OCEANSIDE, NY -- When the chicken vender arrived on the bulk-vending scene in the late 1970s, it was an eye-opener for operators across the country. Originally from Europe, perhaps Belgium or England, the chicken machine was the first bulk-vending device that combined product delivery and entertainment; toys were dispensed in egg-shaped capsules while a chicken spun and clucked. It also was one of the first bulk venders that relied on electric power. The animated chicken behind the glass delighted youngsters as much as the multicolored oval capsules in the hopper.
"While there were earlier machines in the bulk vending category that featured animation, the chicken vender was likely the first to combine electrically powered sound, lights and animatronics," said Frank Parisi of ParSal Vending Supply LLC.
photo | FEATHER YOUR NEST: ParSal's All American Chicken Machine (right) was a highlight of the National Bulk Vendors Association’s recent trade show in Las Vegas. Above, ParSal executives are pictured with Oak Manufacturing’s Jim Hinton (center). They are, from left, Robert Reilly, Jorge Zambrano, Frank Parisi and Marc Miller. Oak is one of more than a dozen ParSal distributors. (The first vending machine Frank Parisi owned, a gift from Roger and Adele Folz, was made by Oak.)
Parisi, 35, added that it was the first crossover machine. "It tied the bulk vending operator and amusement operator together," he explained. "Both kinds of operators realized that the chicken machine was hot and it could bring in new revenue. So suppliers started creating new machines."
According to Parisi, the chicken machine inspired the interactive novelty venders that emerged in the 1990s. "It all started with the chicken machine," he said.
Parisi hopes to bring back that magic with a modern version of the classic machine. "In one sense, I decided to create a 'retro' company," Parisi told VT. "I was looking back and asked myself, 'What was the hottest vending machine?'"
The answer Parisi was looking for was the All American Chicken Machine. While the youngsters who once delighted in the chicken-like antics of the original vender are now approaching middle age, Parisi is betting that the modern machine will have the same appeal to their children and grandchildren.
Operators not only appreciated chicken machines for their higher earnings, but also for the usefulness of their opaque eggs that could be stuffed with overstocked merchandise. For young patrons, the thrill of the vender was not only the prize inside the egg, but the animated action of the chicken.
ParSal's contemporary chicken machine has striking differences from the original, giving it contemporary charm. State-of-the-art electronics make the 21st-century machine more reliable. And today's technology provides superior audio and more dramatic illumination; it's equipped with low-energy LED lights. And ParSal's version is fabricated with powder-coated steel, making it sturdier yet lighter than the original piece, which was constructed of pressboard.
The chicken itself, the center attraction, has been updated, too. The original was a plastic brown replica wearing an apron and bonnet, and it sat in the doorway of a little house. It was mounted on a turntable, inside the house, that could rotate the chicken in a narrow arc. It clucked softly when activated. ParSal's chicken, on the other hand, appeals to modern sensibilities in a way its 1970s forerunner could not. It's styled after an athlete decked out with the accoutrements of America's major sports (the cabinet, too), and spins in the machine's open interior atop hundreds of eggs. Five modern music tracks add to the chicken's charisma.
(The No. 12 on the chicken is the uniform number of catcher James LaSala, Parisi's partner and brother, who played ball at Iona College and two seasons in the New York Yankees' minor league system.)
The All American Chicken Machine for the new millennium is economical, under $1,500, and boasts a reasonable footprint, less than two square feet. It measures 20.75" wide by 20.75" deep by 50.75" high. It can vend 2" egg capsules, 2" standard capsules or 49mm. high-bounce balls, as well as mixes that include all three.
Factory-installed wiring allows operators to choose the bill validation option straight from the factory, or add an acceptor whenever the circumstances warrant.
WHICH CAME FIRST?
Parisi's interest in the chicken machine and his passion for bulk vending are deeply rooted in his heritage. His family has been involved in the coin-op industry since the 1940s, initially producing charms and capsules. The family played an integral role in establishing the popularity of the original chicken machine.
Most manufacturers of charms and capsules were based on Long Island (NY) at the time. The Eppy Charm Co. of Lynbrook, NY, was the largest of those factories, and was widely regarded as the most creative. (Adele Tuchinsky was an employee of Eppy. Vending pioneer Roger Folz, an Eppy customer, met Adele in 1954 during a business visit and they married a year later. The couple gave Frank Parisi his first gumball machine -- when he was born.)
"My family acquired the Eppy Charm Co. in 1973," Parisi recalled, adding that the name was changed to Alper Industries. "When the chicken machine arrived a few years later, we started making the eggs for it. We made the first molds for eggs that stayed closed by themselves; before that, operators had to tape each egg shut."
Through Alper Industries, the Parisi family entered into the egg capsule business at the same time the chicken machine's popularity was taking off. Other companies followed with their own egg capsules and venders, which created a subcategory within bulk vending that returned consistent earnings for several decades.
Parisi pointed out that the only proprietary vending machine made in-house by the former Folz Vending Co., which at one time was the largest and only national bulk company, was an egg vender for its own locations. Former employees of Folz Vending still talk about the "chicken room," the area of plant where the machines were made. Folz Vending was purchased by Louisville, CO-based American Coin Merchandisers Inc. (dba SugarLoaf Creations) in 2004, which in turn was engulfed by Coinstar Inc. a year later.
Alper made the first polypropylene tops and clear polystyrene bottoms for capsules, the same formula used today. Before that, manufacturers made capsule tops by vacuum forming a lighter, and more expensive, material. The material was so light that it often would crack, and this prevented suppliers and operators from putting heavier items into them. Thanks to Alper's polypropylene capsule tops, a much wider variety of items could be encapsulated, included the novelty "slime," which would have "eaten" through their vacuum-formed counterparts. ParSal plans to produce its own capsules in the near future, reported Parisi, who says his past expertise will shorten his company's time to market.
SECOND TIME AROUND
Not unlike the original chicken vender, Parisi believes his contemporary adaptation will have even greater crossover, appealing to operators and locations in both amusements and bulk vending. Bowling alleys, movie theaters, fast-food restaurants, automatic laundry shops and large retail locations are among prime locations for ParSal's new vending machine, he reported.
Soon after the new All American Chicken Machines began rolling off the assembly line last year, ParSal starting building a sales network that includes well over a dozen bulk suppliers and amusement machine distributing companies. The machines have also been shipped to international distributors.
Details on the All American Chicken Machine may be had from ParSal Vending Supply LLC at (888) GUM-NTOY. The company is based at 3710 West Oceanside Rd., Oceanside, NY 11572, and is online at parsalvending.com. In a nod to bulk vending's glorious past, ParSal's main number is (516) 678-3600, the same one used by Folz since 1949.
left | VINTAGE BULK VENDING:
Adele Folz (left) is pictured next to Francine LaSala (sitting) in photo taken at NBVA trade show and convention (mid-1970s) in the Alper Industries exhibit. Also pictured are Laura Eppy (wife of Sidney Eppy) and Marty Gash, national operations manager of Folz Vending Co., and his wife. LaSala is Frank Parisi’s mother, and the “sal” in the ParSal company name.
center | FLASHBACK, FAST-FORWARD: A young Frank Parisi is pictured with Roger Folz (r.) and his son-in-law Elliot Liebner at breakfast meeting during a National Bulk Vendors Association convention in Orlando, FL (1980s). Parisi and his family had a close connection to Folz Vending and its principals. Not only was the one-time largest bulk vendor a customer of Eppy Charms and Alper Industries, but Folz and his wife Adele today remain close friends with Frank Parisi’s family.
right | CAPSULE COMPETENCY:
At right is an injection-molding machine used to produce bulk-vending capsules in Alper Industries’ factory. Alper made the first polypropylene tops and clear polystyrene bottoms for capsules, the same fabrication used today. It also formed flanges on the two halves of the capsule so its edges could snap together and lock; before this improvement, capsules had to be taped shut. The stronger and flanged capsule added value beyond the toy inside; the capsule itself became a prized possession for young bulk vending patrons. ParSal Vending Supply plans to begin manufacturing capsules and sourcing novelties for them.