(Courtesy of Jacksonville Business Journal)
Brandon Stallings, founder of SmartBox, is on a mission to modernize the vending industry.
“There is so much being left on the table in the vending business,” said Stallings. “It’s nowhere near where it could be.”
His company offers vending machines complete with cloud-based inventory tracking, touch screens and loyalty apps, as well as “GoMarkets,” convenience store-styled marketplaces that can fit in an office break room and are fully automated. Meanwhile, only 11 percent of vending machines nationwide have a simple card reader.
Stallings entered the vending industry in college, operating 10 vending machines thanks to an investment from his father, Jim Stallings, managing partner of PS27 Ventures. Surprising his father, Stallings wanted to stay in the vending industry after he graduated from Florida State University.
“If you’re going to do this gig, it takes hustle, and we need to see more of that,” Stallings remembers his father telling him. “That’s when I decided to become a student of the game.”
He founded SmartBox in 2012 with investment from PS27, and the company has seen steady growth ever since, according to Stallings. More than 80 of its vending machines and GoMarkets are in about 70 Jacksonville companies, including JEA, Web.com (Nasdaq: WEB) and Baptist Health. The company is on pace to bring in more than $1 million in revenue this year.
Thanks to SmartBox’s focus on technology, Stallings has been able to keep his staff to just six people. Technologies unique to SmartBox allow it to cut 30 percent from standard vending machine labor costs and to generate analytics on each row of every machine.
Brandon Stallings of SmartBox
SmartBox also focuses on healthy eating. The company offers a variety of organic and natural products, none of which have artificial ingredients.
“Our philosophy is natural and organic ingredients,” said Stallings, who noted that certain artificial ingredients have been linked to depression, arthritis and other symptoms. “That’s definitely a trend that is being pulled by customer demand. Customers who have grown up in this generation are very educated on product choices and healthy living.”
“We’re able to expand and grow within the footprint we have,” he said.
SmartBox is looking to branch out of Jacksonville, however. Stallings’ growth strategy focuses on Florida, with hopes of licensing GoMarkets in Orlando, Tampa and Miami.
“We’ve got our feelers out for a few licensees,” he said. “We’ve got to be careful how we grow because shipping gets expensive. We have to strategically spread.”
The licensing effort is still in its infancy, Stallings noted. Currently, the company is more focused on a rebranding effort, which includes redesigning its website and adopting a new slogan: “Snack intelligently.” Stallings is also exploring the idea of adding ecommerce options so offices without vending machines or GoMarkets can have food delivered.
For the time being, SmartBox is continuing to build on its GoMarkets. Despite adding them only last year, they have already surpassed the company’s vending machine business. GoMarkets can be scaled to different size offices, but require at least 250 employees. The markets are self-run; customers are guided by signs through selecting their food and can pay via a kiosk or mobile app, and the entire process is monitored by multiple cameras.
“Ultimately, SmartBox is an experience more than it is just a vending machine or automated retail,” Stallings said. “We want to make it very easy. Grab your stuff, pay for it and go.”
But the big picture for Stallings is moving the vending industry forward. Vending companies are moving forward in isolation – some offer vending machines top-to-bottom touch screens, others offer machines that can be operated by phone. But no one has more than a piece of the pie, according to Stallings.
“What we see is a fragmented industry,” he said. “I just hope over the long-term to contribute to making the model, when it comes to the vending business, more cohesive.”