Consequences Of Non Traditional Vending Offerings

March 23, 2017

Ever since the first industrial vending machines saw success offering ear plugs and safety glasses, there has been a push for vending operators to offer non food items as well. Even before the industrial vending machine, it was an idea that creative thinkers considered when looking for new revenue streams using their existing equipment.  Now, beyond machines such as Fastenal, there are multiple reports of companies transforming the traditional food vending machine to dispense something else. Best Buy sells electronics. Libraries dispense books. Facebooks offer USB drives. And a Jail in Sussex County, NJ, sells gloves. Or sold them, as the decision was reversed shortly after it was made. 

Cautionary tale 

If you live in that area, you probably heard the news. A Facebook posting showed rubber gloves, which officers need to work, were being sold in the vending machine for a $1. If the photo along with the article from New Jersey Herald is accurate, this wasn't just one or two spirals, but 16 spirals, much more than the few candy options occupying one row.  I won't pretend I have the details. According to the report, one side says the officers were forced to buy the gloves, while the other claims the gloves in the vending machine were meant for visitors to purchase if they desired. Regardless of the truth, this conflict opened my eyes to a possible consequence of offering non-traditional items that I hadn't considered or heard mentioned. How and whom decides what to put in the vending machine and whether it is acceptable to charge for it? At issue is the fact that most jobs must, or do, provide employees with the tools needed to perform their jobs. When does that "providing" acceptably cross over into charging? What is necessary for the job and what is just "nice to have"? The industrial vending machine movement is at the forefront of this dilemma with the objects they dispense, often necessary to the work being performed. However, few workers are actually using their own money to make the purchase, from my understanding. In most cases, while the worker has an identification card or similar, in order to be held accountable, they are not physically charged money for acquiring the items from the industrial vending machine. I believe that was the real issue with the jail in New Jersey. Not that the gloves were in the machine, but that they had to be purchased. It certainly elicited a response. In the Herald article, New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan was quoted as calling this an "...incredibly stupid mistake." and calling for whoever was responsible to be held accountable. If gloves were truly available to officers for work and these were "extra" to be purchased, I personally think that is a bit extreme. However, perhaps not if the opposite is true.  

Again, regardless of the true in this case, I think it brings out a dark side to offering non-food items. Whenever an operators steps out of traditional refreshments and into offering items that could be considered "needed for the job" there should be some consideration to the possible backlash. Are these items truly extra things that someone could and should purchase? Are the items necessary, and should therefore be covered by the company, instead of the employee, via vending machine and micro markets? It might require some extra conversations with the location. 

This incident in New Jersey is a cautionary tale for the operator looking at alternative products to offer in machines. It is a model that has been successful, but should be considered carefully before pursuing.