Light-emitting diode (LED) technology has expanded from individual lights on gauges to applications as varied as curing dental fillings to lighting traffic signals. The brightness of LEDs relative to their size and their durability make them preferable to incandescent and fluorescent bulbs.
New to vending, LEDs are available in retrofit kits to replace fluorescent bulbs in existing vending machines. And, equipment manufacturers are offering them to operators purchasing new merchandisers.
“LEDs have a number of real benefits for operators,” said Brent Garson, president, Vendors Exchange International Inc. (VEII). “First, we must examine the real cost of lighting: cost of the bulb, replacement frequency, and cost of the replacement service.”
LEDs Save money
Many operators admit that route drivers don’t replace the light bulbs in vending machines, said Garson. The task falls to maintenance personnel due to the realities of the job. The cost of a technician, added to the cost of the trip as well as the replacement bulb, runs anywhere between $60 to $90, concluded Garson. Calculate that with the average life span of a continuously lit fluorescent bulb, one year, and that equates to roughly $320 over five years to keep it lit.
LED retrofit kits, speaking specifically about VEII, offer a monetary savings. The economy package, said Garson, is a single LED strip in the same location as the fluorescent bulb, which is guaranteed to last four years. The cost is less than $50, a potential savings of $270 over five years.
More than a cost savings
However, LED lighting does more than simply save the cost of replacing traditional bulbs. It is a strong merchandiser. Garson offers operators a demonstration at his office of a vending machine lit with a fluorescent bulb, a single LED replacement strip and the deluxe LED kit, which includes three LED strips placed with reflectors on the top and sides of the vending machine.
“We wanted to bring people to a snack machine from 20 to 30 feet away,” said Garson. Having a number of LED strips does that. The unique blue-white color of the LED, together with the reflectors, has an illuminating effect on the vending products as well, said Garson. VEII’s deluxe lighting package offers three LED bulbs to replace the fluorescent bulbs and reflectors that have a mirror-like coating on the inside and are able to reflect the LED’s light onto the products instead of out towards the customer. The reflectors target the LEDs shining on the left onto products on the far right, and the far right lights get directed to products on the left. This gives even coverage of light to the products and avoids hot spots, said Garson. He compared the LED kits to a black light. “It makes the products jump out at you,” stated Garson.
At the fall NAMA show in St. Louis, Mo., VEII is coming out with an infrared sensor kit that can be installed on any machine with its LED lighting, Garson said. The infrared sensor will dim the LEDs when customers are not present. When a customer walks into the sensor’s radius, lights will instantly turn on, drawing attention to the products in the machine.
Billy Buckholz, chairman of Goodman Vending Co., Reading, Pa., got a shock the first time he saw the LEDs in one of his vending machines.
“They hadn’t told me about them,” he said. “I walked into an account and the machine was all lit up,” said Buckholz. “The products looked like they were sparkling.”
Buckholz decided to try the lights in five accounts with a lot of traffic, especially transient accounts. After doing one machine in a bank of machines, Buckholz saw sales rise 15 percent. Thrilled, he added LEDs to the rest of the machines at the location and pulled a report at six months. Unfortunately, the weather got hot and the economy went cold. Buckholz has seen a drop in most accounts, but the ones with the LED lights didn’t drop at all. In better conditions, he estimated he’s seen an average increase of 5 percent for machines with the LEDs.