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Letting Parents Control The Vend

Letting Parents Control The Vend


March 31, 2008
By Tiffany Mayer

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Scott Garratt can regale you with tales of school sports programs gutted for lack of funding.
Sports programs that were removed from a school’s curriculum shortly
after the vending machines proffering students with snack food were
removed from the building.

Scott Garratt can regale you with tales of school sports programs gutted for lack of funding.

Sports programs that were removed from a school’s curriculum shortly after the vending machines proffering students with snack food were removed from the building.

It was no coincidence that when those moneymakers were gone, so were some of the pillars of student life.

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Watching those sports programs dry up gave Garratt of Kane’s Distributing an idea for a concept that could keep vending machines — major sources of revenue for schools — in the hallowed halls of educational institutions.

He calls it Vend Sentinel, an all-knowing, all-seeing web-based vending machine reader.

Here’s what it does: through the Vend Sentinel website, operators get to watch what’s happening with their machines in real time, allowing them to know what’s happening on their routes without ever leaving the office.

They can monitor temperatures inside machines, enable or disable the cash or cashless options and set schedules for when the machines can be used.

They can watch when someone is using a machine and use the program to track the most popular items, who is buying what and how much buyers are spending.

“Vending machine operators can sit back and watch their machines and see there’s one left in A1,” Garratt said. “It allows them to optimize their route.”

But that’s not the first priority of Vend Sentinel.

The real purpose for the Big Brotheresque concept is to keep vending machines in a money-making market: schools.
 
“Rather than the school mandating and the school boards mandating the removal of the machines, it gives them a choice,” Garratt said.
 
It does that by allowing parents to have a say in if or what their children will buy from vending machines.
 
Parents can also log on to Vend Sentinel and set up an account, putting money into it using a credit card, or the PayPal or Lunch Box payment systems.

Health-conscious parents can also control the junk-food addict teen’s diet, limiting their purchases to items such as milk or fruit and promote healthier eating habits.

“Now you can leave those highly profitable soda machines in place,” Garratt said.
And keep a major source of funding for school programs, considering many of the operators are the schools themselves, he noted.

Vend Sentinel takes the guess work out of the job for vending operators and turns them into omniscient business people for less than $500 per machine.

All that’s needed is a machine with MDB protocol and high speed Internet access.
The system in the machines is wireless.

Now in the early days of going public, Vend Sentinel is already keeping an eye on more than 24,000 transactions every two weeks.

Vend Sentinel was born out of Garratt’s frustration with an “incompetent supplier.” Instead of relying on others to come up with innovative concepts for Kane’s, Garratt started his own engineering department to design software and firmware at the St. Catharines, Ont., operation seven years ago.

A few years after that, the idea for Vend Sentinel took form – but Garratt and crew haven’t been making much noise about it until now.

For Garratt, his words coming in the rapid-fire succession of someone with a passion for what they do, there’s only one way to describe what could be the next saviour for the vending industry.

“This goes beyond cool,” he said.