ATMs Can Deliver More

Schafer Topper 3Maybe it’s hard to get animated over the functionality of ATMs, but a pilot program conducted in Ohio this past year could excite retailers over how cash machines can be used to generate business opportunities.

By David Bennett, Senior Editor

Like grab-and-go sandwiches or a frozen beverage, ATMs are a good fit for the convenience store channel because they provide patrons what they need, in a timely manner.

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Traditionally, ATMs were good for one thing—getting cash.

According to the National ATM Council, Americans seem to rely on ATMs more than ever. The visits to ATMs at c-stores and other locations have stayed steady in the last few years—mainly because an estimated 88 million Americans are either unbanked (without a checking or savings account) or underbanked (don’t participate in the banking system very much and instead rely on the use of cash rather than checks or credit).

The bottom line is that ATMs aren’t departing the c-store channel anytime soon.

Enter Mark Newman, president of International Cash Systems, an ATM service provider in West Milton, Ohio that provides ATM solutions to convenience stores, hotels and grocery stores.

It was when Newman saw a video of what one company was doing with smart signage display monitors that he had the idea that affixing a monitor to an ATM could open a host of possibilities that convenience retailers might not have considered before.

The idea was to develop digital signage that would transform a static cash machine into a imagistic money-making machine that would serve as a means to increase foot traffic and in-store sales by drawing customers who needed to complete cash withdrawals. The display toppers that he envisioned could accommodate digital graphics and video for store promotions, public messaging and other uses—all in a space of two feet above the ATM.

Newman refers to the space as a new vertical source of revenue.

“Combining the SMART ATM Topper with a quality personalized wrap, merchants can now use the same two square feet in new and innovative ways,” Newman said. “We are having great response from vendors as well, who want to use this space to advertise, again creating an additional source of revenue.”

International Cash Systems tapped into the expertise of a Samsung partner, Signagelive, for its content management system. After reviewing multiple vendors, Newman began working with digital signage company Coffman Media. Together they developed the ICS Smart ATM Topper, featuring a 21.5-inch display monitor.

The compact display is designed to fit almost any ATM.

Newman’s son Sam Newman is responsible for coming up with custom images and graphics for ads that can be then be used for individual promotions.

For example, merchants can schedule ads in the morning, afternoon or evening to promote a special on coffee and doughnuts and switch the ads again to display that days lunch specials, Newman said.

After a year of testing, the ATM display topper was ready to launch.

The testing locations for the ATM toppers belong to Fort Loramie, Ohio-based Schafer Oil, which does business as Northtowne Sunoco Inc., which owns 14 convenience stores in Ohio.

Stacy Kauffman, district manager for Northtowne, said after seeing the ICS Smart ATM Topper firsthand at the MPACT 2015 show, Schafer agreed last spring to be the first c-store to display the toppers, mainly because of its long business link with Newman’s company.

“We were the guinea pigs, but we’ve known these guys for a long time,” Kauffman said.

The Schafer locations have not only experienced a boost in ATM transactions, but increased store sales as well. Once Schafer pays a flat fee to International Cash Systems, the rest is mainly deciding what messaging to display.

Every month or so, Kauffman emails International Cash Systems her promotional ideas, which in turn generates the graphics, downloads it on a flash drive and transmits the imagery to the Northtowne sites remotely.

“We have lunch specials, things like that,” Kauffman said. “It varies from store to store. They let me do whatever I want. I come up with things every month.”

Kauffman expects to have the ATM toppers in 8-10 of the company’s stores by the end of the year.

Bruce Renard, executive director of the National ATM Council, agreed that advertising via an ATM digital topper is an attractive option from several perspectives: the visual appeal does compute to increased usage and transactions; it can provide messaging both for persons who are using the ATM & also for general store traffic; and it affords a platform for other types of advertising/new potential revenue stream for ATM operators.

“I do see it as a future opportunity for growth/diversification in the retail ATM space,” Renard said.

Renard’s point of utilizing the digital toppers as way of displaying other types of advertising is a concept that is already up and running at the three Schafer locations.

When designing the topper concept, Newman had the idea that not only could c-stores promote their own products and services, but local merchants could display their advertising on the toppers as well, thus generating another stream of money for his company and participating c-stores.

So far, a local pizzeria and healthcare clinic are paying to advertise above Kauffman’s ATMs. She said that she gets inquiries from other businesses routinely about what the digital network entails.

Kauffman has been in many competing convenience stores—both in and outside of Ohio—and acknowledges that she has never seen a signage display topper affixed to an ATM. Because of the capabilities of the toppers, she has no doubt that the concept will become popular in the industry, considering how c-stores tend to latch on to a good idea.

“It’s always nice to be one of the first ones,” Kauffman said.