From the Editor: Spring 2015

Great expectations
Colleen Cross
May 11, 2015
By
The migration north of micro markets, after rapid growth in the U.S., is bringing with it high expectations.

In October Jim Jackson gave a talk at the CAMA convention on his experience with micro markets. Jackson, owner of Quality Vending & Coffee Services in Winnipeg, set up several micro markets three years ago and has found running them a positive experience.

He suggested white-collar workplaces of 250 or more employees as the most promising locations for these convenience-store/vending hybrids. He talked about the opportunities involved: cornering extra business with a stable client base and achieving greater profit margins through the typically larger purchases customers make in these settings. He outlined other, perhaps unexpected, considerations: the need for frequent restocking, the need for a security system to combat theft and the importance of taking on multiple markets in order to be significant to a fresh-food supplier.

The session became an impromptu brainstorming session when one operator suggested busy employees might appreciate being able to pick up a bag of milk for the family at the end of the day.

After the last few years of subdued prospects for the vending industry, it was good to see operators encouraged – even excited – by a new idea.

Clearly running a micro market presents an opportunity limited largely by the imagination.

But, this “mashup of the vending machine, the lunch lady, the smartphone and the corner store” – as Michelle Brisebois describes it in our cover story on page 12 – comes with a caveat: it is an in-store retail concept that brings with it all the concerns of that sector. Product freshness, customer service and promotion top that list.

Offering fresh items such as sandwiches, baked goods, fruits and vegetables seems to be what distinguishes a micro market from a vending machine. Final customers (or end users) are looking for more than the dispensing of goods: they are looking for a positive experience more in line with shopping at a convenience store.

It takes a customer-service mindset to figure out what customers need and meet those needs. Operators may want to start by helping their clients – in many cases, workplaces – develop questionnaires to find out which products their employees will buy consistently.

However, much of your success may come down to assigning the right people to serve these locations, and the job will involve more than simply restocking coolers and shelves. Jackson suggests having a dedicated person for each location to help establish a rapport with clients and final customers and to let staff see firsthand and deal with unexpected issues. Ideally, these folks will have that “how-can-I-make-your-day-better?” attitude Disney is so famous for.

This is not completely new territory for vending operators but it requires a shift in priorities. You bring many strengths to the venture. You know how to maintain a good relationship with the clients you service. You know how to monitor sales and are flexible enough to pick up and drop products as needed. Best of all, you know the products.

Running a micro market will require that you investigate new, fresh products you could only dream of offering in a machine. It also will require that you invest time in getting to know your final customers. And it will require that you give thought to the arrangement – and promotion – of products within that space.

What hours do people work? What signage will draw them in and lead them to multiple purchases? How can you incorporate office coffee service? 

Study your potential customers to determine what they want and need from this new service.

Are you prepared to exceed their expectations? If you can delight customers with your intuitiveness and show them what they didn’t know they needed, then you may have found yourself a new niche business.

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