Managing your inventory, locations, and books in vending can be a nightmare. If you're a small time vendor with only a few machines, you want to spend all your time giving great customer service and expanding your business, not keeping your paperwork up to date. At first it's not a big deal writing down all those numbers on slips and then cataloguing them, but as your business grows the amount of paper grows and grows. You might find yourself spending more time just keeping track of your current data then you do responding to sales calls. Without a good, scalable system, the data can become overwhelming. And it's not like you are writing this all down just for fun; these numbers are really crucial to the overall health of your business. Eventually, you might have to eat into your bottom line to hire someone just to enter the data!
At Custom Touch Vending, we use a combination paper and electronic system for accounting and inventory management. We write the numbers for the sales and the meter readings onto slips of paper and then include those slips of paper in with the collection bag. The collection data is then manually entered into a spreadsheet. Route planning and calendars are all done separately. Robert, the owner, takes inventory of all the products in the warehouse every couple of weeks and enters those onto a sheet of paper. Those are then either entered manually on the website of the distributor or dictated over the phone to a representative of the distributor.
This is pretty standard and it works fine if you have a few machines. However, Custom Touch Vending has 500+ machines and 4 full time drivers. Scaling up the paper-based system has proved to be difficult. Exploring the alternatives, we decided to try Vend-Trak, which is billed as an all in one vending management software.
I found Vend-Trak by googling "Vending management software." I decided to give it a shot for my own route - about 30 locations - since they offer a 14 day free trial and a 60 day money back guarantee. Other vending management software I looked at wasn't so up front about the pricing and guarantees, so I had a lot of confidence in these guys – at least enough to try it out. So, I clicked the button to sign up. It was pretty painless. Got a confirmation email, clicked the link...if you've signed up for any service before, the process to get started is very similar.
In general, it's really nice to have every piece of data in one system so they can all talk to each other. It's much easier to run reports and really see the changes you need to make in your business when you don’t have to go looking for your expenses, invoices, and your servicing data in all different places. If you don't watch the math on your business closely, you can easily think you're making money while you slowly lose money. This makes it much much easier to watch the math.
It's great to be able to jump around as well. I was in the middle of cash flow reporting, and I jumped over to add another location to a route, then jumped to my product screen to update the pricing information on some products. Before this, all this information was kept in different places and it was up to me to manually transfer them around when necessary. This gives me a kind of fluidity that I didn’t have before and eliminates many of the in-between steps. I’ve reduced my data entry time by 50% and that alone is a huge savings. I could reduce it by a further 50% if the accounting person for our business was to also use Vend-Trak. Then I could enter the service record data once and they could access it from their user account. So, working at full capacity, accounting redundancies could be reduced by a whopping 75%.
This sort of program is invaluable to anyone who needs this kind of data at their fingertips, and in this business where the profit margin is so low, you need to know when to make changes in your business. It’s great to be able to run reports any time to check to see if you’re meeting your business goals, not to mention for things like the dreaded tax time. Here are some thoughts I have about particular aspects of the software.
The first thing I did is check out the tutorial videos. They are very professional and easy to understand. In general the program is pretty intuitive. It was built by people in the vending business and as such they've covered things that are really important but also unique to a vending business. Do you have a location with multiple machines? You can group machines by location. Do you want your route planner to share data with your sales tracker? Yep, you can do that. In fact, you can even specify the frequency of the services for a particular machine. Entering the sales history You can enter sales history on each machine in order to generate accurate reports. This was by far the most time consuming part of the process of transitioning to using the system.
Once I got up to date, I could chart each machine individually or (chart each location's sales because you can group machine by location (or nest machines under a group name)). Then I could specify when they needed service with the calendar. The one thing I didn't like is that you couldn't see which machines needed to be serviced (you couldn't see their names) on the month view, just that a certain number of services were needed. It's not a deal breaker, as you can hover over the text that says "Services due" and it will show you the name of the location(s) that needs servicing.
Features of the program
Here are some highlights I found while taking a tour around the system.
You can also group locations together into a single route. (This is great, since the program also calculates a route for you with a map view.) To me, this aspect really showed the power of the program to handle a much larger business.
Every location has a ton of info that you need to keep track of - everything from hours of operation, to preferred snacks, to the names of the receptionists (so you don't have to keep asking.) That's where the handy custom fields come in. You can specify the name of a field and then enter customer data into it. So one field could be tracking numbers for service requests for a third party repair service. Another could be "Seasonal changes" - to remind you to take the candy out of the machine in the summer time so it doesn't melt. This was great for me as it allowed me to download all the data I've been holding in my brain into the program, thus freeing it up for more important things like writing this review. This program has the ability to truly be the one stop information source for your entire business.
If you like to keep a really close eye on your product, Vend-Trak allows you to create a product list and then specify how many of each product you put into each machine. We don't track our inventory that closely with as much volume as we do, but it's nice to know that functionality is there.
For a business where you deliver goods, you can write off your mileage as a business expense. Vend Trak can help you track all of the mileage you use. But that's not the best part. Taxes (speaking from a California company) are a beast to keep track of for small transactions like these. Not only that but each county has a different sales tax code. The people who made this program know this and allow you to specify a tax rate based on each location. This will then reflect on the reports you generate. This is seriously awesome, as it makes the quarterly sales tax much more manageable.
The program is mostly very easy to use, but the few question I had were answered in the forums. The forums weren't very well used, but it doesn't seem like Vend-Track is trying to build a community. I emailed technical support just to check their response time, and they got back to me within a couple of days. Overall, it seems like they don’t have a huge staff but they are dedicated to helping their customers and improving their product.
Questions about Vend-Trak
Here are some questions I had before using the product and other vendors have asked me during my evaluation period.
How does it work on smart phones?
As of now, Vend-Trak does not have separate apps for smartphones. This is not ideal, but its workable for data entry in the field. In my experience, the only annoying thing I found was that I couldn’t change my default username and password, and so I had to look it up before entering the website on my phone.
Afterwards though, it worked just as well as any full website on the phone, since I could use the pinch and zoom function to enlarge fields to enter data and most data is numeric while in the field in the first place.
I'd recommend setting up the bulk of your data – the names and groupings of your locations - from a desktop computer first and then use your smartphone for your numeric data entry in the field. That way you won’t have to load too many different screens from your phone. Loading each screen takes a little bit of time, since the app isn’t native and the phone has to reload a different page each time you click a submit button to save your data. In practice this is fine, as it only adds a couple of seconds to each data entry, especially if you load the web page before you enter your account.
Is the cost of Vend-Trak worth the value?
If you're just starting out (with 50 machines), you can pay for their lowest tier which is only $20 per month. I would gladly pay to eliminate the hassle of keeping all this data in different places. I think the amount of labor saved by only having to enter the information once, is huge. The amount of data you need to keep track of in order to service a simple vending machine is staggering and doing it all with paper can really add up.
Furthermore, there is a significant redundancy to using paper slips and then entering all the data into a spreadsheet later. And if you do that, there is no easy way to get a calendar in sync with the data. You then have to be the person who bridges the gap between where all this information is kept. With a program like this, you can outsource the data and focus on building and running your business. If you aren’t used to paying for management software, it can be tough to stomach $50 or even $20 per month. Yet, when you see how efficient it is with all the data in your business, you’ll realize that you’ll save at least a few hours if not a few dozen hours per month. If you saved even just 10 hours per month with this program, would that be worth $5 at most per hour? I hope you are making more than that!
Personally, if it were my responsibility to submit and use this data to create strategic action for even my own route, then I would buy Vend-Trak just to reduce the hassle of collating the data later. My belief is that, you don’t have to buy software to make vending easier if your budget doesn’t allow for it or you are against it, but vending is already plenty stressful. If I knew I could pay $20/month to make my life less stressful, I’d do it.
Are you worried that the data is in the cloud?
I've never been particularly worried about sharing data in the cloud. My feeling is that data on my computer is much more likely to get erased than data backed up by a whole internet. I could be wrong, but it makes me more comfortable. The downside is, is that you have to be online to access the data. I would appreciate something like Evernote where the data can be stored locally, but then have a backed up and accessible cloud version. One of the reasons I support the monthly payment model is that it allows the creators the ability to focus on building more value in the product long term, and I can easily see this as a feature they will implement in the future.
If you are on the fence, then I recommend you take their free trial. If you want to use it longer, they also offer a 60 day money back guarantee. It’s much easier to ease into trying something when you know you can get a refund if it's not for you.
Note: By clicking this link and signing up for Vend-Trak, we will receive affiliate income. We greatly appreciate the support and it goes directly to making better free content for Vendinghow.com.
If you are on the fence but want to know more, I have also written a walkthrough of the features of the program. All in all, vending software is only a small part of the success of your business. Do whatever allows you to give the best customer service and grow your business the way you want to.