Whitacre definitely uses the fact that his company offers coupons to win business. "It's more of a sales tool or marketing (tool) for us," said Whitacre. "To sell a location, we tell the customer we have coupons, then suggest how we can use them, how they can use them, etc."
Whitacre said some operators are using coupons instead of cash for refunds, although his company is not doing this. It counters fraudulent refunds, especially when business gets tight, but it can be a tough sell.
Having partnered with Coin Acceptors Inc. (Coinco) back when coupons were first being developed, Whitacre has fine tuned some of his practices when using the non-cash payment. He use to allow different locations to customize the coupons, using their logo. "We got away from that because the (bill) counters won't separate by company," said Whitacre. The machines simply separate the coupons from cash. Whitacre decided to just have a standard coupon.
"We don't charge a fee for printing a coupon anymore," added Whitacre. Now the charge is simply the face value of the coupon, either one dollar or a free vend.
Yeomans at Central Vending hasn't started using coupons for refunds because the coupons only come in dollar amounts or a free vend, which tends not to match the cost of the refund. He also finds companies don't want to foot the bill for personal logos and are satisfied with a generic coupon. A trend he's noticed is the move to one-vend options. "The bulk of coupons used are for soda sales," Yeomans said. "As we move (higher than the) $1 price point, these (one free vend coupons) are better solutions."
Dominic Macerola, president, Rome Refreshment Services, Houston, Texas, uses generic Coinco coupons for larger customers. He has also found them to be a good selling tool. "When you're targeting companies interested in good equipment and quality service, they do appreciate that (the coupons)," he said. He's even provided them to a school, which purchased the coupons from him to provide to students as rewards; they allowed students to get snacks and beverages from the machines.
Macerola never used tokens, believing coupons are easier to work with and look more appealing.
Overland, Kan.-based Treat America Inc.'s president John Mitchell Jr., has been using generic coupons from both Coinco and MEI for several years as options in lieu of commissions. About 5 percent of customers take advantage of his coupon option, but these customers typically end up buying more coupons over time when they see what they can do with them.
"It really becomes a source of opportunity for our clients to do all sorts of fun things," Mitchell said. "The clients who use them like them a lot." It isn't unusual for clients to use coupons as rewards for various types of achievement, such as following safe practices. According to Mitchell, one client stands at the front of the building in the morning, passing out coupons for a free soda to all employees who come in on time that day.
Manufacturers have multiple generics
Generic coupons do differ from each other, so there is no cross usage between vending operators' machines. Tom Mattingly, national service manager, Coinco, said Coinco never gives the same generic to more than one operator in the same area. Generics run about 10 cents apiece with a 1,000 minimum order. Custom coupons are also available, but are more expensive with $3,000 for development of 4-color graphics, which mean upwards of 60 cents a coupon; less with big orders and fewer colors.
Coinco also sells the handheld programs needed to program the validators for its coupons. One unit, which will do infinite machines, is approximately $135. Mattingly said, "I'd say right now it (coupon usage) is on the upswing." He attributed this largely to Canteen's recent push.
Crane Merchandising Systems/NRI sells coupons, a free vend version with the JCM DBV 301 machine and three different values (free, $1 and $5) for the new Cashcode validators. According to Chuck Reed, CMS' vice president and general manager, the non-cash payment systems are being included in bill validators because of the interest, but usage remains low.
MEI uses third parties to make both coupons and tokens for use in the MEI machines which require no special programming unit.