Better Together: Vending And Leisure

Posted On: 8/28/2015

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TAGS: Vending Times, Vending Times editorial, vending industry, coin-op, vending machine, coin machine business, office coffee service, vending machine operator, micro markets, Alicia Lavay, David Snook, The Case for Vending, coin-op, claw machines, video game revolution

Alicia Lavay, vending

One man's dilution is another's solution
A friend recently forwarded me an article from David Snook's blog, entitled "The Case for Vending." Snook is a partner in InterGame Ltd., and has been in the games and gaming industry since 1967. He was editor of Coin Slot for 26 years and joint managing director of The World's Fair, Coin Slot's parent company. He cofounded InterGame in 1994 and regularly writes for all of its publications.

Snook is well-known on the European circuit as a respected industry journalist. As a young writer attending the United Kingdom's Amusement Trades Exposition International (ATEI) and Germany's Internationale Fachmesse für Unterhaltungs-und Warenautomaten (IMA) back in the early 1990s, I found him (and his British accent) very intimidating. Therefore, when he said that vending was "worth thinking about" and "might be a good fit for arcade operators" I sat up and took notice. This resonated with me because he was echoing my sentiments! "An [American] amusement machine operator will run vending machines alongside air hockey and redemption games. But in Europe, that is not the case," said Snook. "Just as we are bemused by Americans running vending alongside games, Americans are astonished to see European operators running gaming machines alongside amusements. Only in Germany is vending slightly more acceptable, and only because they like coffee dispensers in the cash desks of their multi-license arcades -- and even then the coffee is free."

Snook then went on to quote another (then) daunting and well-known Brit, arcade operator Michael Green, United Distributing Co. Ltd. (London). According to Snook, Michael thinks arcade and FEC operators should look more carefully at the possibilities of vending to turn a dark corner into something that earns.

"They may be right," said Snook. "Indeed, there may be not too much to lose by looking into the prospect, especially for those arcades which do not incorporate their own cafes. And even if they do, the space might be better utilized for machines, with venders taking up far less space."

I bring this up because, about a week after I read it, I received a promotion from a vending publication laid out around a photo of a coffee cup hanging precariously from the claw of a prize crane, with a headline that read "it was a bad idea to buy coffee out of a claw machine." The point was to boast that the publication has no "wasted music and games circulation"-- unlike Vending Times.

Yes, Vending Times does include editorial content on music and games, and we have since 1969. We began to cover street operations (at that time, jukeboxes, cigarette machines and some games) because we kept running into operators who were active in both areas. In fact, many companies that took part in the full-line revolution, half a century back, started as jukebox operations (and many others, as bulk vending businesses).

While the logic behind this crossover between merchandise vending and amusement operations changes somewhat with time and market area, it still is very real. Most recently, many companies that had started in the late '70s as videogame operations found themselves looking for related enterprises, a decade later, after the videogame revolution ended. Merchandise vending was a natural growth area, just as it had been for many jukebox route operations 30 years earlier. They had trucks on the street, technicians who could repair coin mechs and accountability systems in place to protect collections.

We always have felt that it's wrongheaded to insist that an operation must be defined as active in only one area (vending, coffee service, jukeboxes or whatever). A snack vending machine works the same whether it's run by a company that (at the moment) only provides vending services or by a "music and games" operation that met a location request for vending, and now is prepared to expand that side of the business.

We also think that the popularity of today's "family entertainment centers," and the increased importance placed by corporate clients on food and beverage service as a morale-builder, are creating the opportunity for applying today's remarkable vending machine technology to the development of high-tech automated snack and beverage bars in FECs, and also for placing appropriate music and amusement equipment in business and industry breakrooms. And we know several FEC operators who are making money by providing adult patrons with specialty coffee.

That said, it wouldn't be so farfetched to see a promotion to win a cup of coffee by retrieving a single-cup cartridge from a crane machine. In fact, I think it's a good idea! Music, games, vending, kidding! A great many operators are engaged in more than one kind of business now, and they always have been. They are entrepreneurs, alert to the changing needs of their clients and their market areas. Today, more than ever, an open mind is essential for success, or even survival.