A VT staffer, trolling the Internet for vending news, came across an announcement by a major office products supplier. It is prepared to sell vending equipment to small businesses and send around a crew to install the machines. The customer then orders product as he would order copier paper, and assigns somebody to fill and collect. This is billed as a “Do It Yourself Vending Solution.”
The announcement has some interesting features, including a gratuitous insult to the vending industry (“Unlike many vending companies that offer secondary brands...”) and an offer of consultation on the most appropriate size and type of equipment. The buyer also gets information on what product sizes and formats fit into which columns.
This continues a quiet trend that has gained momentum in the new century. You can purchase full-size, electronically controlled vending equipment in retail stores now, and (of course) product, too. You can order vending machines (and just about anything else) on the Internet. Now you can get installation and some advice on loading. What are we to make of this?
An essential point was made by a vending and coffee service pioneer, now retired, who took part in a panel on “cooperative service vending” a couple of decades ago. At that time, CSV was a hot topic, seen as a possible solution for small locations.
“Cooperative service is a concept under which the operator goes to a prospect and says, ‘I can put you in the vending business,”” he said. “But most prospects will reply, ‘I don’t want to be in the vending business. I want you to be in the vending business!”
This assessment seems to have been correct. While CSV has carved out a durable niche, it never became the Next Big Thing.
As long as we can remember, vending operators have been angered by “location-owned equipment.” They particularly were provoked by salesmen (usually described as “wearing long, pointy shoes”) who talked a tavern-owner into throwing out the operator’s cigarette machine, in order to purchase his own and “keep all the profits.” Almost inevitably, the location owner soon tired of trying to control inventory, having to clear coin jams, dealing with internal theft and generally annoying his customers. He then looked for an operator to come back in – and give him a trade-in allowance on the machine.
While some locations still may be lured away from rational analysis by that “keep all the profits” blandishment, we think that most businesses that buy vending machines under programs like this “Do It Yourself Solution” do so because they can’t get vending in any other way. We once knew an innovative distributor in a major Midwestern city who sold jukeboxes and service contracts to smaller taverns, especially in the rougher neighborhoods where established music and games operators were reluctant to send trucks. And he became persona non grata with the operators in his area, for no reason other than that reflexive aversion to “location-owned equipment.” They could not serve a location, but they were infuriated when that location looked for an alternative answer.
The fact is that vending service is in great demand, and that demand is growing. Unfortunately, this is taking place as the average population of workplaces is decreasing and the cost of operating a truck fleet has skyrocketed.
The modern coffee service business took shape around a model in which the operator provided an inexpensive brewer at no charge, in consideration of the account’s purchase of coffee and allied products. That model now is changing, as expensive single-cup systems have made it necessary to lease the equipment – or, in some cases, sell it outright. And some vending operators always have offered to install anything the client wants, as long as the client is prepared to guarantee a specified return on investment.
During the long development of remote monitoring systems, one of the persistent ironies has been that telemetry is most valuable in locations that are costly to service – but most such locations are too small to justify the added expense. Another irony is that the smallest sites usually have the fewest employees with enough free time to load and tinker with vending machines.
It may be that offering the option of purchasing the equipment can resolve this. So advertising “Do It Yourself” vending might just be conditioning businesses to accept the idea of buying a vending machine, and contracting with a vending operator for service. It is important to keep an open mind about this.