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N2Go – Progress Report for Entering Week 3

This will be a summary of my progress entering week 3 following training:

Rise of THE Machines!

I just started to panic, because, yesterday, I learned that my machines arrived at the warehouse on Friday, but I thought I had arranged for them to arrive around April 20th or so, since that was just a bit more than the reported manufacturing lead time!

I just lost 18 days of prep work! Not cool! =(
But, yea, for their efficiency! =O

Training Machine

I was planning on having a machine sent to our house so that we can work with it, but, sadly, it will not fit through our door. Now, I will have them ship one to our yoga studio whose door may be just large enough to fit in. I may have to see if I can have them deliver a machine sooner than later, so I can start to get things figured out, especially the product sizes -> tray issue (see below).

Tanya has not attended training yet, so this will also give her a chance to play with it. Hopefully, she can attend in May, before the summer hits.

The Dark Side of Planogram Planning

‘What is a planogram?’ you ask. A planogam is just the list of products you will use for each selection on a vending machine.

Starting out, planograms are a crap load of work, because, well I do not know anything yet. LOL! =O

Sample Planogram

Sample Planogram

Product Sizes for a Tray

When searching for products online they do not generally list the physical dimensions of the product which we need to know in order to know if the product will fit in a specific tray due to length, height, and depths limitation for each coil. So, as a way around that, I am trying to find out the correlation between an individual product’s weight (in ounces) and tray placement, even though each product will be different. I have asked on the N2Go Facebook Support Group for people to help me figure that out using a spreadsheet for my specific product list, but no one was willing to assist. =( Perhaps, they were busy filling their machines… again! =)  At this point I am just guessing and will be able to figure it out once we have a machine to work with.

Also, I am going to cut out a template in cardboard which has the 3 sizes for all 3 trays in one template so I can take it with me when I work on selecting with products on the go. This should take the speed up and take the guesswork out of the process when shopping IRL.

Lack of NEAT Support

What is NEAT (Air Vend)? It is the back-end management website which allows us to monitor and manage our vending machines.

NEAT contains a large database of products that have already been entered by previous operators over the years, so most everything we will want to add will already be in there. Unfortunately, because all of the products were all entered by hand, this has lead to an extreme lack of product entry standardization which is suuuuper annoying.

Some have ounces mentioned in the title which is really useful and some do not. Some have images of the individual product vertical, horizontal, or of the container case or multipack. Some do not have images at all and so on.

Data normalization is really needed. They really need to do some significant QA in there. Not doing so makes life more difficult, especially for us newbies.

I will put together some mock-ups for NEAT and send it to them so that the backend can be a lot more useful to everyone.

I think I will fill out my spreadsheet for product weight -> tray and share it to help save the people in my class some confusion when getting started. It will save a lot of work and guessing, which is what is really slowing me down right now. Grrrrrr!!!

Base Planogram

Currently, I am in the process of finishing my first base planogram so my mentor can comment/approve it and then start the machine placement process.

Tanya and I worked on choosing products for our base planogram using a rather shotgun approach where there is a little bit of everything in it so we can quickly find out what the location likes in short time. We started with the sample planograms that N2Go sent us as a reference. I am hoping to finish it this week for my call with my mentor on Monday.

We also need to get the product voting list for this done too. The voting list is a small list of like 20 other products (about 5 per tray) that clients can choose from to customize the products in their machine. We use this smaller list to get them thinking instead of inciting analysis paralysis by dropping a ginormous catalog of products on them.

Fit Pick Planogram

Once the first base planogram is done, I will also need to start a second planogram for schools using the Fit Pick list so they can have a machine with much healthier options, which I think is required by law.

Product Sources

Finding prices as low as my mentor says they should be has not been easy. I have a spreadsheet put together to try to track it, Perhaps he may have some sources that I have not found yet.

Aldis: ​I need to go to Aldis and check their products and pricing. They should have some of the lowest prices and healthiest products around. Great for client to have healthier options and better for my profit margin.

Locations

I am planning on hitting 3 locations to start:

  • high school
  • university and dorm
  • Seneca (manufacturing)

High School: I have heard that their food service manages their own vending machines, so I do not think I will get in there, but I can get my name in there and let them know I exist. Perhaps, even make a contact there too.

Local University and it’s Dorm:  I am looking forward to this, but I still need to do my research.

For both of the above, however, will be pretty much down to nothing once summer hits, so that is an issue – 3 months with next to no income, but it may be a may make sense for the long term, since schools tend to be highly profitable. =)

Seneca Manufacturing: We have a friend who works there and it sounds like they could use some well serviced and healthier vending machines.

After I check these, we shall see what the N2Go placement service shall find.

Other Stuff

Order Products:  I need to start ordering a bunch products to put in the machines and to use for gift baskets for my sales calls. I have gone to Walmart and did some price checking and bought some basket products and so I can have the UPC for the products I will be using, but that was no where near enough. Enough for some gift baskets only.

Warehouse Supplies:  We took the first batch of supplies to our warehouse yesterday. All we have left to take over are the metal racks and to assemble them so we can start to get our warehouse process started.

Logo: ​We are also almost close on finishing a logo.​

Tax Exemption: I have the WI tax exemption form filled out and have status with Amazon, Walmart, and Aldis. I have found a local wholesaler, but I do not think that their prices will be low enough.

WAMS: I am also on our state’s vendor/bidding list even though I do not think that will work for much. Our business did not really have a related code in it. We shall see if anything ever comes of it.

Post Naturals 2 Go Training Review

NOTE: This is not a paid review. No one paid me in any way for this review. I have, however, paid a crap load to start a new business with Natural 2 Go’s machines and their business model. I do not receive commission or anything like that, nor do I have a vested interest in anyone else’s success. This just my opinion because I want to post it for posterity.

If you have not read my previous article on how we got to this point then you may want to peruse it here: A New Beginning A New Franchise (N2Go).

Introduction

Naturals 2 Go Logo

Naturals 2 Go Logo

So, it is Monday – 2 days after returning from training in Richmond. Tanya was not able to make it due to our babysitting arrangements falling through, but I was still able to go. =( Hopefully, she will be able to go in April or May. We will see how it goes.

With this post I want to give a post-op following the 2.5 days of training to give my view of N2Go and the training experience for others who are considering N2Go (or anyone else who is silly enough to want know what is happening in my life). =)

Where did it leave me? Am I regretting it and wanting to run away screaming? Have I already made a million dollars? Do butterflies still drink turtle tears?

Well, let’s find out:

Expectations

My expectations for the training were many. I already run a few small businesses – yoga studio (10 yrs), my wife’s art (2+ years), and a super-small web hosting company (1+ years), but starting a business like this involves many things that are very different from anything that I currently do:

  • buying products
  • selling products
  • storing products
  • pricing products for sale
  • locating places to place machines
  • meetings to arrange machine placement
  • stocking machines
  • maintaining the machines
  • managing client relations
  • ways to grow the business
  • tax free vendor
  • and so much more.

I was definitely going to need to learn how to do all of those things and more to have a clue what I am doing and to have a chance at being successful.

Flight

My flight left a bit after lunch time, so I arrived at the airport in the late morning and had to wait around for a few hours until my flight left because Tanya needed the car and needed to be in the area for other important things like picking up the child from school and so on. The flight there was uneventful. I listened to music on my phone pretty much the whole time, although for one little stint I did some reading on my tablet (The Expanse: Caliban’s War).

Flight and Arrival

Just like their email said, once I got there, a hotel shuttle could pick me up and that is what happened. So, what came next was the first test: Was this all real? Did my money just vanish to fly-by-night organization? Was I naive and bilked of a small fortune left to drown in my own sorrow-drenched tears?

Arrival

After arriving at the hotel, my reservation and confirmation that I was apart of the VTI (Vend Tech International) group was confirmed. They even gave me a gift bag with various snacks in it that may be put in our machines, as well as the training schedule.This boded well. =)

I went up to my room. It was a hotel room. Nothing special… just a clean hotel room. I just needed a place to shower and sleep and that is it, and this would do nicely while I was trying to fill my brain with vending machine knowledge.

After I settled in, I went to see what other amenities there were. They had a restaurant/bar, a small pool, and a small workout area too. The pool floor was dirty and the water was a bit too cold for me (I do not like cold water) so I decided against that. I did, however, go ahead and did some cardio and a little bit of the free weights to get my stay started right.

Training

This part will be shorter than I would like, because I did not have a laptop and was not keen on taking notes on a tablet, but I will give you the important information to help you evaluate it.

Location

Naturals 2 Go machines @ training in Richmond, Va in Mar 2018

Naturals 2 Go machines @ training in Richmond, Va in Mar 2018

The training, conveniently, was being held on the first floor of the hotel we were staying which was great!

The first morning I went down and right there, vending m

achines were already stationed and opened for us to take a look at. This was another moment to validate that this was real and was a good investment. I took pictures and sent them to my wife to let her know they existed. I breathed a bit easier after that!

We also had assigned seats with our training materials already laid out for us too. I was put at the front of the class, of course, because I can be quite the troublemaker! =O =)

Trainers are Owners/Operators Too

N2Go Training Room - Mar 2018

N2Go Training Room – Mar 2018

For me, I think this is important. All of the trainers had their own vending machines and vending businesses too, so these were not just people that were towing the corporate line to pull in some Benjamins. They were speaking from their experience and also the valuable lessons from those who have made mistakes before them. They were not just dropping theoretical ideas on us. They were telling us what really works and were able to give us examples and anecdotes from their own experience.

There were 4 trainers:

Kevin Wright The Godfather – the lead trainer
Shaun Thomas The Shipper – the machine shipping dude
Gary Hawke The Fixer – the vending machine technician or orderer
Rob Pastor The Smooth Operator – a successful operator

The CEO is also an Owner/Operator

Now, this part is also kinda crazy. He owns and operates machines too. Now, if the CEO is doing it, then he really believes it. I was actually quite amazed with this.

I even had a chance to talk with him a little bit on the phone one morning when I arrived super early because woke up at like 3:30am and could not get back to sleep. This gave me ample time to do a quick workout and then go on up for breakfast.

Quality of Training

Naturals 2 Go Training Example (Mar 2018)

Naturals 2 Go Training Example (Mar 2018)

The training seemed to cover everything that I would expect and they gave great practical advice. We were able to get into the machines and see how they work and how to fill the machine, which will take some practice, especially the drinks. Pretty much all of my expectations were met.

They covered all of the needed topics, although, there is only so much you can learn in the classroom. With something like this, there is no greater teacher than actually going out and doing it. I think, at least with where I am at and with my experience, that it worked for me. I feel as prepared as I can be and I just need to go out there and do it. The training did, however, help to impart how much work there really was to this and there is a lot to running a business like this. The work was truly just beginning!! =O

Operator Support

Honestly, this may be the most important part of what you may want to evaluate – the support they give to their operators in running their business. It is significant and important not only to us as operators, but also to the company itself, because how well we do will affect how they make money – but not in a pyramid scheme sort of way.

With their franchise model they only make money off the sales of the machines, so it is in their best interest to help their operators to be as successful as they can so they can grow and buy more machines. They have a respectable business model that focuses on trying to have everybody win. If you succeed then they succeed too.

Here is a list of the things they do to support their operators and all of these are included in the purchase of your machines with no extra cost (unless otherwise noted):

  • Pre-Business Support
    • Locating service: There are 3 choices here to help you find places for your machines:
      • self location (gives a discount)
      • placement assistance (a core part of base package) -data is pulled from surveys, etc; cold calls are made for you and a meeting for placement is arranged; all you have to do is close the deal
      • placement agent (extra charge – a person comes down and arranges the machine placement for you; you may also ride along to observe and learn the process from an expert)
    • Shipping Service:
      • Self Placement:They can ship them to you and you can install the machines
      • White Glove: You can (for an extra charge) have the machines shipped to the location and installed for you. Although you still have to setup the machines yourself. They can’t run your business for you. =)
    • Training: Training, of course, is a big one.
  • Business Operation Support
    • Business Materials: business cards, flyers, business forms
    • Business Website: Domain and email setup. An easy to setup website with content already added. All you have to do is select a template, enter your business information and you are really to go. You will want to change the about page, though. (1st year is free; $15/month after)
    • Coaching and Mentoring: Following the training you are assigned a coach to help you and guide you along the process so you can be successful. This is great.
    • Facebook support Group: This will be great to get feedback and advice from other operators. There is no substitute for experience.
    • Insurance:1 year of fire and theft Insurance on machines.
    • Operator Site: They have a site which posts articles and training videos too that we can use to learn
    • Support Numbers: We are given the support numbers for the machine manufacturers, software support, and the various N2Go people we may need to ask questions of.

Conclusion

Prior to the training I felt I was a bit more prepared than most that were there, because I had 10 years of business experience already, and I am a web and technology person. But, even with that there was still a lot to learn, and still much more to learn. However, the training made me feel much more prepared and helped to to adjust and set my expectations appropriately.

Is it a get rich quick scheme? Definitely not.

Will money rain from the sky? Not unless you are super lucky and hard-working, and the vending machine gods smile upon you.

As Advertised on the Box?

So far, Naturals 2 go has been as it is advertised on the box (videos, website, and sales reps).

They all want you to succeed and they give all they can to help you along that path.

Postlude

Return Flight

The return flights were slightly eventful. My first flight arrived late due to a technical issue that needed to be fixed – an overhead bin was not closing. So that was late enough for me to be concerned about reaching my connecting flight. Fortunately, I got there in time to board properly.

Significant Credit Score Drop

Now, with the way we are paying for everything – new credit cards with a 12 months+ interest free period, this has affected my credit rating considerably. My credit rating has dropped over 150 pts over the last month – from 797 to 636. This is considerable and I will be curious to see how this will change as I pay them off over the next 2 or so years. Hopefully, we will not need to apply for any credit over the next year or three. =o

What we Accomplished on Sunday (Yesterday)

Here is the list of things we accomplished on Sunday:

  • went shopping for some warehouse supplies
  • rented a climate controlled storage unit (10×15) out of which to work from
  • bought a used corporate class printer from a friend and ​also ​purchased toner  for it
  • got GMail to be able to send and receive email from my business email address (this was a feat to accomplish)
  • emailed all of the members of my training class with the N2Go Facebook operators group and a link to my previous N2Go blog post

Our Next Steps

Next we need to:

  • check out potential suppliers and start figuring which products we want to start with and where to get them.
  • plan out which products will go in which slots
  • figure out how much to sell them for too
  • prepare for our coach call next Monday
  • setup our warehouse
  • prepare for the work in placing our machines

Wish us luck!

Category: Business  Tags:  2 Comments

A New Beginning – A New Franchise (N2Go)

Here is a fairly large, but important update detailing a new era for our family. Don’t worry. It ends up being good news!

No Longer Fully Employed – The Short Version

Reduced Hours

Pit of Despair

Pit of Despair

In October of 2016 I found out that my hours at work were going to be cut in half starting in Jan 2017 due to budgetary constraints. Crappy news, if I ever heard some.

We were just at a point where I had put together a new budget and had just saved up money for us to throw into a dividend fund, so we could start preparing more for a more stable future. If you can imagine, that money never made it there. =(

Searching Web Work

For all of 2017 I had been looking for work off and on and have not found a new full or part-time job. My skill set is at middle ground which is hard to get out of. I am highly specialized with front end web development knowledge (HTML5/CSS) with little experience in working with it. I have over 7 years of experience as a Drupal CMS admin, but most companies are looking for developers who can create modules and themes from scratch. I have taken classes in this, but have no real experience doing it. =( Me sad panda.

Searching for Writing Work

I also want to transition to work in writing – specifically writing fantasy and science fiction novels. I have purchased courses in copywriting as a stepping stone and have purchased books on writing to learn both copywriting and novel writing. I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), written some flash fiction, and have been planning a fantasy novel series off and on. I have applied for some work in copywriting and technical writing, but experience is needed for that too.

Getting By!

Fortunately, we were/are doing well enough financially and had money saved up so that if we were careful we have been able to get the bills paid and still do stuff. Not enough money to invest, but enough to live OK on, so no reason to cry for us. =)

A New Opportunity

The Entrepreneur Source

In October of last year (2017) I receive a call from an associate of a fellow named Jeff Marmer from The Entrepreneur Source who asked if I had considered getting into a franchise. Ummm… well, no… they are super expensive, but I thought “Well, let’s see what they have to say. I have been searching for work for almost a year. Checking this out cannot hurt.”.

I went through over a month of weekly talks, a personality profile test, income checks, and various other things. The leadership personality profile was crazily accurate. =O I eventually received a list of three potential franchises that may fit my personality and potential to afford. Of that list he gave me to start with I was really attracted to the one that he had mentioned earlier in our talks – Naturals 2 Go (N2Go) – a healthy vending machine franchise.

Naturals 2 Go Franchise

Naturals 2 Go Machine

Naturals 2 Go Machine

“What attracted me to Naturals 2 Go?” you ask. Well, we own and run a yoga studio and we try to eat as healthy as we can – organic everything, home cooked meals and so on. I I have studied diet and nutrition off and on, and have even done Caloric Restriction (CR) for almost 2 years. I harp on correcting your diet as a method solving many health issues.

So, for me, the healthier vending machines can be a company’s stepping stone towards healthier employees and my part time crusade in attempting to bring about a healthier world.

Their vending machines are AMAZING! They are connected to the cloud so I have a website to login to so I can get stats, trends, etc, as well as know exactly how much money and exactly what I have to bring in order to fill the machine up. The machines have a touch screen on them so you can see the nutritional info, request a refund, report problems, and even request new products. They accept credit and debit cards, NFC, Google Wallet, Apple Pay, and even still accept cash!! They take everything!!! N2Go has their own refillable card to use in their machines too. =O

Also, and quite importantly, the N2Go franchise does not have massive franchise fees or even yearly fees. You buy your machines and then you are done. That is where they make their money. Their business is setup to support you after you buy the machines to help you grow and expand, which is in their best interest, since that is where they make their money – when you buy their amazing machines.

Due Diligence

After awhile of researching them, watching their sales videos, talking with their Startup Consultant – Michael Hume, putting together a spreadsheet to look at the business feasibility and startup costs, talking to some or their operators including a man who has over 40 machines, researching the company, and so on I saw the potential and then saw myself ready to bring this opportunity up with the wife. I had Tanya watch the videos on this and showed her my spreadsheets and, to my surprise, she was excited by the opportunity. =O =)

Business Startup for N2Go

With the wife agreeing (and excited) I started the process to move forward. I contacted Michael who also has experience working with The Entrepreneur Source and began the process of becoming an Naturals 2 Go Operator! =O Jeff sent me over to some financing people and I started a more in depth conversation with Michael about moving forward with signing up.

Business Setup

With these early steps below, our new business was officially born:

  • setting up the LLC – FX Vending LLC
  • business checking account
  • domain name – FXVending.Store
  • Facebook Page – FX Vending
  • virtual PBX through Phone.com – phone system – (608) 313-7320

Financing

Financing the business was the more hair-raising aspect of this process so far. With our income as limited as it was we did not have the cash to drop $10,000 to get an SBA loan, so we had to effectively sign-up for a bunch of credit cards with great introductory offers in order to pay for the business startup and purchase the franchise. Obviously, I am not wild about using credit cards, even with interest free for a year or more for most, but this is the way in.

I am hoping that I will be able to sign-up for an SBA or other loan before the end of the intro periods so that I can transition off the credit cards and into something more stable and cheaper for financing. That is the plan at least. Another aspect of this process to which I had not considered was the hit to our credit rating due to applying for so many new credit cards. This is really not a big deal for us, since I had a 797 and Tanya had an 830, but still it is something to keep in mind.

Naturals 2 Go

Working with Michael has been great. He has answered my many questions and has sent me interesting videos about the business. He also provided me with a list of operators to contact so I can ask them questions.

Also, after running the numbers, I decided to go with 10 machines. Why 10 machines? Well, the time to pay back everything for 5 machines (the minimum) or 10 machines is exactly the same (2-5 years). So, after 2-5 years, how many machines and how much income potential do I want? I will go with the 10 machines for the same payback period.

Where are we now?

A New Dawn

A New Dawn

Fortunately, during the financing process we raised the money we needed for startup and a little more. As a matter of fact, as of this writing, we are still finishing that process. Next week we will start the process of paying N2Go for 10 machines and their services.

The week after that (Mar 14-17, 2018) we will BOTH be in Richmond, VA for training. While we are in Virginia I am hoping to get a tour of an aircraft carrier in Norfolk where I was stationed on the USS Enterprise during Iraq, although it has been recently decommissioned, so another carrier will have to do.

Following training, the real fun begins, we will start the process of placing our machines and filling them up. Fortunately, N2Go provides a placement service. I don’t think any of the operators I talked to used the service, so we shall see how wonderful the service is. I plan on concentrating on factories and manufacturing plants or any place that is open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day to maximize the return. I will try to concentrate on placing them in Baraboo and Lake Delton and the Dells. I may place some in Sauk and Madison too. We shall see how things go.

We will also have to probably go to Madison – Costco or Sam’s Club – for stock. We shall see. I am also going to look online at places such as Vitacost and Thrive Market to see if I can get stock online so I can travel less. We shall see.

If you know of a place that would be great for an amazing healthier vending machine that is indoors and has over 50 people with access to the machines per day, then let me know and we will see if I can get you on my list.

At some point, sooner than later, I will get my website up and running. They have been wonderful enough to send me the theme files so I can try to convert their website theme into Drupal theme so I can do more with my business site.

The fun is just beginning to start. Wish us luck!!