Not Just For Snacks, Vending Machines Are Suppliers, Too

INDIANAPOLIS—While hoteliers have used vending machines to deliver convenience and novelty to guests—from swimsuits to champagne—there are still untapped areas of opportunity for these machines at hotels and resorts to support employees and equip them with the tools they need to work.

IVM Inc. wants to change the way you think about vending machines. Founded in 1991 and based here, IVM’s roots go back to traditional vending machines for snacks and beverages. Two years ago, Union Pacific sought the company out for a solution to distribute personal protective equipment products, such as gloves, earplugs, etc.

“At the time, they were setting all their products on a table and people would just take them, but they had no idea who took what, and how much. Then, one day, one of the directors there was watching a gardening show and the host was wearing a pair of gloves that had the Union Pacific logo on them. That’s when we came up with a system that would control the distribution of these products—thus, the supply vending side of our business,” said Michael Pitts, IVM’s president.

“That sparked a snowball effect where many of our existing clients started coming to us and asking if we could create machines that could distribute specific products to their employees. Facebook was one such example—some of its employees spotted our Union Pacific vending machine, which prompted the company to reach out. Flash-forward to today, and some of the biggest names in technology also called on us to help them automate the process of providing supplies to their employees. From computers to bike parts, the sky’s the limit.”

IVM sees the introduction of vending machines to support hotel staff as a way to increase efficiency and curb costs by making it possible to easily track inventory and usage.

“The technology in our machines is what differs from other solutions currently on the market, and it’s one reason why we have the highest reliability levels in the industry,” said Pitts. “Employees simply walk up to a machine and swipe their ID badge, which pings our servers in Indianapolis and, in turn, allows them to take what they need. Our customers come to us with a specific supply need, and we customize our machines to suit their needs.”

For most customers, the process of replenishing supplies becomes seamless, noted Pitts, with IVM machines able to provide total control of reordering, restocking and product/employee limits. For other customers, who have niche needs, the company has found that existing processes have been made more seamless with vending machines.

“Our client, HP, uses our machines to help transform its IT help desks. HP employees are able to go to an IT workstation, hook up their laptops and troubleshoot with a remote IT staffer,” said Pitts. “If the problem can’t be solved, the help desk staff member can direct the employee to a locker system and retrieve a temporary laptop while the laptop is being fixed. This eliminates several inefficiencies, including the need to ship laptops and the delay in receiving them. Similarly, Intel is using these same locker systems to help refresh employee laptops. Every 12-18 months, Intel employees update their laptops by leaving them in a locker for servicing. To get a replacement laptop while the old one is being serviced, employees simply swipe their badge. This reduces a timeline that can stretch into weeks.”

IVM’s machines can be purchased or leased, depending on the client’s preference and needs. The company ships and installs the machines, and works with customers throughout an initial trial period and for as long as they have the equipment in place to identify their specific reporting needs. IVM also offers access to all different types of data—from usage details to item summary to inventory reporting, and more. An online savings calculator helps to show prospective clients the savings potential of implementing supply vending within their company.

“There are a few benefits that would appeal to a hotelier,” he said. “One, hotel and resort employees, especially maintenance teams, would have immediate access to the supplies they need to do their jobs. Second, the machines would automate the process of replenishing supplies when they are running low, rather than ordering supplies on a whim at the start of a given month or quarter. Third, since the distribution of the items is being controlled, there is implied oversight, which saves money. On average, our clients achieve 30-50% cost savings once they deploy our machines.”

Pitts believes that vending solutions can be a part of the digitalization of the hospitality industry, and the hospitality industry will be an area of focus for the company in 2018.

“We see a great deal of untapped potential, particularly as hotel and resort facilities look for ways to realize savings while digitizing existing processes—saving time and money for guests and hoteliers alike,” he said.