When Planet Vending Editor Ian Reynolds-Young interviewed John Chidiac, President of 365 International, almost exactly a year ago, ‘coronavirus’ was something that was causing concern in China. Nobody had heard of ‘COVID-19’. It didn’t exist.
It was a month later, on February 11, that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, announced the official name of the virus. ‘COVID-19’ gave a specific identifier to a disease that had, at that point, been confirmed in more than 42,000 people in China and caused more than 1,000 deaths. There had been fewer than 400 cases in 24 other countries, with one death.
‘How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.’ So the old quip goes, but in the corporate world right now, ‘planning’ is consuming business leaders’ every waking hour and the smart ones among them appreciate that planning for the medium to long-term future requires – and deserves – as much diligent attention in the current emergency as planning for tomorrow, or next week.
We all know that work will never be the same, even if we don’t yet know all the ways in which it will be different. So when we re-connected with John Chidiac, there was plenty to talk about.
Q: When we last spoke John, your focus was on completing 365’s expansion in Europe. You spoke about expanding into Scandinavia and after that, Eastern Europe. Does that remain a goal for 365?
A: It does, but the landscape of work has changed and there’s no guarantee that things will go back to the way they were. We’re hearing a lot about hybrid working, in which certain days are designated for in-office meetings and collaboration, supplemented by remote days for work involving individual focus. Physical presence might be required for orientations, team-building and project kick-offs, but not necessarily for other work. Another potential outcome is REMOTE+. This combines three weeks of working from anywhere, with one week of office-based work. The company covers accommodation costs for the office week, and encourages employees to return home the rest of the time. This means that although a business may employ 500 people in an office environment, only a fraction of that number will be in the office at any given time.
Q: As the number of boots on the ground reduces, will the number of opportunities for micro markets reduce, limiting the expansion of the business, particularly in the US? You mentioned last year that 40% of US organisations that are suitable for micromarkets – those with 200 + people on site – already have one. At some point in the next 6-7 years, the industry as a whole will have the entire market covered. Does COVID mean that the number of optimum sites will reduce, hastening the saturation of the market?
A: We were already expanding our focus to include locations with fewer people with our introduction of both PicoVend and PicoMarket. A year ago, we were finalizing the details ahead of the launch into Europe in Q3. It was a hugely anticipated product then. We shared some details on Social Media and because of that, we got e-mails daily from all over the world asking about it. It seemed as though everybody wanted it. With hindsight, it seems ideally suited to the future workplace.
Q:Hygiene and safety from the disease is the first thing people think about when considering a return to the office. Have you changed, or added to, the health and safety element of your offer in response to the public’s fears?
A: 365 Pay was, once more, part of our portfolio pre-COVID. As I said last year, 365 Pay not only puts information into the pocket of the end user, it’s also a ‘line buster’. Previously, clients have been obliged to buy two or three kiosks, at $6-7k each, to avoid long queues at busy periods. Now, they just buy one kiosk, install a 365Beacon and ask people to download the app onto their phones. They just scan products with the app and pay that way – no more queuing. Back when we launched 365 Pay, we were thinking about convenience. Now we have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that effective social distancing is achievable in the office. 365 Pay was not developed as a response to COVID, but it might as well have been.
‘…it’s been a case of ‘right place, right time’.
‘We also added Order Ahead to the 365Pay app for our US operators, again not in response to COVID but thankfully, it’s been a case of ‘right place, right time’, allowing our dining customers to reopen sooner than later.’
Q: I opened my previous article like this: ‘Choose your cliché: ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, or maybe, ‘there are no problems, just opportunities’. Either one provides an accurate, if hackneyed indication of 365’s direction of travel in the 2020s. So, are there further products in the pipeline designed specifically for life after COVID?
A: ‘Well, in addition to Order Ahead that was added to 365Pay we also worked with BUNN to provide a touchless coffee experience in 365Pay as well. We also completed a touchless vending project that does the same thing, projecting the menu/keypad into 365Pay for an entirely touchless experience. We’ve also updated the payment buttons on our kiosks to highlight the touchless options (like scanning 365Pay) for payment. Coming later in 2021 our order ahead capabilities will also add lockers as a new pickup destination further enhancing where Order Ahead from 365 can be used.’
Q: And finally, having experienced the past twelve months, does it really ring true that ‘there are no problems, just opportunities’?
A: ‘Necessity truly is the mother of invention and we are fortunate to have had relevant products both in market and close to deployment, (PicoCooler, Order Ahead, etc.), which really gave our customers the tools they needed to thrive in these challenging times. We certainly would not welcome any future pandemics, but suffice to say this is a resilient industry that we think will benefit in the long-term from the innovation that we collectively fostered over the past year.’