Finding a connection

* 31 August 2005

Most c-store operators are concerned with one thing — making money. But balancing profitability with customer convenience can be tricky.

After all, the last thing operators can afford to sacrifice is customer satisfaction. It’s all about weighing the practicality and relevance of everything before it’s placed in the store, and the ATM is no exception.

The ATM question

Dan Doyle, who owns and operates Danny’s Groceries in Baltimore, Md., said he never considered placing an ATM in his store. For Doyle, whose medium-sized c-store generates between five and six figures annually, the thought of buying an ATM, hooking it up and keeping it full of cash wasn’t practical. “I never really thought about an ATM,” he said. “I just didn’t know anything about them … and connectivity was a big issue.”

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Stephen Duffie, business manager of Florida-based ATM placement company Fidelity ATM, said connectivity is a common concern. “Many c-store operators worry about how they’re going to hook their ATMs up,” he said.

“Because most of them want to make money on the machines, they don’t want to invest a lot in getting them up and running. In our situation, we take care of the (ATM) placement and connectivity and we don’t want them to have to pay for an additional phone line,” which could set an operator back $150 to $200 for installation and an additional monthly expense of $50 to $60.

Duffie’s solution: Have the ATM share a line.

“In 90 percent of our cases, our ATMs are sharing a line with the fax machine,” Duffie said. “Obviously, the best way to go is to have a dedicated line for the ATM, but for a small to mid-sized c-store, it’s not necessary.”

The non-competing ATM

The fax line, Duffie said, is an obvious sharing option. “There are some misconceptions about sharing a line. But most of the time, the ATM and fax never compete — you just push the ring-count (on the ATM) to seven or eight rings so the fax can pick up on the first three or four. And since the ATM always calls an 800 number, you don’t have any long-distance charges.”

Kevin Soul, the business development and marketing manager for Burnaby, British Columbia-based Inetco Systems, a connectivity solutions company, agreed. “The dial is usually by far the cheapest (way to connect) at the single level. You can have the ATM share the line with a fax or POS, and that’s the best option for a small c-store.”

“Let me put it this way,” he added. “Even for a bank to consider a dedicated line, they have to have about 500 transactions a day. In a good c-store location, you’re only going to have about 100.”

For the ATM in Doyle’s store, which pulls approximately 400 transactions a month, a dedicated line wouldn’t make sense. For Dawson Street Mini-Mart, a 1,600-square-foot c-store in Grand Rapids, Mich., the situation is similar. Owner Michael Dawson said he would never consider paying for another phone line in his operation, which brings in revenue of about $750,000 a year.

Hosting the ATM, “I bring in a couple hundred extra (dollars) a month on 25 cents per transaction,” Dawson said. “But I don’t think it’d be worth it if I had to pay a lot for it.”

With two lines, Dawson operates four services. Two lines — one for the fax/ATM and one for credit card processing and the phone — are all his operation needs.

“I also have my computer hooked up to the regular (business) phone line so that I can occasionally jump on the Internet.”

“Bottom line, the ATM has only been a benefit for me,” he said. “I didn’t want anything to come out of pocket, and I guess that’s why I never really thought about putting a machine in before now.”

Soul said setups like Dawson’s are the norm in c-stores. “Most c-store placements are dial machines, because they make the most sense for a c-store, where line sharing is not an issue.”

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