The difference between good scheduling and bad scheduling can be the difference between profit and loss. Depending on the proximity of your locations, scheduling will become more or less important. If all your locations are in the same building, then this isn't as much of an issue. On the other hand, if you have locations that are hundreds of miles apart, scheduling becomes really important. The most important thing to understand about scheduling is that it is fluid. Often times you will create the day's schedule only to have to completely change it later to meet the demands of your customers.

Make scheduling easier

You want to service all of your locations in the shortest amount of days possible. This will give you full days for prospecting for new locations, warehouse inventory management and stocking, accounting, and everything else you need to do. Route driving is one of the most time consuming aspects of the business and, depending on the size of the location, servicing each location can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours or a whole day. Work smart. Minimize the hard work by keeping your schedule efficient. Use these strategies to improve your scheduling process.

Track how long it takes to service a location

Once you do this, it becomes much easier to estimate how long it will take you in the future to service that same location and to plan your day in general. This eventually allows you to do more locations in one day consistently. More importantly, it allows you to more easily plan for locations that close earlier than others.

You can do this by simply writing down the time it takes you to service a location next to the location itself on your daily schedule. You can also take the extra step of noting down the time you think it will take you to service each location while planning your day. When you actually service the location, you can note down your actual time. This will help your brain remember if something took longer or shorter than you planned.

Make sure to use start and end conditions that are consistent, such as turning the ignition off in your vehicle to turning the ignition back on. After doing this for a couple of weeks, you may begin to see patterns. This is good. It means that you are paying attention to what is possible on your schedule.

Once you have the information, you can see where you could schedule things differently. However, you won't get the information unless you do the work of tracking your time consistently for at least a couple cycles through each machine's service period. If you service a machine once every 3 days it could take a couple weeks to get a real sense of the machine's servicing time. If you service it every 3 weeks, then it could be a few months.

Group locations by proximity

You want to group as many locations as you can feasibly handle at the same time to minimize drive time and the total time that you spend delivering product. It doesn't make sense to do one location on Monday and then do another location that is across the street on Tuesday.

What if those locations aren't on the same servicing schedule?

Synchronize nearby machines by modifying their inventory

In order to get your locations to sync up their scheduling more, it is crucial to modify your inventory inside the machines to allow for longer or shorter service times. If you're trying to synchronize a machine that is on a 10 day service schedule with one that is on a one week schedule, you would simply take more product out of the former. "Take more product" in this case refers to taking a larger volume of product out of the former, but still offering the same amount of variety.

If, on the other hand, you have a machine that you want to sync up with another machine that is slower, you would add more volume of product to the higher sales volume machine so that it is able to keep up with the longer service schedule of the slower machine.

Keep track of the amount of product you have in your machines with stickers. In general, if your machine has more than seven empty rows, then either you need more product for your service schedule, or your service schedule is too short.

Add more kinds of machines to your location

Ideally, you would like more machines per location, because it is easier to fill multiple machines at one location than multiple machines at multiple locations. It takes less time because you don't have to drive as much and you can load your cart to service multiple machines at the same time.

Plan for seasonal variance

Scheduling also fluctuates with the seasons. Beverage machines will need more volume, and possibly more service, in the hotter months and snack machines will need more service in the winter months. You don't want the customer to call you and tell you they are out of anything, especially if they are parched. The goal is to make the customer feel like the machine is always full and waiting for their patronage. A machine that is too empty turns off customers because their cravings are spontaneous. Yet a machine that stays too full will result in too much expired product, which will eat into your bottom line.

Flexibility in scheduling is important because, in the world of vending, something will always go wrong. This is another reason it's good to track your time. If a customer needs you to come in right now, you can easily calculate in your head how to modify your schedule in order to allow for that extra service request.

In general, you will not rigidly adhere to the schedule you write at the beginning of the day, since everything from traffic to changing hours of operation can stop you or force you to rethink your route.

Scheduling and new locations

If you're just starting to service a new location it is better to over-service their location even it means you're not making as much money. This is to establish good rapport and a history of great customer service with your customers. Then, if you need to, you can experiment with extending your service schedule so you can increase your profit. You want the schedule to be as long as it can be without compromising customer service either by having too many empty rows or any expired product.

Scheduling by machine type

In general, a snack machine should be serviced in no more than 6 weeks, as that provides a 2 week buffer on snacks with 2 month expiration dates.

Beverage machines depend on the type of beverages. If you have diet drinks or juices, you won't be able to extend the schedule longer than 3 months. If you have regular carbonated drinks, you can go 6 or 8 months without much problem with expiring products.

Keep a calendar

Keep a monthly calendar that you can easily modify. It should be a monthly calendar because some locations will likely have a service frequency of over one week. If this is true, a weekly calendar will have too limited of a view for you to adequately plan your week. Instead, this way you can see the big picture of the locations that you need to service next.

In addition, you need to create a system for keeping track of the locations that need to be serviced, but you can't get to today. Here are some that we use.

Paper Calendar

Circle the locations that you didn't get to so you'll know to plan for them on your next delivery day. List your locations on the calendar and next to them, list the frequency in which you go: 1 day, 3 days, 1 week, 10 days, 2 weeks, and so on. When you make your schedule in the future, this will help you to remember how many days you need to wait before you plan to service that location again.

Electronic calendar

You can specify recurring events in most electronic calendars. This is perfect for vending. Simply put the service frequency in the, "Event repeats every..." field in the event options. Mark the frequency in the notes section of the event as well, if there is one, so you don't forget. Many locations will not be open on the weekends and you'll need to manually modify the dates the event recurs on your calendar. Most electronic calendars are not smart enough to only schedule certain recurring events on weekdays.

Your daily schedule

In the morning, take the relevant information from your monthly calendar and make a daily schedule. This will also include your load list and special requests that your customers may have given you. Keep track of these special requests in either a binder, your phone, or anywhere else that you will remember them.

The daily schedule will serve as your guideline so you can keep on task. It is invaluable to look at this schedule and compare the time you estimated you'd be at a location and the time you are actually there. Why is this a valuable thing to do?

Let's say your next location closes at 5pm and you're currently servicing a location at 3pm. If you know this location takes you 30 minutes, the next location takes you 30 minutes, and driving from one to the other takes you 30 minutes, can you make it to the next location in time? Yes, but you'd be cutting it close. If anything happens to slow you down – an important phone call, an accident on the road, a train crossing, or a broken machine you weren't planning for – then you will be hard pressed to make it. This is why, at least until you know your route really well, it's very important to allow for buffer time or a margin of error.

If you don't do this, underserved locations can stack up against you quickly, creating a domino effect. This can result in a flood of angry phone calls or lost locations. The aim is for you to get the locations serviced efficiently, but not stressfully.

Chris is the editor and online marketing guy at Vending How. He can also drive more traffic to your website.


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