Non-traditional vending

More and more vending machines are being used for purposes other than refreshment dispensing. Users see bright red machines delivering DVDs in most grocery stores. At airports, electronics and related accessories are routinely sold from big, glassfront machines. Gold, flowers, cosmetics, library books — they are all being offered from automatic merchandisers. And none of them are food. It makes me wonder what the future will look like. Is there an opportunity for traditional vending operators to think outside the ‘kitchen?’

Reconfigured vending machines

Specifically when ran the news item about Facebook, which customized a vending machine in its headquarters to dispense (and control quantities of) computer related supplies to employees, operators in the industry commented that it was nothing new. They had the expertise to reconfigure the inside of a machine to dispense multiple types of products (within certain package limits) for years. Indeed, in some public markets where sundries are part of the average machine plan-o-gram, they already do this. However, it’s never been taken further — to meet more needs of the workplace, and I’ve always wondered why?

Fastenall machine success

Fastenall is making money using machines to dispense employee supplies. The company’s last quarterly report showed a 7.7 percent increase in earnings, and sales had grown 5.3 percent — much of it fueled by installing the more than 8,400 new vending machines during the first six months of 2013. While Fastenall runs on a different business model than the traditional vendor, I wonder why an outdated vending machine in the warehouse couldn’t be retrofitted to dispense pens, pads of paper, etc.

I asked a larger operator once and he just didn’t seem interested in the concept. He indicated there would be a supply problem. Where would vending operators get these supplies, he asked. And he didn’t think the logistics would work. He’s certainly out there, in the field with first hand knowledge that I admittedly lack. But I put it to a larger group of vending operators? Do you agree? Are there too many supply and logistical problems with offering a location a machine that could regulate office supplies? Is it a different business model? Or are some of you quietly investigating this sideline for yourselves and having success with automatically merchandising what boils down to ancillary products at locations you are already visiting?

Please drop me a line and share your thoughts on non-traditional vending.