In June 1998, when Triton Systems Inc. announced plans to open a production facility, 63,000 square feet seemed like plenty of room.
But the Mississippi-based automated teller machine producer quickly realized its growth trajectory would make even that new space feel cramped. It scrapped the original expansion plan in favor of a grander one, and last month officials cut the ribbon on an 88,000-square-foot facility -- three times the plant space the company had occupied before.
Triton, the third-largest ATM manufacturer in the United States, has set its sights on the same ranking worldwide; it now claims fifth place. A leader in ATMs for the off-premises market -- for locations other than bank branches -- Triton shipped a record 10,509 units in 1998, a 35% increase over 1997.
Triton will not release preliminary numbers for 1999 but said it expects this year to be its best yet; in September, the company shipped more than in any other single month.
Some ATM executives and observers say the domestic market has become saturated, but Triton disagrees, putting its focus on small merchant locations in the United States and abroad. It caters mostly to the low-cost end of the market, specializing in cash-dispensing devices that retail for less than $10,000.The market for both full-service, deposit-taking ATMs and simpler cash dispensers "is maturing" in the United States, said Ernest L. Burdette, president and co-founder of Triton Systems. Competition for sites is keener, driving prices down, but "in the smaller locations, we think there's a great opportunity.
"This has been a year of investing for the company," Mr. Burdette said. "Our goals are to continue to expand into markets where we think that consumers will expect ATMs in nonbank locations, and that appears to be much of the world, based on our initial forays." Triton, which formerly operated out of three separate buildings in Long Beach, Miss., bought 27 acres of industrial land there last year. The company spent $5 million to build the manufacturing facility, and construction of new administrative headquarters on the same site is slated for early 2001. Another $2 million has gone into recent computer system upgrades.
The company also opened a Miami office this year and hired two executives to establish relationships in Latin America. In the first eight months of 1999, the work force grew by 80, to 271.
Triton introduced its first ATM in 1994 and capitalized on the growing demand for off-premises ATMs that surfaced in the early 1990s and blossomed with the practice of surcharging.
Triton said it was already flourishing in April 1996 when the ATM networks owned by MasterCard International and Visa U.S.A. dropped their bans on the extra fees that ATM owners impose on noncustomers.
Triton, which has traditionally sold most of its machines to nonbank independent sales organizations, or ISOs -- such as Card Capture Services Inc. of Portland, Ore., and International Merchants Services of Euless, Tex. -- says financial institutions and ATM network processors are growing more receptive to the products.
"We now have a team that is focused just on the financial market," said Ken Paull, vice president of sales and marketing, who is based in Atlanta. Since that team's creation in late 1998, financial customers' contribution to Triton's overall business has risen to more than 15%, Mr. Paull said, up from less than 5%.
Triton's larger competitors, Diebold Inc. of Canton, Ohio, and NCR Corp. of Dayton, Ohio, which have in recent years dominated the banking market, have been slow to adapt for the off-premises sector, Mr. Paull said. NCR and Diebold must also make year-2000 conversion adjustments, whereas the younger Triton has made compliant machines from day one, he said.
Today there are more than 30,000 Triton ATMs in retail locations, mostly in the United States and Canada. The company has just begun to penetrate some smaller Latin American countries, and Europe is its next frontier. According to The Nilson Report, an industry newsletter published in Oxnard, Calif., Triton has been the third-largest U.S. automated teller supplier since 1995, the company's first full year of production. NCR and Diebold are ranked first and second, respectively.
Triton has been fifth in the world for the last two years. According to 1998 Nilson Report statistics, the four leaders are NCR, Diebold, Fujitsu of Japan, and Siemens Nixdorf of Germany.
Triton began focusing on international sales last year. After setting a $5 million target, Triton reported $12 million from export sales in 1998, up from $1 million in 1997. Exports represented about 15% of the company's 1998 shipments. In June, the Mississippi District Export Council named Triton the state's Exporter of the Year.
Triton sold 1,584 ATMs in Canada last year, more than any other manufacturer, said David Robertson, president of The Nilson Report.
Mr. Burdette said the "white label" automated banking machine, or ABM, is proving lucrative in Canada, where machines without bank brands are relatively new. Canadian regulations changed in mid-1997 to let retailers own and operate ATMs and impose surcharges.
The company, which opened an office in Calgary, Alberta, in December 1997, is not disclosing sales for 1999 yet, but Mr. Burdette said he expects Canadian sales will top those of last year.
Latin America has proven more challenging. Unlike in the United States, where the transaction processing infrastructure is more established, ATM owners must form processing partnerships with banks in most international markets, and banks are not always open to this, Mr. Burdette said.
Triton views the United Kingdom as its gateway to Europe, Mr. Paull said. The company is currently advertising for a regional executive and hopes to open an office there in January, he said.
In May, Triton launched its least-expensive machine -- the Mako Cash Dispenser. It has just one cash cassette and cannot be adapted to selling noncash items. The price is $6,000 to $7,000, compared with $8,000 to $10,000 for machines in the company's more robust 9600 series, which Mr. Burdette said is still the company's "bread and butter."
"Lower-cost equipment has given the market new legs here," Mr. Paull said. As hardware costs come down and retailers get more comfortable with replenishing their own cash, more and more locations become viable, he said. Convenience stores continue to represent a large portion of Triton's placements, he said, and the fast-food and motel markets are taking off.
Triton expects the ability to vend noncash items will play a big role in the off-premises sector, where ATMs are more likely to be viewed by customers as vending machines. Last year, Triton introduced VendMate, an attachment that dispenses items such as tickets, certificates, and phone cards, and can accept either cash or an ATM card. Triton is about to introduce the back-office software to accompany VendMate, Mr. Burdette said.
Diebold and NCR have introduced ATMs with Internet access, and such products could be on the horizon for Triton.
"These Web banks need a way to interface with their customers," Mr. Burdette said. "Our products will evolve to be something more like a kiosk."