Featured Vendors: Chow Time Vending’s Alan Munson

Omar wrote this post on September 11, 2013 in Cool Stories, Technology

Alan Munson

In this series of blogs, we will be featuring different vendors from all over the United States and abroad to showcase the similarities and differences between vending operations and share some insight from vendors to other vendors about the business and how we all can grow.

For today’s blog, we start with my good friend Alan Munson, owner of Chow Time Vending and the man who hired me on as a vending route driver to experience the vending industry firsthand and get a crash course on what it takes to run a vending company. He has been one of my main go-to people for information about the vending business from a first-hand account. This is the story of how he got into vending and how vending has shaped his life:

Alan has been in the vending industry since he was a child, in a matter of speaking. Alan’s father and his father’s business partner, Jerry, bought out an old train depot next to the local high school in Louis, Texas, a small town with a population of 318 people at the time. The two business partners turned the train depot into a two-story arcade with a concession stand. Outside of the depot, renamed “The Hornet’s Nest,” was a soda machine for people to purchase drinks. It was a popular location, some place at which Alan remembered having spent a lot of time. For Alan’s father, it was a successful business with the most innovative games at the time. However, when lightning struck the arcade, destroying most of the machines inside, Alan’s father and business partner had to make a choice about what to do. After much deliberation, they chose to get into full line vending together.

Alan, however, did not start his business until much later, when he decided to leave college. College was not a good fit for him, though, and he stopped going after a semester.  He started working a myriad of jobs, but none of them were anything that would take him where he wanted to go. When he saved up enough money, he decided to open up his own vending business. He started by calling locations to see if they wanted a vending machine and eventually got some people to say yes. Before getting those few positive responses, he had to endure receiving many negative ones. The way Alan put it, though, is that for every hundred or so negative responses, that one “yes” makes up for the difference. Those victories would be what would continue to drive Alan through his vending career. Once he had the clients, of course, he needed to get vending machines, and since his father had been in vending for so long, he called him and asked him where he could find some cheap machines. Thus, Chow Time Vending was born in 2001.

Chow Time Vending grew from those first few machines, all handled by Alan, to 4 routes full of machines and 13 employees. Alan operated in Houston and its surrounding areas, such as Pasadena, Kingwood, Humble, Woodlands, Spring, Conroe, Montgomery, Huntsville, Madisonville, Willis, Brenham, and Texas A&M Prairie View. For five years, Alan was chugging away at his business when his father called and asked him for help in San Antonio. Understanding that family was most important, Alan sold his business and moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he assisted his father, who was then suffering from the effects of polio and running a successful coffee shop. Alan’s father wanted to expand his business, and Alan was more than willing to help out open a second coffee shop and run it.

Alan took over the second coffee shop but also wanted to be his own boss again. Alan knew that he liked being his own boss and not working for anyone but himself. He came to San Antonio with a pocket full of money from the sale of his business and a truck with 12 vending machines locked inside, for which everything was paid in full. As he was learning more about the food service industry, he decided to do something more than just help his father with the coffee shop business. Alan reopened up Chow Time Vending in the same way that he had started the original vending business in Houston, calling up potential clients and getting turned down until he could get a victorious yes. He chose to get back into vending because it was a business he knew, and the rush of getting a client was too good to pass up again. He once told me that vending is “addictive” because once one sees the money rolling in, it is difficult to stop.

Alan’s vending business grew to 1.5 routes in San Antonio and the surrounding area, like in Austin, San Marcos, and New Braunfels. At its high point, the business had 5 employees, including Alan. Simultaneously, Alan was also running a barbecue restaurant called Dinky’s Barbecue. It was voted to be the best barbecue in San Antonio, and people loved it because of Alan’s impeccable customer service and desire to always exceed expectations. The vending business and the restaurant business grew side by side with the restaurant growing into three locations, keeping Alan very busy. However, after three years of being in the restaurant business, Alan sold his restaurants and focused on vending full time, which also gave him the added benefit of spending more time with his wife. Alan can still cook a mean brisket, though, and he will not share with anyone his secret recipes.

Understanding vending as well as he does and seeing the state of technology in the vending industry, Alan founded ParLevel Systems with a few other entrepreneurs to bring innovative technology at the right price to the vending industry. With ParLevel Systems, he works to bring insight and clients to the company, among many other things. Over the the past several months, I have been working closely with Alan, learning from his years of experience in the vending industry, which has informed my writing quite a bit. Alan still owns Chow Time Vending, and the business is still going strong today.

Personally, I have a lot for which to thank Alan, especially when he allowed me to help him out in his vending business. I learned so much during my 6 weeks of vending, and I was professionally mentored by Alan, as well. My passion for the industry grew along with my knowledge, and Alan continues to offer ParLevel Systems his charm, insight, and experience.

I asked Alan about his thoughts on running a vending business and any advice he could give people starting their  vending business. That section of the interview can be found in the recording below. Feel free to give it a listen!

I want to sincerely thank Alan Munson for taking the time to talk with me about his past, his business, and what he thinks about the vending industry. If you want to be a featured vendor on our blog, please let us know by emailing us at contact@parlevelsystems.com. We would love to get to know you better and tell your story. There are thousands of vendors out there, and everyone has a different story to tell, something different to offer the industry. I hope you allow us the pleasure to interview you and write your story the way you want it to be told.

Thank you for reading!

Labor Day

Omar wrote this post on September 9, 2013 in Cool Stories

Labor Day America

Last Monday was Labor Day, a day for the celebration of the hard-working citizen of the United States (the rest of the world celebrates it much earlier). What does that mean for vendors, though? Did vending take a day off on Monday?

No, it did not. Here in America, we believe that the harder one works, the more success one can get. With vending, working on the business is an all-day affair, not always ending at an even 5 or 6 o’clock at night, and in order to run it well, vendors and their employees have to work hard during those long hours in order to grow and reach their business potential. During my time with vending, I remember working 12-15 hour days just trying to get my route done and getting the truck ready for the next day’s route. Running a vending business is incredibly hard work, and I feel that it should be appreciated more for the convenience it offers us and the food options we get.

With the onset of newer technologies to make vending easier, consolidate routes, and optimize pretty much everything about the business, vending will be more much efficient overall. Therefore, as hard as vendors and their teams have worked on a daily basis, now they will be able to see greater returns on their efforts. Does this mean that vendors can finally take a holiday and not worry as much about their vending business?

A better question is if there was something you are passionate about, could you keep it off your mind. The same applies for vendors in the vending business. This is a business that is difficult to be successful without putting in all of one’s effort. As one vendor put it to me, “Vending is addictive. Once I see that money, I just cannot stop.”

Therefore, here is to the vendors out there who work hard, who toil every day in front of mounds of Mounds and other tasty snacks and oceans of beverages, and who pursue their passions fully and without remorse. Here is to the vending route drivers and the warehouse workers who organize and deliver food and bring back loads of bills and change, who fix the problems machines have along the way, and who move giant vending machines from one place to another. For all of those in the vending industry who understand that success does not come free and have made the sacrifice to find themselves looking over an empire of automatic merchandising machines, we salute you and are here to support you.

Have a great fall and winter season!

How to Deal with Negativity on Social Media

Omar wrote this post on September 2, 2013 in Business Management, Technology

Internet Troll

From Gizmodo.com.

The Internet is a big place, but it is also a place for people to easily hide their identities and use harmful language against someone or an organization simply to cause a stir. These people are called trolls and should be ignored, blocked, or removed from websites and forums if caught. However, there are people out there with legitimate complaints and concerns about businesses, and they seek to have them resolved.

I spoke with a vendor a couple of months ago about this issue, and his main reason for not getting on social media and connecting with customers and clients is that he did not want to have to deal with all of the trolls out there. People can access his Facebook company page and start bothering others, making it, what he thought, into a PR nightmare. If one does not respond quickly to a customer or client concern, it could turn ugly, in his view, and that was something for which he felt he did not have time.

To his credit, he makes a fair point; time is limited for vendors, and they do not always have the know-how to perform well on social media and be able to deal with detractors or negative feedback. However, to ignore the free marketing resources available to vendors online is much worse. In a previous blog, we discussed how technology will drive the vending industry forward, and social media is part of that driving force. Vendors cannot be left in the dark when it comes to this tool, and they cannot ignore the fact that their customers are on social media and want to talk about their experiences at their vending machines.

This idea made me think of ways people can improve the social media experience for themselves and their customers and also establish credibility in the face of a large audience. After doing some research, I have a list of 5 ways to take care of customer and client concerns even when things get heated and overwhelming.

1. Listen

Listen to what your customers and clients are saying. Are they complaining about something you are doing wrong or not well, or are they blowing off steam from a rough day at work? Pay attention to the feedback your customers and clients are offering you because you can find an opportunity to correct mistakes for the future.

2. Policy

On social media websites like Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn, you have the chance to set the policy for posting on your company pages. Be sure to be clear about the type of behavior that is not permissible and the consequences of not following the said policy. This way, people will know going into the group that there is a certain way they should carry themselves. If they do not follow the policy, you can, at first, kindly remind them that they will be removed from the group or blocked from the page if they do not follow the guidelines. Also, if comments are becoming too personal or heated to the point where foul and offensive language is being used, feel free to delete the comments and privately message the user, letting he or she know that this behavior will not be tolerated.

In the face of adversity, a smile goes a long way.

3. Apologize and Act

If the customer or client is reasonable in their comment about the service you provide, apologize (if necessary) in order to ease tension between the customer and the company. Offer to email the customer and discuss the matter privately, depending on the severity of the issue. If it is something that can be easily fixed, then let the person know that something will be done about it. For example, if the customer is complaining that a machine is not filled with their favorite pastry, a vendor can let him or her know that the route driver is on their way. In this way, other people will see that the company cares and is transparent. This gives more credibility to the company and builds relationships with the customers and clients.

4. Consistency

One week, you’re very active and helping customers out online. The next week, you’re hardly ever on, and customer issues are not being resolved or addressed. This will send customers mixed messages. They will feel like they are being treated differently than others. Being consistent gives customers the peace of mind that the company can be trusted and cares about their business. Also, if only a few people who are being disruptive are being disciplined but others not, then it seems like customers can get away with whatever they like, and then it becomes a public relations problem. Consistency is your best defense.

5. And always be like Fonzie

And what is Fonzie like? That’s right; he’s cool. Never lose your cool, even when people say awful things about your business. The worst thing you can do is get upset and use harmful language against a customer, client, or even a troll. Trolls want you to fail; they want you to look bad. As they say on the Internet, don’t feed the trolls, which means do not give in to their verbal abuse.There are ways to remove them from the page and prevent them from further abuse of their privileges, and as long as you have a policy in place, it makes it much easier. Always keeping cool and saying the right things keeps your customer relationships strong and will further build other relationships as people will be watching your interactions. This is a great chance to put your best face forward, so offer your customers service with a smile, if you will, while you’re typing your cool, calm, and proactive messages.

Social media is a fun and engaging way of connecting and building relationships with people, specifically your customers and clients. Do not miss the chance to utilize this free service because of fear of people; embrace the opportunity and start building relationships and growing your customer base. Vending needs people who can do social media well, and people like CNC Vending in Houston, Texas, are doing it right. Check them out if you get a chance.

Do you have anything else to add to this list? How do you deal with customer complaints? How do your route drivers deal with them? Let us know in the comments below, and please share this blog with anyone you feel would benefit from this information. If you want to learn more about how social media can be used in your vending business, check out this blog or email me at omar@parlevelsystems.com. I would be glad to help you out and start your social media journey.

Good luck out there, and have fun!

Be the CEO Your Vending Company Needs

Omar wrote this post on August 26, 2013 in Business Management

CEO

The CEO of ParLevel Systems, Luis Gonzalez, recently wrote a blog on his website regarding his thoughts on what other experts in various industries say about being a CEO. In essence, in his opinion, there is no “one type fits all” kind of CEO. Any leader of a company has to be the leader the company needs.

This is important because there are many leaders in the vending industry, and they receive all kinds of advice about how to better run their businesses and organizations. Gonzalez says that a lot of the advice is not worth listening to, but the people one works with are whom leaders should focus their attention:

Everyone has an opinion about what a CEO should be. There are hundreds of experienced VCs, CEOs, and self-proclaimed “executive gurus” writing about the most important skills a CEO should have or what a CEO should do to succeed. There are many articles that proclaim to know “the 7 things a great CEO must have” or authors writing that “if one does not have a specific trait, he or she is not going to be a great CEO.” I can’t tell you how much I dislike to hear statements like the last one – “If you don’t have this, you can’t be that”. They do nothing more than to diminish this position into a single close-minded way of thinking: “Follow this advice or fail.” It’s too black and white, not abstract enough to understand the complexities of the position and the problems CEOs face on a daily basis. This is why I would like to share a few practical options for real CEOs out there to consider:

Every company is different

When you hear or read about what you should do as a CEO of a company, understand that every company has different needs. People might say that a good CEO should always be the best at recruiting people, but perhaps your co-founder or your COO is pretty good at doing that. Should you give up or feel bad because you are not going to be a great recruiting CEO? Worse, should you take over that role knowing that someone else on your team is better at recruiting than you? Understand that your company needs the best of the best, but because an expert says one thing does not mean your company is doomed to failure. At the end of the day, the truly good CEOs are the ones who put selfishness aside and let their teams grow and do what they excel at doing.

Do what you company needs you to do

“A CEO is responsible for this, that, and more of this”…classic. There’s one thing I’ve seen good CEOs always do: they are responsible for everything that happens to their companies. Period. They have the sense to take responsibility and move on to fix the problem. When things go right, people will congratulate them, and the CEOs will clarify whom should they congratulate for the achievements. Understand that you can’t be good at everything; you need good talent and skilled people around you. You also have to identify what your company needs from you, not what your title says you should do. Your company needs funding? Go out and raise money. If your CFO is better at doing that, let him take the lead. Remember, it is what your company needs from you, not what you need from your title.

Your title is a set of responsibilities not status

Yes, I get it; management structures have to be in place. Regardless of the type of open-door policy you might have, knowing whom to talk to and whom to follow is always going to be healthy for your organization. But remember that your title can be as helpful as much as destructive. When you start seeing your title as a status rather than a set of responsibilities, people stop giving you constructive feedback. Your opinions become orders, and your team’s ideas start to disappear. It would not matter how much talent you bring to your company because at the end of the day, your status-blindness will kill it. You have a job with a fancy name, thats all. Get to work, and start collaborating with others; that’s what your company needs you to do.

I can go on and on, but I assume you are a busy CEO and needs to get back to work.

Good Luck.

What are your thoughts on the blog post? Is this useful advice for vending machine owners? What are some challenges that CEOs or owners must face in the vending industry?

Please share with us your thoughts in the comments below. We’re looking forward to hear from you.

The Keys to Success in Vending

Omar wrote this post on August 21, 2013 in Business Management

keys to success

I have been very happy working in the vending industry. At first, when I set out to write blog articles for the industry, I was afraid that at some point, I was going to run out of ideas because I originally thought that vending had such a small scope. However, the more I got into the industry and read about what people were doing and saying about it, I realized that there is so much depth and opportunity for growth.

In my blogs, I try to reach out to vendors and ask them questions about their businesses to gain a broader view of the industry. I translate those insights into blog posts from which I hope people may benefit. Something that I have looked over is what are the fundamentals necessary to be successful in the vending industry. If you boil down a successful vendor, what core beliefs and practices would be revealed?

After thinking about this and talking with my close friend, the owner of Chow Time Vending, I came up with a list of four things that make a vending business successful.

1. Knowledge

This should be a given, but it is worth mentioning. A lot of people get into the business without knowing too much about it, and they make “rookie” mistakes along the way. For example, I spoke with a new vendor who was placing his machines in a location while another vendor was taking his machines out. The new vendor had only been in vending for six months, but he was putting his machines in a bad account. There were not many employees there, and the previous vendor who was taking his vending machines out felt that the location was bringing him a loss. Vending at that location would not add much to the business. If the new vendor understood that low foot traffic would result in lower sales, that location would not be serviced. Understanding the vending industry and different markets around different towns is essential for having a successful vending business. “Knowledge is power,” and in the case of vending, “Knowledge brings profit.”

2. A Good Team

Employees that steal, are reckless with product, or ignore protocol are costly. We wrote a blog about company culture with reference to an article about the high cost of hiring a bad employee. We also wrote a blog about things to look for in vending route drivers. A business is more than a solo effort; it takes a team of people with the same goal of seeing the business grow and be successful, whatever that might mean for vendors. Losing money because of theft and product loss is always bad for business, but poor management decisions or administrative workers not on task can cause a lot of headaches and potentially lost accounts. For example, if you have a secretary that only answers phone calls when he or she feels like it or a manager who does not listen to his or her employees, these are things that can bring down a business. A good team is necessary for success in vending.

3. Reliable Equipment

Machines breaking down often? Trucks won’t start in the morning? Totes keep breaking apart? Dollies not holding the weight they say they can hold? Without proper, reliable equipment, a vending business is bound to fail. It is more than just buying good vending machines; those vending machines need trucks to take them to locations and to take product to refill the machines. Drivers need totes and dollies to move product around efficiently without having to make multiple trips back to the truck. The slower the driver moves in vending, the less money is going to be made by the end of the day. I remember when I was as a vending route driver, working within a reasonable time frame to stock as many machines as possible during the day was incredibly difficult. Veteran route drivers work much more quickly than I ever could, but without reliable equipment, nothing can get accomplished.

4. Technology

There is a lot of guesswork in vending. Without the proper tools and technology, vendors cannot track sales, control inventory efficiently, or even know when machines break down. With a solution like one from ParLevel Systems, one can significantly decrease excess spending and increase profits from pre-kitting, optimum merchandising, and dynamic scheduling. For example, with pre-kitting, one can turn 13 routes into 10 routes, and drivers can service significantly more machines in a route per day, increasing revenue. These benefits take all of the guesswork out of vending, and when one is able to measure something, one can control it. Without proper technology in a vending business, vending becomes much more difficult and less efficient. The great thing about the solution from ParLevel Systems is that there is no upfront cost for the hardware, and the monthly fee per machine is quite affordable. Check the ParLevel Systems website to learn more.

These are four things that successful vendors have in their businesses. None of these are mutually exclusive, either. One would need all four in order to have a successful vending business and experience growth. Profit margins are small in vending, but when you have a large operation, the money can come rolling in. Vending is an exciting business, and with these four things, it can be a lot of fun to run and grow.

Share your stories with us in the comments below or send me an email (omar@parlevelsystems.com) if you’re interested in ParLevel Systems’ technology solution. What do you think are things necessary for success in vending?

Healthy Treats

Omar wrote this post on August 19, 2013 in Industry, Inventory Management

girl eating chocolate

Chocolate has some health benefits, but don’t indulge too much!

The words “candy” and “healthy” do not often meet together in the same sentence. We tend to think of the term “healthy” as food that is natural or somehow beneficial for our bodies. For “candy,” we think the opposite, delicious yet sugary and unhealthy. Of course, that is not true for all healthy foods and candies, but what about candy that has some sort of benefit to one’s body? Are there candies that can actually be healthy? Here is a list of surprising candies that have some health benefit or have an unintended benefit of keeping people healthy.

1. Chocolate

This should not come as a surprise for most people, but there are health benefits to eating chocolate. According to a study published in Neurology, chocolate offered cognitive improvements in older people. There was a sample size of about 60 people, and at the beginning of the study, everyone took a memory and reasoning test as a benchmark. The groups were separated into two: one group drank flavanol-rich hot chocolate, and another group drank flavanol-poor hot chocolate. The antioxidant flavanol has been linked to increasing blood flow and cognitive skills. The results were that those who drank two cups of hot flavanol-rich chocolate per day for 30 days performed better in memory and reasoning tests than the other group. There are other heart-related benefits to eating chocolate, such as reducing the chances for heart attack, but one must remember what kind of chocolate they are eating and the additives that are put into the chocolate. Therefore, eating chocolate bars with peanuts and other ingredients may not be the solution to prevent a heart attack, but pure chocolate without too much in it is a better option. If you have a chocolate craving, try a dark chocolate without too much sugar.

2. Gum alert

Chewing gum can actually make you more alert, according to a study done by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan. Chewing gum hardly has any calories, and it can also freshen your breath, but the added benefit of making people more alert is great. Although people in Singapore would disagree, chewing gum is a great pick-me-up during the groggiest part of the work week. Try taking a 40-minute long walk while chewing gum, if that is not too much for you. You’ll be able to harness your brain power more often and be healthier, all at the same time!

3. Poppin’ corn

Popcorn is a great snack food for people at work or going to the movies. It’s an American pastime, almost. However, popcorn is one of those foods that is 100% whole grain and is packed with more antioxidants than a normal day’s serving of fruits and vegetables when looking at the average American’s diet. According to a food study from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, popcorn is filled with great stuff to help combat heart disease and cancer, but adding things like oil and butter diminish these health benefits. Next time you get some popcorn, think about sprinkling a little bit of sugar and cinnamon in the bowl for a very tasty treat that will not bust the belt.

4. Balance is key

Studies have shown that people who treat themselves with something sweet while having a balanced diet helps people stay thinner than people who always say no to sweet treats. This is surprising because people have been told never to indulge in sweet candies or chocolate bars, but now, there is evidence that shows that allowing yourself a treat (perhaps from a vending machine) every once in awhile will only help one’s efforts to lose weight and live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. If anything, this should give people more motivation to make better life choices and still enjoy a little treat now and then without indulging in food binges. People can have their cake and eat it, too, if you will, just not too much.

Next time you’re at a vending machine, try one of these four choices and see how you feel. You can always go for granola bars, waters, or teas, as well, but all four of these on this list can also give you added health benefits. There has been a lot of talk about how the vending industry has been used as a scapegoat for obesity in the USA, but we all know that is not the case. Vending is not to blame for obesity in the USA, and we all know that there are plenty of healthy choices already in our vending machines. If you’re looking for a quick snack, stop by your nearest vending machine and pick up one of these choices. You will not be disappointed!

Obesity and Vending

Omar wrote this post on August 14, 2013 in Industry

From Desertnews.com

From Desertnews.com

In a news story that came out a few weeks ago, KSL.com’s Brooke Walker reported on a vending machine at the Discovery Gateway Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah. This vending machine is special, among other special vending machines we have talked about in the past, because all of the items inside of it are free, but once customers try to input their snack selection, the machine “yells” at them, telling them that their choices are unhealthy and should stay away from those unhealthy types of foods. Emily Refermat from VendingMarketWatch.com writes, “Where’s the research correlating the rate of obesity to how often someone indulges in a snack from a vending machine?” Kathy Lovitt of Carts Blanche LLC also comments on this story, writing, “Since when did a vending machine make you obese?” I also spoke with a vendor, and his opinion followed in the same vein as Refermat and Lovitt; he said that the vending machine is more of a scare tactic as opposed to a means of helping people make wise decisions. “It teaches kids that vending machines are evil,” he said.

This machine does not have support from people within the vending industry because it makes vending machines the scapegoat for obesity in the United States. There are many organizations in the US fighting against obesity and obesity-related diseases, but there is no consensus on what causes obesity, contrary to popular belief. The popular belief is the thermodynamic model, in which calories go into the body and used as fuel. If one consumes more fuel than one needs, that excess is stored as fat cells. However, this does not account for anomalies in poor countries and communities. For example, according to Gary Taubes, an investigative journalist and author of Why We Get Fat, in a 1971 survey in Czechoslovakia revealed that “10 percent of the men were obese and a third of the women.” The country at the time was very poor, and people did not have very much to eat. This type of obesity is referred to as a “form of malnutrition.” Taubes contends that obesity is caused by what we eat, not how much we eat. This is an important point because the vending machine in the museum does not teach children this point. It simply yells at them, tells them to make better choices, and leaves them to be afraid of vending machines. It is an ineffective scare tactic.

David Berreby, a science writer and author of the book Us and Them: The Science of Identity, in an article featured on Aeon Magazine, agrees with Taubes in the idea that the calories-in/calories-out model is not defensible, as in it is no longer a legitimate argument because the evidence behind it is not there or invalid:

Yet the scientists who study the biochemistry of fat and the epidemiologists who track weight trends are not nearly as unanimous as [Mayor Michael Bloomberg] makes out. In fact, many researchers believe that personal gluttony and laziness cannot be the entire explanation for humanity’s global weight gain. (Full article here)

Therefore, if the snacks in the vending machine are not causing our weight gain in America, then what is? Berreby goes on to write that as Americans have been getting fatter, so have mice, American marmosets, macaques, and chimpanzees, along with other animals. Their diets have not changed nor have their lifestyles, yet they are gaining weight. In the end, Berreby states that different types of food that people consume have different effects on a people’s bodies. There are other things that make us obese, such as stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, viruses, bacteria, and industrial chemicals. Even air conditioning has been linked to obesity. All factors considered, snacks and drinks from vending machines are not the only things that are contributing to our weight gain, and therefore, we should try to better understand the causes of obesity before becoming dogmatic about our ideas, which the Discovery Gateway Museum vending machine has expressed already.

Moving back to the vending machine in the museum, if it was meant to educate children on healthy eating and good dietary choices, it has completely failed. It takes the thermodynamic model and suggests children to eat other snacks instead. However, not all vending machines are the same, and there are many machines out there that offer healthier choices. Therefore, the enemy in all of this is not the vending machine, the Snickers Bar, nor the choices of the consumer; ignorant assumptions on why we get fat is what is working against educating people on making healthy choices. This scare tactic will be ineffective at educating children and only propagates a unproven assumption, and what’s more, it is hurting an industry that has nothing to do with obesity in America. Intelligent ways of educating today’s youth on healthy eating are what is necessary to give them a chance at a better, healthier future, but using vending machines as a means of passing blame for obesity is not the way to go.

NFC and Vending

Omar wrote this post on August 12, 2013 in Industry, Technology

NFC-and-the-Travel-Experience

via Traveltechnology.com

In our blog, we have discussed several topics about innovative technology in vending. However, a lot of the things we have discussed are already available or used for promotional purposes. There is a new technology on the horizon that will change the way we purchase items from retail stores, convenience stores, and, perhaps, vending machines. This technology is called near-field communication, or NFC.

NFC is a technology developed by Nokia, Philips, and Sony starting in the early 2000s. It came from the idea behind RFID, or radio frequency identification, which allowed a reader to send radio waves as an electronic tag to identify, track, or authenticate something. The way NFC works is if two NFC chips are in close contact with each other, information is allowed to pass through. That information could be a URL for a website, a photo, contact information, or even payment information. In our workplace, for example, we use small tags with NFC chips inside to access the upper floors of our building. It’s a very convenient and useful technology, and it cannot be activated without the user’s permission, adding in extra security.

One thing that had puzzled me, though was why NFC has not taken off in the United States like it has in European countries and Japan. In those countries, people use their smartphones with NFC chips built in to make purchases, access public transportation, and easily send information to one another. When I lived in China, I used a card with an NFC chip built in to access taxis, buses, and the subway. In the US, there are a lot of smartphones that carry this technology in them, but NFC is not widely used, and the ability to make purchases or access public transportation with smartphones  is not widely available. There are some companies that have begun to roll out NFC kiosks, but for the most part, people do not have the NFC enabled smartphones in order to use them.

The reason for the lack of NFC use in the United States is a lot like the “chicken or the egg” conundrum. Not everyone in the US has an NFC enabled smartphone, even though the list of smartphones using NFC is large, but smartphone adoption in the US has grown to over 50% of all adults, and it will continue to grow in the future, making it easier for retailers and public service providers to use NFC for mobile cashless payments. Some point to Apple’s iPhones as the reason why many merchants do not invest in this quick and easy payment system, but in New York, for example, people can use NFC chips to pay for their taxis, so the hardware is available, and there are people willing to use NFC. The real issue is that there is not enough software to work with NFC chips.

However, this might change in the near future. In a partnership between AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile US Inc, and Verizon Wireless, the Isis Mobile Wallet is software that stores credit card information, coupons and promotions, and loyalty cards in one place. After successful pilots in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Austin, Texas, Isis will be rolling out across the United States later this year. They claim to be safer than storing cards in one’s wallet because remote wallet freezing, PIN protection, and other safeguards. There are other services, as well, such as Google Wallet and the rumored Apple iWallet. These options will be able to work with any NFC enabled kiosks, however, so one does not have to download specific software to work in certain places.

As for the vending industry, this technology would work in a similar way to credit card readers and be an addition to a cashless solution. Having an NFC chip in a vending machine, for example, will allow customers to view the nutritional information of the items in the vending machine on their smartphone, complying with the federal mandate. Customers can make their choices on the smartphone and then wave the smartphone across the NFC-enabled kiosk on the machine for it to vend their products. Any promotions, coupons, or loyalty cards can be stored in the smartphone and be utilized at any time. This acts as an incentive for customers to come back to the machines, increasing sales and profits.

However, there is an issue with cost. From my research, purchasing an NFC tag is roughly less than $5, but if a vendor were to purchase them by his or herself, it would require the vendor to understand how to encode the NFC chip and comply with security standards for receiving payment information. Technology providers, however, have not yet come up with a solution for NFC because of its lack of availability in the USA. MasterCard with their PayPass is available along with a card reader, and I have seen some on vending machines in very busy areas. However, I do not have the information as to how often that payment option is used. If there are any other updates to NFC and the vending industry, you can find them here on this blog.

For now, this blog will act as a means to explain what NFC is to vendors and how it can possibly be used for customers to learn more about their product purchases before buying their snacks and drinks. It is a very exciting technology, and we look forward to seeing Isis Mobile Wallet roll out all over the US. The convenience and security that this technology will bring will revolutionize the way we make our purchases in the future. Stay tuned with the ParLevel Systems blog to learn more about what the future of vending has in store.

If you want to learn more about NFC, please check out the NFC World Congress website for information on the convention and the latest news regarding NFC.