A year ago, Peter Fox launched his Speedy Shop and his website at www.villagevending.co.uk. The story was picked up very quickly by all the national press – BBC, Sky News, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph as well as our own Ashbourne News Telegraph. My first reaction was of surprise and then, if I’m honest, a little smile to myself at the eccentricity of it all. The more I thought about it though, the more I became convinced of the brilliance of the idea. My conviction was complete when a colleague at work began a sentence with “have you heard there is a village somewhere…”
At the heart of the campaign is a terrific story of British design, engineering and persistence. After a couple of years of developing the idea and the technology Peter finally has a Speedy Shop at the Cock Inn car park in Clifton.
What the product entails is a very large vending machine able to handle around 60 products and payments by credit card or cash. The complexity of this only becomes apparent when you see it in action. The vending machines we are used to are usually passive devices which are great for vending a small range of similar items. We are all familiar with the drawbacks of even that proposition. Who hasn’t tried unsuccessfully to dislodge a bag of crisps which has failed to fall al the way to the tray at the bottom? Who hasn’t put the money in only to find that the can of Pepsi they really want is out of stock? Finally there is the Russian Roulette of a can of Pepsi freshly shaken after the three-foot drop into the delivery tray.
What Peter has managed to engineer is an easy-to-use vending machine which overcomes the challenge of storing chilled products and can deliver eggs, cans and loaves of bread to the customer safely. He has also had to overcome the issues of security and the problem that convenience shopping is only convenient if it has what you need. He’s developed the only machine I’ve seen where you could buy all the ingredients to make a good cooked breakfast; complete with cereal, toast and marmalade, juice and a cup of tea and coffee while also being able to feed your pet, cook your other meals and wash up afterwards.
His proposition was to deliver all the services which a corner shop used to provide in communities where a corner shop is no longer viable. All this with the added benefit of 24 hour opening and credit card payments.
I couldn’t resist having a go so we headed over there at that first weekend. The first thing that struck me is the location. The machine is tucked away in the car park of the Cock Inn. As long as the landlord is happy this overcomes the problem of parking, lighting and security. The presentation is also striking. On a sunny spring day it looked much ‘tidier’ than I was expecting – much more than a prototype. It is also easy to use – instructions are clear and the buttons are large. I bought a can of Pepsi and watched as the whole tray lifted up from the bottom of the machine until it was level with the product. Items are then pushed onto the tray which lowers them safely to the bottom – no dropping and therefore no breakages. I assume this is the stumbling block which other vending machine manufacturers couldn’t produce and why Peter had to build it himself. It worked beautifully when I tried it. He has also cleverly built in the “continue shopping” option so that you don’t need to keep using a credit card or fiddle with lots of change.
I really think its a great piece of design and I hope Peter Fox gets the success he deserves. He’s apparently been approached by researchers from Dragon’s Den and decided to keep everything local for the time being despite the interest. He’s got the key components for success – a unique product with patentable technology, a sizeable market with lots of applications which are not difficult to see, and anyone who has seen Peter in action will know he is a charismatic presenter.
Speedy Shop also demonstrates something else we should learn from in a wider context. Change is inevitable and sadly independent retailers, country pubs and post offices are seeing that, without footfall, they can’t sustain a living. It’s sad and we’d all probably like to turn the clock back. You can stay in denial or you can tackle the problem and seize the opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great if out of adversity something like Speedy Shop could be successful? Providing the essentials for local communities and creating jobs and wealth for a thriving Ashbourne business. A year on and there are now shops in another village – Brassington – and at Derby University. Peter has learned from the initial installations and has a clearer view of where he wants to take the business and the adaptations to the technology that are necessary. It’s still an exciting venture.
You can get in touch with Peter Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org