NASHVILLE, Tenn. — "Try another selection" is a tune guests at the Opryland Hotel here haven't heard since Coke machines with modems were installed.
A high-tech hookup, basically an antenna that resembles a Mickey Mouse ear, beams a message to the supplier whenever the machine runs low, gets filled with money or jams. It is also rigged to send out distress should thieves break in.
The machines, called Vendview, were installed by Skywire L.P., a Memphis-based company that outfits machines for $350 each.
Opryland officials are happy and so are Coke suppliers. Hotel guests are ensured of their choice of soft drinks, and profits are rising for the suppliers.
"Since Coke began using Vendview to monitor machines here at Opryland, the service level has improved 100%," said Steve Hightower, director of purchasing for the Opryland Hospitality and Attraction Group. "Sold-outs just don't happen anymore."
Three million vending machines nationwide ring up $29 billion a year in sales. About 1.8 million of those are soft drink machines, and Coca-Cola's name is on the front of nearly 1 million of them.
Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, the company's second-largest distributor, has wrapped up a nine-month trial run of the monitoring devices. The Charlotte, N.C.-based company is installing them on all 2,000 of its vending machines in the Nashville market.
"Instead of having to check each machine on a predetermined basis, whether it needs service or not, we now know which machine needs product and which product it needs. It should help us virtually eliminate what we call out-of-stocks," said Lauren Steele, a spokesman for Coca-Cola Consolidated.
Tests showed the bottler loses about 10% of sales by running out of stock in its vending machines.
"We've had so many instances where the customer is really sort of shocked to see the Coca-Cola person pull up within hours of that machine going out of order. They're so used to putting a yellow sticky note on the machine," said Bryan M. Eagle III, Skywire chief executive.
The company, a partnership with Pittway Corp. of Chicago, is negotiating with other bottlers around the country.