ATM on top

* 31 August 2005

Any c-store owner knows that customers with cash in their pockets is one key to success. One way to make sure they have that cash is to provide customers access to an ATM.

An ATM is a simple thing. Managing it, though, has operational issues such as ensuring a free phone line for transactions. Many c-store operators do not want to pay for dedicated phone lines for an ATM, fax, payphone or other device. For several years, the answer has been to install a switch that allows multiple devices to share a single phone line.

Sharing a single line among several devices can mean that someone will not have access to a device when he or she wants it. But an unavailable ATM could translate into lost sales.

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Ricardo Jorge, director of customer retention and new market development at Don Mills, Ontario-based Line Share Devices Inc., said Line Share has developed a switch that gives the ATM priority status, enabling it to “steal” the line from other devices.

Why the ATM?

Giving priority to the ATM is important for most c-stores, Jorge said, because “the ATM represents a potential sale for the store. Our IT guy was telling us that 10 to 20 percent of the money withdrawn at a retail ATM is spent at that store, and that conversation sparked the idea for the ATM priority switch.”

Jim Dressen, a project engineer with Omaha, Neb.-based Mid-American Payphones, which deploys ATMs and payphones at c-stores in Nebraska and Iowa, said ATM traffic is by far its greatest concern.

“The ATM for us is definitely No. 1,” he said. “That’s our profit-generating service. With cell phones, the payphone is less and less profitable, but with line sharing — since we don’t have to pay for a dedicated line to the payphone — even if it only generates $15 a month, a payphone is still worth it.”

Dressen said a switching device that gives priority to an ATM can improve a c-store’s bottom line. “There are a lot of c-stores that do not take checks or credit cards,” he said. ATMs in cash-only stores are “a win-win-win situation because the c-store owner does not have to pay the credit card company’s surcharges, they get revenue from the ATM, and their customers will likely spend some more money because they have more cash in their pocket.”

Beyond customer and employee use, c-store phone lines also are used by vendors who call in to get automated reports on sales activities. However, Patrick Solti of Warren, Ohio-based payphone deployer TU LLC said vendors should have no problems with line-sharing devices. “In the vending world, sharing lines doesn’t have an effect because vendors dial in when the store is closed,” he said, “so other devices aren’t using the phone line at that time anyway.”

Jorge said with the decline of payphone usage and the infrequency of fax or other phone use at c-stores, the priority switch makes sense.

“The chance of someone using the payphone at the same time as someone using the ATM is pretty low,” he said.

“And if the cashier is using the phone behind the counter for a personal call, then it is OK for them to get cut off.”

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