calls from this bank and equipment, what’s going on? Why are we running out of Diet Coke so early? Do we need to put another column in there? And it saves the facility manager getting bombarded with requests.
Neil: I know a lot of venders around the country over the years if you’ve been in this business a long time, you’re going to get a phone call from a facility manager going, “Hey, thanks for the last five years of service, but come and pick up your machines, because we’ve decided to change because the service wasn’t that great.” As a business owner, they might not have even known that they had bad service. So, with this app in place, if you start getting a lot of requests coming in from the app, you’ll obviously know that there’s a problem, os you can maybe send a customer service rep out there and just keep an eye on things, and check with the facility manager that everything’s cool and you’re on top of your game basically.
Tom: Well, Neil, thanks for sharing. Tell us where people can find out more about the smartphone app as well as about your business.
Neil: Yeah, so we’re … Our company name is VendCentral, and we’re online at vendcentral.com, and we’ve been in business now about seven years. And we basically provide marketing services, web design, search engine optimization, social media video production. We’ve got probably about 135 customers between Hawaii and New York and then a couple up in Canada. But yeah, the mobile app is featured predominantly on our website, and yeah, if anyone has any extra questions or want to know a little bit more about it, just check out our website or give me a call.
Tom: You’ve been listening to Smart Phone Ap and the Vending Machine the Vending Business Show, a publication of A&M Equipment Sales. More Vending Blogs Take Over A Vending Route Or Start Your Own?