No discussion about integrated control systems and their impact upon the vending industry past, present and future would be complete without a contribution from Rob Little. Arguably the pioneer of software in the UK , Rob founded Vendman in 1993. Today, the company dominates the domestic market.
When we meet at Vendman HQ on the outskirts of Greater Manchester, Rob Little can barely contain himself. He’s bursting with pride and can’t wait to tell me all about it. The trouble is that today, the source of the big man’s exuberance isn’t his firm’s dominant position as the UK’s number one vending control system provider. Today, as it happens, the source of his bonhomie and ‘hale-fellow-well-met’ happiness is his other pride and joy – Chelsea Football Club. Apparently, they’d just won a football match. In Munich, I believe.
An hour later, Rob stops for breath and, leaping through the window of opportunity, I get a question in…
‘In the future we’ll continue to do what we’ve always done’; his answer begins. ‘It’s always been our role to work hand-in-glove with vending machine operating companies. We don’t research and develop in a vacuum, then come up for air to see what the people we’re seeking to serve think of the prototype! It’s much more hand-in-glove than that, and I can’t imagine we’d continue to develop as a service provider if that was ever to change.’
Asked about the latest products in the industry, Rob sounds a note of caution. ‘Talk of ‘brand names’ and ‘new products’ is fine, but we don’t want to imply that there’s such a thing as an ‘off-the-shelf’ Vendman solution, because there isn’t. Our customers are all, ostensibly, in the vending business, but there are huge discrepancies from company to company in terms of structure and management.’
Rob’s is very fond of numbers. Right now, it’s fair to say that his favourite number is 11. (That’s the number Didier Drogba was wearing when he scored the penalty kick that I understand won the Champions League). That said, he’s happy to share some other numbers with me when prompted.
‘Favourite numbers?’ he says. ‘‘Ninety’. We have installed over ninety sites based in the UK as well as Ireland, Sweden and Holland. ‘One thousand’. Every day over one thousand computer users log onto our system. ‘Two thousand’, that’s the number of field-based merchants that log on, and ‘two-hundred and fifty, that’s the number of engineers, and of course ‘ten’.’ I wait for the ‘gen’ on ten. Rob looks meaningfully at his watch, before saying: ‘Ten minutes. That’s what you’ve got left before I have another appointment.’
There’s one more number to come, though. ‘Over seventy-five percent of UK vending operators chooseVendman software to monitor the performance of their machines’ Rob says, suddenly more serious. ‘To some, that would be a reason to celebrate, but because we are such a force in our market sector we feel a sense of responsibility to the vending market as a whole and to our customers in particular.
‘We are committed to investigating any new technology, which might enhance our own products and so prove beneficial to our customers. It’s the objective of all the players in our marketplace, both large and small, to help our customers to run their businesses more professionally and more productively, giving them the ultimate advantage. During our nineteen years in vending, (there’s another number!), we’ve seen tremendous progress in and around the industry and we’ve been proud to be at the forefront of many of those changes. So far, touch wood, we feel we’ve managed to stay a stride or two ahead of our customers’ needs and we’re always working flat out to try to make sure we keep it that way.’
Ask Vendman customers how they benefit from the system and the answers are varied. One leading operator remarked that Vendman saved his company an estimated ‘six-hundred journeys a month’. Without the system an operator might, for instance, have a wasted journey, visiting a machine that did not require its stock to be replenished.
Other operators refer to the control they have over their vehicle fleet, not to mention its drivers… Each customer has his own Vendman success story to tell.
The task of ‘improving the offer’ is, as always, a priority for Rob. ‘e3 Live2’ is the most recent addition to Vendman’s ‘family of products’. Using the latest in communication technologies, e3 Live2 enables operators, engineers, warehouse and accounts personnel to receive, input, analyse and – most importantly – to react to real time information as it happens, live; on virtually any internet connected hand set.
‘Our industry will continue to endeavour to supply products and services that deliver significant and tangible benefits to the vending operator’ Rob said, ‘and that includes delivering greater efficiencies, improved knowledge of the performance of both the machine base and individual products and, overall, the improved management of resources.’
You see, in the end, it’s not really about numbers at all… It’s about ‘service’.