Robots on the factory floor have long been used to reduce labor costs and increase consistency in output of repetitive tasks. The number of industries that now include some level of automation has increased through the decades, along with the pace of technological change and innovation. But most of the attention has been on cutting costs through efficiencies. How about the other part of the equation?
Consider the case of the butcher who embraced automation.
Last weekend, I was driving down a country road about two hours north of Manhattan and saw a sign on the side of a building that I didn’t believe when I first read it: “Always Open.” Usually, on a retail storefront, this has come to mean customers can go online and buy what they need, then wait for delivery. I had to do a double-take before I realized the sign meant something different from what I’d assumed.
When I walked into the shed of Applestone Meat Company to find out more, I was confronted with a wall of vending machines. Instead of candy and chips, the well-lit containers held tower upon tower of fresh meat. Each one was labeled: beef, pork, lamb, hot dogs. You select the cut, insert your credit card (or Apple pay), open the door of the container, remove your product and drive off. Spinning the dials to line up the window with the package I wanted to buy reminded me of selecting songs from a massive juke box.
Applestone has found a way to reach new customers through automation. Its two locations, in Accord and Stone Ridge, NY, are in areas with many weekend homes and along routes to vacation homes. A person restocking a machine told me they sell lots of meat on Friday and Sunday nights, long after a small operation like theirs can afford to staff a traditional retail store. The quality of the meat is very good and the prices are lower than comparable butchers in New York City. People are buying meat for the weekend (as expected) but also to bring back to their homes in the city.
Without the automated sales machines, Applestone would not have access to those customers who live 100 miles away in the Big Apple. Furthermore, the vending machine approach allows the company to focus on what butchers do best: sourcing and cutting the highest quality meat.
Just because sales are automated does not mean the experience is impersonal. Applestone has clearly thought through its communications strategy and has a rich social media presence, plus a customer service desk staffed during the weekdays. They have a hybrid e-commerce strategy where users select meat online and pick it up at the retail store.
So take an end-to-end look at your organization. What processes can you automate to grow revenue from new sources? What customers are you not reaching now? How could you reach them though automation?