KINGWOOD, TX -- Matt Miller of Marzs Vending has found a Texas-size niche in bulk vending. The operator who serves the central Texas market is promoting family-friendly bulk products that eschew the more edgy designs and themes. With a route comprised of some 100 locations, primarily mom and pops, Miller has found that wholesome product makes for happy consumers and location owners.
"I am vending family-friendly product everywhere," said Miller. "I'm not in bars or those places where something else might be more suitable. My whole business is built around providing product that I'm comfortable providing. So I allow my machines to be different, and provide product that parents can be happy for little Johnny to spend his quarters on."
While Miller's strategy is an extension of his core beliefs, it also adds up to good business. "I hold beliefs and principles, and they are what make me who I am," he said. "They are foundational to my whole life. And I feel that I have a responsibility to my customers. But it's good business to know who your customers are and what they want. I believe that parents, whether they are on the East Coast, West Coast or in central Texas, want to look after the wellbeing of their kids, whether they share my beliefs are not."
Too often, Miller observed, vending operators are not thinking enough about who their customers really are.
Every machine on the Marzs route can be called "G-rated." But programming a machine to family standards is more difficult than it sounds. At times, Miller must examine merchandise and pull any items he deems unsuitable for a younger audience. Items featuring skulls and other violent imagery are avoided.
This kind of effort, according to Miller, has paid off in gaining the trust of the parents, who feel confident that they can allow their children to approach a Marzs machine alone and purchase something that will not be objectionable. Likewise, locations can rest assured they won't be receiving angry complaints from parents displeased with their child's choice.
"I really believe the industry has gotten lazy," Miller said. "Instead of being innovative and offering exciting product for kids, so many times it prefers the edgy. As a result, there are a lot of families that won't let their kids anywhere near the machines because of the marketing imagery used, especially in the flat environment. It isn't what people want their kids to be exposed to."
Miller noted that even mainstream products could change. "I've seen Hannah Montana stickers that are out there now in machines," he instanced. "They were family friendly, but Miley Cyrus, who played Hanna Montana, is no longer family friendly." As most of America knows by now, Cyrus has changed her image from a child star on the Disney Channel to an R-rated pop performer best known for a provocative style of dancing known as "twerking" and unsavory images by controversial photographer Terry Richardson.
This is not to say that there is a shortage of family friendly product. Products that Miller credits as suitable for young children encompass a reasonable range, from licensed NFL and SpongeBob SquarePants merchandise to VenDynamics' Dress Up Friends.
If operators want to market to kids, Miller contends, they must make an effort to understand the demographics of their locations. Products that might be suitable for bars or other adult venues are often anathema to family locations. "Most operators, in my opinion, don't differentiate between the two," he said. "They put in whatever they have in their vehicles and go off to fill their machines."
It is worth noting that Miller's strategy has long been accepted by the entertainment industry. Television, for instance, has multiple channels catering to families. Family-oriented movies, both animated and live action, consistently place among the highest earning to come out of Hollywood. Even manufacturers of videogames have found a profitable market in family-friendly product. Miller is applying similar targeted marketing practices to his bulk vending business.