New CEO Brings Wireless DEX To 5-Branch Texas Operation

mike-fergusonEstablished refreshment services companies sometimes have a difficult time introducing new technology. While the cost of new technology is often seen as a major challenge, management capabilities can be an even more important factor.

Eight months ago, Mcliff Coffee + Vending, a five-branch vending, OCS and micro market provider based in Austin, Texas, tabbed Mike Ferguson as CEO. Ferguson brought an extensive background in refreshment services, having built an operation in Houston in the 1990s, Southern Refreshment Services, before eventually selling it.

Since joining Mcliff Coffee + Vending, Ferguson has spent most of his time converting the company to wireless DEX. The company had been using a custom designed management software and was not downloading DEX data from the machines.

Enabling the company to utilize DEX data has required making sure that the right people are assigned to the right roles in the company. This encompasses all responsibilities, from upper management all the way down to the drivers, Ferguson said.

VendWatch Telematics telemetry devices have been installed in the machines.

Once the machines have the telemetry, the drivers are able to download DEX data from the machines using iPad Mini mobile apps.

Automatic DEXing
“Once you get their (VendWatch Telematics) system installed with the cashless and the telemetry, you can walk up, and it will automatically Bluetooth to the application to the app, and will download all of the meter readings, the cashless, the inventory, and all that information is automatically entered into it,” he said.

“Now it’s all basically wireless communication between the telemetry device that’s in the vending machine to the actual app,” he said.
The cloud-based system removes the need for the driver to push buttons in the machine to download meter readings and cashless data.

vending-mobile-app“It’s all ‘Bluetoothed’ together, he said. “It makes running this type of company easier because you can sit at your desk and watch your guys in action on your computer,” he said. “It does the time stamps. You know what he was supposed to collect in the cashless, and in inventory, what he left, balance on hand. You know all that stuff in real time of our drivers actually servicing the machine.”

“You know when the door was opened,” he said. “That gives you a time stamp of what time he was there.”

The only machines that are not DEXable are some of the older hot drink machines.

Progress Takes Time
“We’re in the middle of replacing that slowly but surely with VendWatch and its systems,” he said. The telemetry-based system will improve routing and operations.

The drivers welcomed the switch to VendWatch app-based system. There was no driver resistance.

“They like VendWatch,” Ferguson said. “It helps them with loading their truck, it’s easier to inventory, it’s easier when you get to the machine because it’s DEXable, it’s wireless; it makes their jobs easier.”

The system also maps out the driver’s route for him based on the scheduled stops for the day and gives driving instructions.

“You get a brand new driver or a driver that’s changing routes, you should be able to hand him the iPad and say, ‘go to work,’” Ferguson said.

Easier Back-End Reporting
“It makes back-end reporting to us, the operator, much, much better,” he said. The VendWatch app also takes a picture of the machine so the management can see how the machine looks after it’s been serviced.

“Between door switches and taking pictures of the machine, and the live views, you couldn’t really ask for much more from a vending standpoint,” he said.
“It’s gotten a lot easier than it used to be,” Ferguson said.

Pre-kitting On The Way
The company is not yet pre-kitting the routes, but this will be happening in the near future.

“We’re working up to that,” Ferguson said. “It’s not something that can happen overnight. We’re taking it branch by branch.” Once the routes are all converted, Ferguson expects they will consolidate some routes. The pre-kitting will allow the locations to be serviced with fewer routes.

The company did have USA Technologies cashless readers prior to Ferguson’s arrival. Going forward, however, the company will install VendWatch Telematics cashless solution, VMPay.

The Austin branch has been fully converted to the VendWatch Telematics devices. The last of the five routes was installed about a month ago.
Once the company introduces pre-kitting, the trucks will be loaded by the warehouse staff.

Immediate Improvements
The cash reconciliation was one the most immediate improvements. “It take a lot of the human error out of it,” Ferguson said.

Another immediate benefit was determining who was in the machines in instances when collections came up short.

Because we were getting Saturday door openings and we don’t service machines on Saturdays, we knew that we had a theft problem,” he said. Surveillance video revealed that some ex-drivers had stolen machine keys and were stealing from the machines.

“Without that technology, we would probably blamed it on the (current) driver,” he said.

Houston is the next branch to convert to VendWatch Telematics.

“Moving forward will be a lot faster,” he said. “It’s getting quicker and quicker and quicker.”

The company uses a separate staff for servicing its 40 or so micro markets. Each micro market provider has its own management software.

Ferguson is keeping an eye on the app-based kiosk-less micro markets. One concern is these systems do not accept cash. Another is that the users have to have smartphones.

The new telemetry-based system has helped win business, he said. “We can tell them the driver is not on his own. We’ve got eyes behind him.”

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