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A Sign Of The Times: Do-It-Yourself Vandalism

Posted On: 1/27/2011

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We live in an age of really stupid crimes. Even worse, the criminals seem to be getting dumber by the day. I remember writing a story about a thief who had ripped off dozens of bulk vending racks in a two-month crime spree to feed his drug habit. When police finally caught him, the ambitious felon's house contained more than a thousand dollars in quarters. This was well before the 50¢ vend had been fully adopted. If nothing else, you had to give him credit for possessing an industrious nature.

Those were the days. Over the past several months reports have been trickling in of an uptick in vending machine thefts. In most cases, one or two machines are hastily thrown into the back of a car or van. In some instances, the thief simply tries to smash open the cashbox by throwing the machine on the ground or beating it against the curb. As operators have noted, these crimes yield little more than a few dollars. In the process, of course, these thefts destroy a machine worth far more than whatever may be in the cashbox.

In asking a few folks in law enforcement about this trend, I invariably received the answer, "What do you expect? They're criminals." I've actually cleaned up the answer a bit for a family publication, but you get the basic gist of it.

Well, they're not very good criminals. Grabbing a single- or dual-head vender and smashing it on the ground for pocket change isn't what you could call the work of a criminal mastermind. It lacks planning, a longtime horizon and style. This is understandable, since the majority of perpetrators are panicked and desperate.

All this is not to say that I'm advocating for a better class of more efficient bulk vending criminals. However, it does seem to me that many bulk vending operators are making the same mistakes as the criminals who inelegantly rip them off. Some operators seem to be working in a panic mode without much planning or thought to a longtime horizon. As a result, they are vandalizing their own routes just as surely as if they were smashing the machines on the side of the road.

In some instances, this kind of vandalism takes the form of an almost aggressive neglect, with operators extending service calls to the point where the machines are nearly empty and looking shopworn by the time route personnel finally show up. Sometimes it's just a matter of buying the cheapest possible merchandise or rarely changing the display cards. I've also heard of route personnel so harried that they rarely have time to clean machines.

These are counter-productive strategies that may artificially boost the bottom line in the very short term, but inevitably prove financially disastrous in the long run. Operators who engage in these practices couldn't do worse if they handed over the keys to their machines to street corner hoodlums, along with a  map to locations. Not only are they reducing their cashbox revenues, but also are putting the location in jeopardy. As any experienced operator knows, neglected equipment is one of the best possible advertisements for the competition to move in and take a location.

The most interesting aspect of "do-it-yourself vandalism" is that the very same operators who neglect their routes are typically the ones who often complain the loudest and most bitterly when it comes to street crime. Yes, the growth of street crime is bad, but the self-inflicted damage some operators perpetrate is even worse.