The Big Idea 2014: Unmanned micro-markets
Corporate Hospitality Services Manager
Florida Blue, Jacksonville, Fla.
We were looking for something for our smaller sites, the ones that are too big to be supported by traditional vending but not large enough to support a café without a very substantial investment.
We opened a couple of micro-markets in late 2010/early 2011 for some of our offices in Tampa and Orlando, and they worked very well. From there, we’ve continued using the micro-market format whenever we have that need from a building population standpoint. I have five open currently and I have another three that are in various stages of development.
The micro-markets are more than vending. They have a lot of the stuff that you would see in vending, like snacks and bottled beverages and stuff like that, but they also have a food component where you can get sandwiches and salads and heat-and-eat entrées that aren’t stuck behind that piece of Plexiglas like in a vending machine. The customer can actually open the cooler, touch the product, look at it, flip it over, look at the nutritional label, all these things that would make them feel more comfortable in making the purchase. From an investment standpoint there wasn’t the labor because it’s completely unmanned—everything is self-checkout, just like the self-checkout lines in the grocery store. We can sell anything with a barcode, even sundry items.
We partner with local vending companies to stock and supply the micro-markets. We work with them to identify the menu cycle for the entrée salads and the heat-and-eat entrées. Then it’s just like servicing our account from a regular vending standpoint, but it’s a different dedicated route for them because they need the refrigerated trucks and the freezer space. Another upside is that the self-checkout payment kiosks communicate back to the vendor, so they know exactly what’s been sold and they’re not making unnecessary trips to restock or coming out with product that they don’t need.
Customers can use credit cards, and the vendors we work with also have their own declining balance cards that employees can get as a membership keychain tag and they can fund that tag with cash at the kiosk and then use the tag to deduct money from their account to make purchases. It’s all done electronically.
The customers have loved it, especially in places like our Williamsport, Pa., office at Novitas Solutions. It’s an office that has about 400 people and there isn’t anything really close to them in terms of food options. There, we took the traditional bank of vending machines and replaced it with the micro-market concept.