Vending Sense MD Mason Todd spoke to Planet Vending Editor Ian Reynolds-Young
Mason Todd. It could be the name of a character invented by John Grisham, a fearless lawyer who eschews the lure of the big bucks in order to represent the interests of the little guy… In fact, there’s nothing made up about Mason Todd; but as MD of Vending Sense, there is something of the crusader in his approach to business.
He came to vending from the office equipment marketplace, where he consults for a managed print services company. There, he saw how ethical companies had worked hard to overcome the public’s perception of the industry as a bastion of ‘sharp practices’.
‘Managed Print Services’ was a concept designed to give users complete control of the process – everything from optimizing printers, their output and the people and processes that support them. The advantages in this form of management included saving money, boosting productivity, improving environmental sustainability and delivering unprecedented document security. It was a model that Mason envisaged could have a similarly positive impact in the vending arena.
‘I’m not saying that the industry was a basket case before we rolled up’, Mason says, ‘it’s just that I thought improved transparency, across the entire vending process, was an idea that would be welcomed by those clients who were of the opinion that many of the vending contracts around were just too complicated.’
That’s why Vending Sense made a conscious decision on Day One to offer transparent and flexible finance options that were not just supplier motivated. The upshot is a range of possibilities, including ‘lease to own’, short-term rental and purchase. Ninety-five percent of Vending Sense customers choose to lease equipment, because the costs are completely tax-deductible. What’s more, the flexibility of leasing makes for easy upgrading when new technology comes to market.
Vending Sense customers choose to lease equipment, because the costs are completely tax-deductible.
It’s a strategy that’s working for the Essex based outfit that supplies and supports vending machine solutions throughout the UK. It has also created a workforce that’s slightly different in its composition to those of other vending operators. ‘We have a team of sales personnel whose function is to open doors, pure and simple’, Mason says. ‘As soon as a sale is completed, the business of managing the forward process is handed over to a member of our dedicated Account Management team, who is supported by a Project Manager. The aim is to ensure that everything runs smoothly from the moment the deal is signed, through the ‘go-live’ and beyond, to the regular reviews. Every quarter, the service we provide for each client is the subject of a forensic review that aims to make sure the solution we’re providing is still delivering the required service.
‘I’ve implemented this process from my personal experience and our customers really do see the difference. In fact, many of them have told us that they felt their former vending solutions had more to do with a salesman bumping up his or her commission, than the provision of a solution designed to keep employees or visitors appropriately fed and watered’, Mason says. ‘For us, it’s all about honesty.’
It’s due to this factor that a feature of many Vending Sense new-business proposals is a reduction in the number of machines on any given site. ‘Vending Sense is not a product shifting type of organization’, Mason says. ‘Our main aim is to gain a comprehensive understanding of our clients needs, by undertaking a detailed audit before we present our recommendations. Our track record demonstrates that this process usually drives savings in the region of 15-35% over the previous solution. Of course, a big part of this is making sure the right type of equipment is in the right place to deliver the best possible service to our end-user customers.’
‘We steer away from anything that’s complicated.’
It sounds simple and ‘keeping it simple’ seems to be part of the DNA at Vending Sense. ‘We do steer away from anything that’s complicated’. Mason says. ‘For instance, we’ll never try to persuade customers that contracts with long-term consumables tie-ins are a good thing. Our motto is ‘refreshments made simple’.’
During the early days Vending Sense made an impact by providing small café bars and restaurants in the local area with traditional espresso machines and bean to cup machines. The company quickly earned a reputation for being ‘a class act’ and that status allowed Vending Sense to develop a significant online presence from which, these days, they’re supplying the whole of the UK.
Another strategic decision that Mason believes has struck a chord with prospective clients is that Vending Sense is completely agnostic when it comes to machines. ‘We don’t put all our new-business eggs into one manufacturer’s basket’, he explains. ‘Instead, we hand-pick the machine that’s best suited to the specific task at hand, from one of the best manufacturers in the industry. That’s the reason why, in recent months, we’ve supplied machines from La Spaziale, Francino, Expobar; Jura, Franke; Coffetek, Crem; WMF, Bravilor, Mars and more besides.’
With a machine roster such as that out there, doesn’t it follow that the field-based engineering aspect of the Vending Sense operation is a massively important cog in the wheel?
‘Service really is what sets us apart’, Mason agrees. ‘We have fifty dedicated engineers at our customers’ disposal and we work to a guaranteed six-hour response time. A machine that’s not working is a machine that’s not contributing and we want to limit faults to the level of ‘inconvenience’ rather than let them spiral into ‘crisis’.’
Significantly, there’s no lack of ambition in Mason’s vision of the future for Vending Sense and to get the company where it needs to be ten years down the line, foundations have already been laid. ‘Coffee will be at the heart of our future’, he says. ‘We have a dedicated roasting facility, where we produce four coffees under our own Café Con Cura brand. There’s a Fair Trade option, Signature blend, Hudson blend and Premium blend. It’s a great place to take those customers who are interested in seeing how their coffee is produced. As an industry, I think that these days we’re more ‘coffee’ than ‘vending’ and it’s to our advantage that we’ve already embraced that change of emphasis.’
Finally, what’s true of Vending Sense is, you can bet, also true of Mason himself. ‘We love our coffee’, he says.