AVT Inc., an automated retailing equipment and technology company that filed for bankruptcy protection in May of 2015, has come back to life, in manner of speaking.
John Murn, president of RSA Management Group, a purchasing and management organization for blind vending operators, has purchased the company’s assets and has launched a company called Accelerated Retail Technologies (ART) with plans to expand on AVT's innovation in automated retailing.
Shannon Illingworth, meanwhile, AVT's founder, has joined a separate, newly formed automated retailing company called AR Systems and has announced similar aspirations.
Both companies are operating out of facilities in Corona, California, and are developing automated retail solutions that include interactive touchscreens, management software and custom design capabilities. All of which were AVT hallmark features.
Murn and Illingworth are at odds over the rights to the name, "AR Systems," the name being used by the company that Illingworth is associated with. While Murn’s company is called Accelerated Retail Technologies and goes by the acronym "ART," Murn claims that he, not Illingworth, has the rights to the name "AR Systems," a claim Illingworth disputes.
While the two men, who once had a business relationship, are now competitors, both agree that AVT took automated retail technology to a new level and that the self-service industry has a great future.
AVT took a pioneer role
AVT, which was publicly traded, launched in 2001 at a time when self-service technologies like cashless terminals and remote machine monitoring were beginning to advance at a rapid pace. AVT established a reputation as a kiosk and vending machine technology pioneer, introducing digital video screens and other technologies, securing numerous patents.
According to a Bloomberg summary of the company, AVT’s products included a controlled access cabinet system for retail stores for selling convenience items, a software product that allows consumers to view advertising or messaging on product dispensing systems, a software that enables clients to remotely view information for machines to plan daily replenishment, a solution for detecting vended items, touchscreen software and more.
AVT introduced machines and technology at a rapid pace. Innovations included a Rug Doctor kiosk, a Marley Coffee kiosk, a propane tank automated exchange system, a plastic bottle recycling rewards kiosk, a Twitter-integrated employee recognition center for IBM and more.
AVT continued to operate and innovate even after it filed for bankruptcy protection in May of 2015, stating that the bankruptcy was related to attempts at diversification into unrelated businesses.
In April of 2016, the company unveiled a Multi-Shopper Automated Retailing Experience, offering multi-media capabilities and push-notifications to nearby shoppers. Touchscreens provided product information, as well as instant access to a retailer's online inventory – allowing consumers to quickly find complementary products.
John Murn buys AVT assets
In June, Murn purchased AVT’s assets for an undisclosed sum.
In his role with RSA Management, Murn had overseen the management of vending contracts that included AVT machines. "My job was to get people to place equipment in LA Fitness," he offered as an example. "LA Fitness had a contract with AVT, and AVT was building equipment for LA Fitness."
Murn’s new company, ART, has a manufacturing facility in Corona, California and is building machines under its own label. "I’m taking the general (AVT) design and I’m enhancing them," he said. He said the new machines will be available around Christmas.
ART has hired about 20 employees, Murn said, most of whom came from AVT, including engineers and software developers.
ART will offer replacement parts for existing AVT machines. "Anybody that bought AVT in the past that has issues can call us," he said. He estimated there are around 5,000 AVT machines in operation.
Murn acknowledged that AVT had outstanding technology. "They came out with some great patents, some really great innovative things and software," he said. "I believe the actual equipment that was designed and the patents that they went through were brilliant. The versatility of the equipment is incredible."
"We can remotely change pricing in the field," he offered as an example. He said the asset purchase included all AVT patents.
The video technology includes a media platform that allows advertisers to reach customers at the point of sale.
Murn also plans to have voice-activated machines for blind operators.
AVT founder joins new company
Illingworth, AVT’s founder, has ambitious plans for AR Systems, especially in the kiosk sector. He is working as a contracted consultant for the company. He said he has a non-exclusive license to use AVT patents.
"I plan to do a lot of business in the kiosk marketplace," he said.
Industry consultant and kiosk veteran Trevor Owen has been named president of AR Systems, according to Illingworth.
Illingworth said he and a team of engineers created AR Systems to focus on technology. Rather than targeting traditional vending operators, he said the new company will target retailers who want to have their own “micro stores.”
"These people (retailers) are selling shoes to accessories to hotels, to gyms, doing all the nutritional supplements and healthy products, and offering those at the gyms," he said.
"AR is focusing on design; we’re not manufacturing the machine," he added. "The focus is more design integration and fusing technology into these boxes, so to speak, to give it more of a user experience of purchasing. I’m redeveloping a whole cloud-based software, spending a lot of money making something really slick and user friendly."
He said the company is getting its equipment from Jofemar, an equipment manufacturer based in Spain.
AR Systems is testing 20 to 30 machines, he noted, and plans to launch January 1, 2017. The machines will be PCI- and EMV-compliant.
Asked why AVT went bankrupt, Illingworth said the problems began after the company purchased a restaurant. When the company sold the restaurant, the buyer became dissatisfied and sued AVT and won a $2.7 million judgment.
/ Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.