The Case For Investing In The Break Room

April 21, 2016

In the vending and micro market industry, we focus a lot on products. Do you have the right mix for your location? Are you using data to understand how a certain demographic shops? Do you need to add different types of nutritious products?

One element that rarely gets mentioned is refreshing your unattended retail space. Specifically, I’m talking about updating and refreshing the areas on the outside of the vending machine or micro market racks/coolers. To some small business owners, this seems like wasted money. The vending machine or existing break room elements are functional. That is not why consumers visit the vending machine or micro market. Or is it?

The ROI of customer experience

I think small business owners tend to under estimate the value of these non-product or efficiency enhancing investments. To be fair, it is difficult. I’ve written before about how my family owns a non-vending small business and it is hard to justify non-essential improvements. On the surface these seem to be just “window dressing” or hold no return on investment (ROI), especially when compared to a new product which either sells or doesn’t. The data to support whether it’s a good product for the business/location is very straight forward. Support for using technology for a more streamlined and efficient business is a little more elusive, but profit and loss statements as well as the reporting often help explain the ROI.

The benefit to investing in new vending machine fronts or sophisticated looking break room tables for the micro market is harder to see. Here are some statistics that may help prove my point. Research shows that 55 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience. This statistic is from a Huffington Post article about an annual survey done by Esteban Kolsky, founder and principal of thinkJar, a Customer Strategy consulting and think tank organization.

Another survey reported that 80 percent of U.S. consumers would pay more for a product or service to ensure a superior customer experience. This one appeared in a blog and it was taken from a White House Office of Consumer Affairs study.

Publically traded companies who were customer experience leaders produced a cumulative total return of just over 22 percent, whereas companies who lagged behind in customer experience returned -46 percent, over the same 5 year period. Admittedly this stat is a few years old, from a 2012 Fast Company article, but I don’t believe it is any less relevant.

Real life examples

Merchandising the inside of a vending machine is difficult. There aren’t many spaces, and certain products require being in certain positions. So refacing the outside is an excellent way to refresh a vending machine and enhance that all important customer experience. Highlight the company location, city, or other element where the machine is placed. Create a high-end sophisticated look with paint or graphics. Try digital signage or blinking decals that attract attention. Branding a machine with icons and slogans that represent a consumer trend can also be powerful. Highlight the healthy and nutritious items in the machine with a different vending machine wrap or tout the fact that half the products inside are locally sourced. Think outside the box - literally.

For micro markets, the idea is to bring in more consumers. Break rooms with micro markets enjoy being a draw for employees, more so than break rooms with vending machines. The more comfortable and inviting the break room space is, the more employees will come to the market, stay to eat, and ultimate see your other promotional materials and well-thought out product selections.

Also, setting yourself apart visually can give an operator a competitive advantage, as well as improve the customer experience. There are more options than ever for consumers to choose from to eat and snack, so don’t under estimate the important of the customer experience.