After David Ashforth sold his vending business in the U.K. in 2008, he came to San Francisco, expecting to see high-tech everything, including vending machines. He was shocked to see that the wall-mounted, touchscreen, novelty product vending machines he was operating in the U.K. were more advanced and futuristic than what was being operated in the states. Seeing a void and an opportunity, Ashforth launched Digital Media Vending and began manufacturing vending machines.
Not traditional vending
Digital Media Vending is not a traditional vending machine manufacturer. They specialize in helping operators and entrepreneurs utilize their custom equipment to sell a wide variety of products. Soda, energy drinks and snacks are not part of the equation, but Ashforth encourages mainstream operators to take a long look at what Digital Media Vending has to offer, simply because of the strong revenue streams being enjoyed by his clients.
“Mainstream vending operators have the infrastructure in place to service any location,” said Ashforth. “It is a mistake for an operator to avoid the opportunity that exists in airports, shopping malls, schools and other high-traffic locations that our machines are made for. The unique design of our machines opens the door to locations that are typically out of reach for most operators.”
An open mind
Ashforth said he wants operators to have an open mind and look at machines, products and locations with higher revenue streams and higher margins than traditional vending. “Smart vending machines with touchscreens and powerful attract modes are generating big sales,” he said. “Some of our most successful customers are selling sweet products, local bakery products, like cupcakes and macarons. Typical customers will place one in a mall and generate between $5,000 and $12,000 dollars a month.”
While the machines provided by Digital Media Vending are customized to meet the specific needs of operators, Ashforth acknowledged that existing designs that are already in play can be utilized to sell a wide variety of different products. Often, the primary customization relates to the look of the machine and the all-important track mode.
Ashforth said that every Digital Media Vending machine has certain key characteristics that contribute greatly to operator success. “Every machine that we have comes with a touchscreen, every single one,” Ashforth said. “We are essentially 100% cashless. I can count on one hand the number of machines we have sold that take cash since 2013. We have a computer inside our machines. It's an Android industrial computer that is designed to be on all day, every day, just like the phone in your pocket. It's designed for touchscreens, so that enables us to create applications with a unique look for branding, and they are beautiful on the touchscreen.”
The compelling touchscreen
One example pointed to by Ashforth is the touchscreen of a machine selling cupcakes. “The operator can load a nice video of someone in a kitchen making a cupcake or have a spinning cupcake video that attracts customers. We are also able to show nutritional information on the screen. If it is an electronics product being sold, you can inform the consumer about the benefits of that product,” he added. “The screen really allows the operator to communicate with a customer in a powerful and compelling way.”
Success story: Cookie dough
Ashforth is happy to share some operator success stories. “I have this one great customer in Salt Lake City who sells edible cookie dough. He places these vending machines in malls, in college libraries and in movie theaters. This is a $4 product, but he is selling an average of around $8,000 to $10,000 a month per machine,” Ashforth said. “The key is that on the touchscreen, when the machine isn’t being used, there is this wonderful slow-motion video playing of someone mixing a bowl of ingredients. Then, someone else sprinkles powdered sugar on the dough. It just looks incredible. No one can walk past that machine without turning their head and going, ‘wow, what's that?’ I don't think anyone who saw the machine that day was leaving their house thinking, ‘Oh, I want to go buy some edible cookie dough from a vending machine today,’ but when you can grab a customer’s attention and their imagination, it will attract them to the machine. That attract mode also contributes to the operator’s success in getting those great locations,” Ashforth explained.
Healthier options – a perfect fit
While operators who sell candy, snacks and beverages are not being targeted by Ashforth, he believes that healthier food options are a perfect fit for Digital Media Vending customers who want to take their sales to a higher level. “It could be wraps, it could be hearty sandwiches, it could be salads, it could be a soup that needs to be heated. Customers are looking for something healthier, and by offering something healthier, you have a chance of capturing some impressive revenue and margins,” Ashforth said. Co-branded deals with locally owned restaurants are becoming common place for Digital Media Vending customers, a concept that according to Ashforth, is well received by airports, which are never an easy sell for operators.
Big success in vape vending
In what may seem like a throwback to the past to some operators, in some states, particularly in the South and East, vape pens and vape cartridges are generating tremendous revenue for operators who are working with Digital Media Vending and utilizing age-verification software when necessary. “They are being placed in nightclubs and bars – digital wall mounted vending machines that hold either 10 or 20 different vape products, with a total capacity of around 120 to 240 vape units,” Ashforth noted. “We work with many entrepreneurs who are operating these machines, and it represents some of our biggest operator success stories.”
Ashforth said that there is one clear reason to explore a business relationship with Digital Media Vending. “The pandemic taught us the importance of diversification,” he said. “Why have all your eggs in one basket? The future is automation, and these machines offer a variety of options and an opportunity to generate partnerships with local manufacturers and restaurants. Everyone saw the trend taking shape at the 2023 NAMA Show in Atlanta, and it is only going to get bigger.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Tullio is a content specialist, speaker, sales trainer, consultant and contributing editor of Automatic Merchandiser/VendingMarketWatch.com. He advises entrepreneurs on how to build a successful business from the ground up and specializes in helping suppliers connect with operators in the convenience services industry – coffee service, vending, micro markets and pantry service specifically.
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