I have some good news for operators. The perception of the vending machine is changing. Although I am still a newbie to vending, I have noticed over the last year that the machine image has changed — improved for the better. And let me tell you why. I follow social media each day and I am constantly seeing what consumers are saying about #vendingmachines on Twitter.
Over the last several months I noticed less negative comments about vending machines and more comments about those machines that are out of the ordinary. Novelty machines, so to speak. I never thought much of it until I went back to look at all of the stories of the strange, interesting and creative vending machines we’ve covered this year...and that list was too long to name in this blog, so I narrowed it down to just November. My conclusion is this: novelty vending machines are changing the way consumers think about and interact with the big, black box of foodservice.
Vending is strong
Earlier this month we reported the third-quarter Operator Confidence Index (OCI). Operators described an aberration — vending wasn’t simply maintaining in sales, it was growing. The economy started showing signs of improvement, which means that consumers have more spending money for things like vending machines.
But sales weren’t the only strong thing for vending machines. I even noticed an increased amount of positive vending media coverage from outlets that aren’t in our industry. Let me give you a few of our November examples; the Harvard Crimson posted a list of their top eight best vending machines on campus; a super fast vending machine was found in Illinois; an Arizona college replaced an entire pharmacy with one prescription vending machine; a man created a vending machine that sells only hair and a Canadian mall installed cufflink and donut vending machines in an effort to draw customer attention. Each of these “big, black boxes” gathered national attention...positive national attention. These machines are helping to change the conversation from “Shake the machine until the snack falls out” to “Cool, look at what’s inside that vending machine!”
There is power in marketing
I like to run and I like to run road races, however, I usually frown upon the novelty races I’m sure you’ve all seen — where volunteers throw powder on runners when they jog by, etc. However, with some coaxing, I signed up for a novelty run last summer and was surprised that over 7,000 people had signed up as well (in my experience, most 5k races in this area of Wisconsin have less than 1,000 participants). Most weren’t runners, but they had gathered their friends and were using the race as a bonding experience. Many shared photos, tweets and ‘likes’ of their participation, which increased the amount of exposure for the event. Similarly, I think, novelty vending machines give our industry positive exposure and engage consumers with the latest technology.
There is no limit to vending. Really, there isn’t. Although technically just a box, a vending machine is like a painting on a canvas. An artist is not limited by the canvas on which he or she paints and that most certainly is true for what a vending operator can do with a vending machine. It just takes thinking a little outside the "box".