Robo-shop puts convenience in Fort Worth apartment complex

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by CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on February 9, 2012 at 11:49 PM

Updated Sunday, Feb 12 at 8:46 PM

FORT WORTH - Residents gathered around a huge machine at the Ladera Palms apartments. They've seen the computer screens, touch pads and credit card readers before, but the items behind the glass were new.

"They even have the little Pampers," Mona Phillips sighed. "They should have one of these everywhere."

If Phillips seems too excited for a vending machine, it's understandable. It's the first of its kind in the United States. It's a free-standing, robotic convenience store called "Shop 24."

It has the usual candy and soda, but it also dispenses cleaning supplies, pinto beans, salsa and macaroni and cheese.

"We don't have eggs yet," said Wynn Roberts with Shop 24. "We haven't figured out how to vend those eggs without them breaking, but we're getting there. We'll get to that."

The company has a handful of machines at East Coast college campuses, but Roberts is installing the first machine for an apartment complex. The kiosks have been popular overseas, and Shop 24 hopes they will become a staple in the U.S.

"Everything you would see at a convenience store and run and jump in your car, or you want to pick up on your way home - this is where it's at," said property manager Laurel Santiago.

She said the owner of the complex bought the Shop 24, and Ladera Palms will be in charge of restocking the items.  According to Shop 24 Global's web site, the company also makes arrangements to share profits.

Customers enter an item code on a key pad, a price is displayed on the screen, then the customer pays with cash, credit or food stamp debit cards. A robotic shelf zooms to the item, where a motorized wheel quickly pushes the item into a bin. The item is dropped into another bin, and it's retrieved by the customer, who can buy up to seven items at once.

At Ladera Palms, most residents rely on public transportation or walk to the nearest grocery store. So, the 6000 pounds of metal and bullet-proof glass is better than the sliced bread it dispenses.

Phillips calls it a blessing.

"People that have problems moving around like me, this is real convenient," she said. "I just stay right there, so I am just right at the store, really."

There will be two more Shop 24s installed in Denton this month, then another will be placed in McKinney. Shop 24 hopes to have 50 kiosks across North Texas.

E-mail cnorton@wfaa.com

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