By Carolyn Camilleri
By Carolyn Camilleri
Condo dwellers who run out of milk typically have two options: do without or dash out. But at a growing number of Toronto condos, there’s a third option: pop down to their building’s common area and pick up cream, bread or eggs from a vending machine. Providing that kind of convenience is the motivation behind Grab’nGo Vending’s Micro Shops – small footprint automated kiosks that sell basic grocery items and essentials.
Customers browse through products using a touch screen that shows details such as nutritional information, then select the product they want and pay using cash, debit, or credit. The product is then dispensed by a robotic elevator-delivery system so the eggs don’t break. For busy people living in urban condos, that’s convenience plus.
“The company was formed to address the growing need for a convenient, mid-week, last-minute grocery service without the wait of a standard grocery delivery service and the long lines of a supermarket,” says John Douangprachanh, Grab’nGo Vending’s co-founder and
director of business development.
While Grab’nGo is Douangprachanh’s first venture into the vending industry, his family has been in the convenience retail space for over a decade. He also has more than 12 years of technology experience.
“Advancements in automation and software integration have allowed us to provide this service to our customers. This was just not possible a few years ago, and so the timing was right for us to launch this service.”
While the company was formed in 2014, a year was devoted to research and planning before Micro Shops launched in September 2015. Now, with eight employees, the company is small but growing rapidly.
“Our Micro Shop service required a lot of planning, research, and development in order to achieve a convenient service offering that would meet the demands of our target market: the urban condominium dweller,” Douangprachanh says. “We spent a lot of time and energy performing detailed market research to perfect the product mix and to create the right planogram to optimize the offering, and we feel we have a winning formula.”
He says densely populated condominiums are the easiest choice because there are so many in Toronto, but Grab’nGo also serves apartment buildings, and there has been significant interest from the public sector, including Metrolinx, which manages the GO transit stations.
Asked about challenges, Douangprachanh says common questions are about freshness and whether the eggs will break.
“Many people have never bought eggs, milk, or bread from a vending machine before, so it is our mission to change the way people think of vending machines and for them to understand how technology is reshaping the retail landscape,” he says.
Micro Shops have multi-zoned temperature control and are connected to the Internet for freshness monitoring. Explaining how the technology works usually convinces people that Micro Shops are “like vending machines on steroids,” Douangprachanh says.
“For those who are still not convinced, usually a quick demo of our eggs dispensing changes their attitude,” he adds.
The real challenge, he says, is logistics.
“Planning an efficient replenishment route for a standard confectionary vending service is one thing, but dealing with fresh items is a whole other ball game,” he says, explaining that some products, like bread and english muffins, last about seven days.
”Typically, we move them two to three days before expiry and then, depending on the location, we find a local food bank or soup kitchen and donate the food.”
To fine-tune a replenishment schedule for each location, the first month is an assessment period and adjustments are made thereafter as needed.
“We have some locations where we’re only replenishing about twice a week, and then we have others where it’s really busy and we have to replenish three, sometimes four times a week. It all depends on sales and how that goes.”
And they are getting it right, which has made their customers very happy.
“Our customers love our service!” Douangprachanh says. “In today’s society, where people want something and they want it now, you really can’t beat the convenience of Micro Shops.”
“We see tremendous growth potential for our service in Canada,” he says.
In fact, there has been so much interest in Micro Shops that Grab’nGo is currently working on a franchise model. For franchising information contact firstname.lastname@example.org