Retail

The Sweet Side Of Self-Service Retail

After a winter that seemed on track to last forever, summer has arrived, and with a vengeance in some parts of the United States. That means people nationwide are looking for ways to stay cool — including parents who will spend the GDP of a small nation during the summer months to keep their kids eating popsicles and Freezee ices, simply so they don’t wilt in the heat.

If Nik Wright and Yulin Chu the brain trust behind the Reis and Irvy’s Froyo Robot have anything to say about it, frozen yogurt will join the roster of nearly ubiquitous frozen summer treats. And the store’s Froyo Robot wants to get froyo out of the specialty store in a strip mall and into a wider world. A much wider world: The Pentagon, Houston Space Center, as well as various airports, malls, corporate headquarters nationwide and even a children’s hospital are all home to Reis & Ivy’s double-barrel, fully automated yogurt-making machines.

The Froyo Robot offers seven flavors of froyo, ice cream, sorbet and gelato, and patrons can choose up to six toppings. The taste is controlled by what its creators call a flavor burst system, which means the machine serves up standards like chocolate and vanilla, as well as more exotic frozen fair like buttered almond and cotton candy. The average machine can dispense 245 servings of froyo before needing be refilled. And they even accept bitcoin (and Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash).

GenerationNEXT Franchise Brands, which owns and distributes Reis & Irvy’s, notes that start to stop — it takes about one minute for its frozen yogurt bot to dispense the buyer’s chosen treat, and about half of that time to delight the average user. Nik Wright noted an early experience they had trying to sell the Froyo Robot to a children’s hospital, and the big endorsement they got from a young patient who happened to see the machine in action.

“They brought him down to get a product from my robot, and for 60 seconds that kid was hands up on the glass, and watched that robot,” said Wright. “He forgot about all the other crazy stuff that was going on his life, and just had the biggest smile. It meant a lot to us that something we had created could bring even a little bit of joy to someone going through something most of us couldn’t even imagine.”

Since they sell a food product — a dairy product, no less — to be sold in public locations, especially high cleanliness-sensitive places like hospitals, the machine itself always needs to run clean. That means that taking on a Reis & Irvy’s franchise isn’t as easy as throwing a Froyo Robot in the truck and setting up shop at the first available location with a plug. There is a two-day training period that all franchisees must go through where they learn to service and maintain the device, and about sanitizing procedures. Once that is done, franchisees get their Food Handlers Permit — but the process isn’t over there.

The machines are programmed to know if they have been cleaned within the prescribed period. According to GenerationNEXT, if they aren’t cleared, the machine will shut down and send the company and franchisee an alert that the robot hasn’t been cleaned. It won’t start again until it has been cleaned properly.

The Froyo Robot is new to the market, having gotten its official launch about 60 days ago. However, it’s moving fast and is expected to have 1,000 units in the hands of franchisees all over the U.S. by the end of the summer.

And, the design — which its two creators both confirm they had to build almost entirely from scratch — is always up for revision and improvement. The goal, Chu says, is to find ways to help the machine do more while taking up less space. Fifteen square feet, he says, is their cap because, with a footprint that small, they can fit their machine nearly anywhere.

In the future, those machines might just hold more than froyo. At least, that seems to be what its creators are hinting.

“It’s top secret at the moment,” said Wright. “But we’ve got some really exciting robots in the works.”

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