Locations that give employee perks know how much their staff enjoy the free soda at an event or the gift certificate presented for good performance. Employers often choose their refreshment services based on who can offer these promotions, which means vending operators have a great opportunity when they provide alternative payment options. Tokens and coupons can be used in lieu of commissions, refunds, added value, etc. Technology is adding even more possibilities.
The most established payment option — coupons — is very secure, printed with special inks that cannot be copied. Each bill acceptor manufacturer provides them as added value or service.
One advantage of coupons is counting; typical bill counters even with no special features will separate them from bills. However, the cost per coupon is high, and counters cannot distinguish between different coupons, so manual sorting is also needed. One reason the cost is higher is the limited life of the coupon. One operator reported his generic coupons lasted 15 vends.
With the world moving cashless, online and stored value technologies could replace coupons and token programs. With many advantages, like unlimited use, additional applications, technological novelty, and reasonable price, the keys and fobs for these systems are growing. The drawback, as with other cashless options, is the high cost of transaction fees and service, as well as the need for new equipment.
Alternatives ideal for free vend
Bob Yeomans, owner of Central Vending, Janesville, Wis., quickly saw the benefits of coupons for his company. He had several accounts that wanted periodic free vend for beverage machines during the lunch hour. "I was excited about less labor involved for events," he said. "I had to have a guy go out at noon and turn on the free vend. Then go back at one."
By selling coupons to the location, he didn't need to temporality place the machine on free vend. Hence, he eliminated those trips to the location to activate and deactivate the free function. This saved him labor and time. Not only is he not paying the employee to go to and from the account, but that employee is spending the time doing something more productive.
When Yeomans met with his vending location client to offer the coupons, he mentioned the benefits they would receive.
First, the alternative payment eliminated the charge from Central Vending, for going to the location twice. Secondly, free vend had allowed less scrupulous employees to take multiple beverages — more than they could possibly drink. This charge was passed on to the location, costing them extra money. If a single coupon was given to each employee, it was still free, but the location could control the cost. Plus, the coupons could be distributed by the company at other times, as an additional advantage. Yeomans' locations enthusiastically agreed.
Alternatives become added advantage
Depending on the location, the use of coupons can actually increase sales. Yeomans has vending machines at a hospital that rewards ambulance drivers for coming to the hospital with coupons to the vending machines purchased from Central Vending. "I'm sure it's increased sales in the hospital. Certainly not every driver would buy something if they did not receive the coupon," said Yeomans.
Billy Whitacre, COO, Food Express, Inc., Greensboro, N.C., originally interviewed in a 1996 Automatic Merchandiser article about his coupon use, is still using them. He uses a lot at companies' catering events, for free vend or to reward employees, with some companies ordering thousands of coupons at once. "They call us all the time for coupons," he said.
Whitacre will also carry coupons to give away when he visits a location. Which leads to one of the real benefits of coupons. According to Whitacre, "When you give away a $1 coupon, you're really only giving away the cost of the product, which might be 48 cents, instead of a dollar." The patron is receiving more perceived value than the cost to the operator.