How one man in the field wrangles boxes, spreads the love, and keeps your movies moving
Dunning is a regional operations supervisor (ROS), but many people might call him by his code name: redbox ninja. That’s what some customers have dubbed the mysterious figures who swoop in to stock, repair and spiff up redbox kiosks before disappearing in a flash.
Not that there’s anything very ninja-like about Dunning. He wears a bright “redbox red” shirt, which matches his shiny red Chevy HHR. He’s also a gregarious guy who engages people at each location and hands out promo codes when a customer must wait for him to finish.
Dunning and his team of seven field-service representatives work mostly during daylight hours, but there are field agents around the country who — like true ninjas – prefer the cover of darkness.
“A lot of people like to work in the middle of the night,” David explains. “It’s easier to get in and out.”
That kind of schedule flexibility is one of the perks of ninjahood. Tuesday releases can be stocked at any time during the week, and then lie in wait to go live at the stroke of midnight each Monday. Many field agents set their own schedules — all that matters is that the boxes are stocked for the ramp-up to the weekend.
As an ROS, Dunning isn’t necessarily the one stocking each box. He coordinates his ninjas’ activities, tracks where boxes are having technical problems and follows up on maintaining his 189 kids. At one point during his morning rounds, he takes a call from a field rep. After a few minutes of on-the-fly problem solving, he hangs up and remarks, “That’s three-quarters of my day right there.”
Aha, so it’s not all tooling around Chicago’s colorful neighborhoods and chatting up customers. The first and last thing Dunning does each day is consult his laptop. The wireless diagnostics of redbox kiosks provide an amazingly robust stream of data showing where the rentals are positively flying (meaning that he better be sure those kiosks get restocked quickly).
David works from three locations: his car as he goes on site, the warehouse where cartons and cartons of movies are received and sorted, and his home where he can do a remarkable amount of work on specific kiosks over the Internet, from the comfort of his chair.
Each redbox has a digital interface that controls much of the machinery inside. Is a disc jammed in the depths of the box? Dunning just might be able to fix that. With a few keystrokes on his laptop, he can jiggle the mechanism — the Computer Age equivalent of smacking the side of a jukebox. “It’s great to be able to manage so much of the small stuff remotely,” he says.
That’s because there’s plenty else to do. Stocking a box each week is a monumental task; in his busiest week, Dunning and his team loaded 15,000 disks into kiosks. When filling a machine, they must also swap out the 40-plus translucent movie ads in each “lightbox” (the display of titles next to most kiosks) in order to reflect the current week’s selection of DVDs.
Each lightbox’s configuration of movie ads is the same, and while it might take the average person the better part of 10 minutes to fiddle with the floppy plastic sheets, a ninja’s fingers fly like the wind.
“My field reps would kill me at this,” Dunning admitted, despite a pretty nimble two-minute turnaround.
Dunning expects his team to tend to kiosk appearance, too, by giving the boxes regular wax-downs and replacing deteriorating signage.
“I’m a stickler for the aesthetics,” he states proudly. “If you keep the machine and display clean, it welcomes you to the box. Even if that only draws in 5 or 6 more visits a week, that matters.”
As he pulls into his last stop of the morning, a new grocery store on the edge of a warehouse district, Dunning points out the box location. It’s situated at a side entrance, away from the parking lot entrance, and hardly visible to anything but sidewalk traffic.
“This was one of our slowest locations,” he says. “Then I hung out for an hour and a half handing out promo codes. Now it’s one of our better renters.”
Hardly the way of a ninja. But Dunning left his positive mark on customers nonetheless.