Vending-machine operator turns crime fighter

Vending-machine operator turns crime fighter

Camelback Vending owner Jodi Glimpse has expanded her career to include crime fighting in addition to keeping thousands of snack-machine aficionados satisfied.

Her small Phoenix area business has grown from a few gumball machines to hundreds of beverage, snack and ice-cream machines across the metro area in the past decade. And she recently helped catch two thieves with the remote sensors she uses to detect when machines need service or refilling.

“I wanted to punch him in the face,” she said of seeing one of the thieves handcuffed in the back of a police car.

After seeing several of her machines broken into, she was prepared to catch the thief.

Her machines use a device by Cantaloupe Systems that sends information to her cellphone or e-mail indicating how much money the machine has collected and what merchandise has been purchased, and alerts her to any problems, such as a loss of power or thieves tampering with the machine.

“They’ve made it a game of cat and mouse with vandalism,” she said, recounting how a thief at Central High School was caught the day after Thanksgiving.

She got an alert on her phone in the early morning, and even though she was away on vacation, she had the police department’s number on hand and was able to direct the dispatchers to get a squad car to the school in time to catch the thief.

“He was a trained locksmith and an absolute nightmare for me,” she said.

Two weeks later, she got a similar late-night alert, and directed officers to Mountain View High School in Mesa in time to watch a thief breaking into a machine.

Glimpse showed the officers at the scene the amount of money the machine’s sensor said it had collected.

“He had a backpack, and the amount matched exactly,” she said. “He hit the wrong vendor is what happened.”

Thieves drilling through locks or using welding torches to break into machines are only one of the elements that make the vending business notoriously difficult.

Vendors might spend three to five years restocking a machine and collecting the cash before they recover the investment they spent on the machine itself and begin to earn a profit.

A simple jammed coin can prevent them from making money for days at a time, depending how frequently they service machines.

It is mostly a cash business, “so you need people around you that you trust,” Glimpse said.

Driving across town to restock machines not only is a significant cost when gasoline prices are high, but can often result in wasted trips if machines don’t actually need to be stocked.

“It can be frustrating,” Glimpse said. “A typical vendor may only go to machines once a week. If something happened to the machine the day after they left, you may go back expecting to collect X amount of dollars, and there’s nothing.”

She continued, “If you don’t know they are having Saturday testing at a school this week, I might not change the schedule and the kids clean out the machines on the first day and you lose three days of sales.”

The remote sensors have eliminated many of those problems for Camelback Vending, she said, making them worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars she has invested to put them on all her machines.

“It makes us more efficient,” she said. “We are not going out there to do little stuff or losing business.”

Camelback Vending has been able to use three fewer service trucks for its routes because the company is making fewer unneeded service calls with the new system.

Glimpse, a Southern California native, got her start in vending after a dozen years “hucking knives” with her husband, Mike, as employees of Cutco Cutlery Corp. and Vector Marketing.

Cutco knives are made in New York state and sold directly to consumers nationwide through representatives of Vector, and the couple ran sales offices for the company in Tucson and then Scottsdale.

They met at a management training event for the knife company while Jodi was earning her international-studies degree from Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

After having two daughters, Glimpse decided she wanted to shift careers and bought several gumball-style vending machines.

“I was out there huffing away,” she said. “I loved it.”

When she had her son in 2004, she bought an existing vending company that had ice-cream machines in several Home Depot stores.

Just as the deal closed, the previous operator landed a contract to place machines in Gilbert schools, and they continued to grow the business.

She and her husband both quit their jobs to run the vending company, although Mike did not enjoy it as much as Jodi and no longer is involved in the daily operations.

“We had been in direct sales for 12 years,” she said. “We knew the only way to grow the business is through sales, and we couldn’t do it out on the route. So we brought someone with us that we knew to run the route so we could run the growth.”

She now has 10 employees restocking and repairing machines.

“We learned we really liked schools,” she said. “A lot of vendors were running away from schools because of the impending nutrition requirements. But kids are going to buy stuff whether it is baked Cheetos or regular Cheetos.”

She had to work to rebuild revenue for schools in 2005 when they began to restrict vending to sports drinks and somewhat healthy snacks instead of soda and candy.

“Our biggest revenue generator was Coke products, and they took that away,” said Zachary Muoz, who was principal at North High School in Phoenix area when the change was initiated, and now serves as principal of Betty H. Fairfax High School in southwest Phoenix area.

“We were in panic mode,” he said. “Coca-Cola pulled out of the school. Jodi bought the whole package and provided the beverages and snacks. She really made an effort to find what kids like and what meets the nutritional guidelines.”

Within a few years, the school revenue from vending was restored thanks mostly to sports drinks and other sales.

“Her diligence going out and finding things that would support the business was a big factor,” Muoz said.

Glimpse said she could probably find someone to run the business for her so she didn’t have to work as much, but she enjoys being involved.

“I love it,” she said. “It is one of those things where, sometimes I think of being a stay-at-home mom. But I enjoy it. It’s cool.”