By Hilary Danailova
Clean, shiny machines full of fresh, appealing items – that’s the recipe for revenue at bulk vending and redemption game machines, according to a survey of industry veterans.
“The best way to keep them earning is to make sure they’re full and clean,” affirmed Jonathan Zale, who owns Vending of Texas in Houston. “That’s the most important thing, because that’s what attracts people.”
Vending machine suppliers all agreed that a spanking clean, attractive installation is the number-one key to drawing in customers – and keeping those machines earning for their arcades, sports bars, pizza parlors, family entertainment centers, and other venues.
“If the machines are not sparkling, forget it,” said Frank Davol, who has owned Davol Vending in Florence, Texas, an Austin suburb, for three decades. “It has to have a lot of flash; that’s what the millennials and the Gen X-ers are after. They have grown up used to big-box, clean environments and they want their games to be as clean as they can find.”
In addition to cleanliness, Justin Packrone, the director of operations at James Vending in Lemont Furnace, Pa., observed that strategic lighting is part of that visual appeal. His team employs LED bulbs – a more modern, energy efficient alternative to fluorescence – to ensure that James’s redemption game machines are seen in the best possible light by customers.
“Even [with] your older machines, you can switch out the old fluorescent bulbs for LEDs, and it just makes them more attractive,” said Packrone. “If the prizes are looking old, people won’t put the money in. You’ve got to keep them clean and well lit.”
Maintenance is also a critical part of that mission, vending suppliers all say. A broken machine, or one that appears creaky, will not earn – so industry experts maximize revenue by making sure maintenance issues are resolved promptly. That’s particularly critical if the issue in question involves the payment system. Most vending and redemption games are still operated with either coins or bills, which are subject to physical jams. Credit and debit readers can also encounter problems processing sensitive card strips.
In London, Ky., Jessica Napier of Revenue Boosters, LLC, said fast response to vending machine issues is critical to keep income flowing. “Whenever any of our locations calls with a coin jam, we try to gather quickly and get on top of it,” said Napier, whose firm supplies everything from cranes to Key Master and gumball machines. “You don’t want to make your merchants wait around.”
Beyond cleanliness and functionality, vending suppliers all said their top tip for high-earning machines is keeping them stocked with up-to-date, appealing merchandise that tempts modern customers – whether candy, toys, or bigger-ticket redemption prizes like tablets and drones.
To maximize revenue, “the main thing is rotation – keeping what’s in those machines new and fresh,” said Brian Botsch, the owner of Knox Amusement, a 60-year-old, third-generation business in Rochester, N.Y. “You’ve always got to follow the movies, know what’s popular.” Botsch supplies his redemption and prize machines around upstate New York with the latest licensed toys and rubber trinkets to attract children; drones and other pricey electronic gadgets are the hot tickets for older kids and adults, he said.
Indeed, industry experts say installing both kinds of games – frequent-win, inexpensive prizes for youngsters and higher-end prizes for adults – is a fail-proof formula to keep machines earning. At James Vending, Justin Packrone has had success attracting older players to redemption games with electronic prizes like Xboxes, PlayStations, tablets, and iPads. He noted that teens and adults are more likely to pass on smaller prizes, feeding a stream of coins and bills for the chance to win something big.
But for amusements aimed at children, Packrone added, inexpensive toys are a better bet, with more frequent “wins” making both parents and kids happier and encouraging repeat play – along with more revenue in the machines. “Kids love winning, so they’ll cash out and get the small prize,” Packrone explained, who added that James has been moving away from the perennial plush and toward trendier kids’ toys – such as the so-called knobby balls that have been especially popular lately. “You need to be sure you have your finger on the pulse of what the kids want, what they’re looking for, keeping it fresh, keeping it different.”
So how do vendors know what players want? “It’s always a challenge,” acknowledged Frank Davol. “We’ve discovered that you can’t just put candy in there; you need prizes, little trinkets and widgets the kids can play with.” Not surprisingly, given the nap-sabotaging effects of a sugar rush, “the parents often prefer that as well,” Davol added.
Davol’s strategy is to troll Best Buy, Wal-Mart and other big-box stores for inspiration, asking retailers about what merchandise is selling particularly well. “A lot of times, it’s just being inquisitive,” Davol said, who poses specific questions – What’s the best-selling game for Xbox right now? – and uses that information to purchase tempting redemption prizes. Davol Vending stocks a wide range of venues, from Mexican restaurants and sports bars to arcades, with Key Master, crane, and other machines that dispense candy and plush toys as well as popular electronics.
Zale, who owns Vending of Texas, mentioned another way vendors lure customers to their machines – sponsorship for a local charity. When patrons know some of the proceeds are going to a worthy cause, they’re more likely to volunteer their cash for Skittles, M&Ms, Reese’s and other treats, said Zale, who recalled that his business was born with two dozen bulk candy vending machines. “We’ve had guide dogs for the blind, or the missing children; we’ve gotten a lot of response for them,” Zale explained of his vending sponsors. “People want to put that quarter into the machine because it helps a good cause.”
At the end of the day, Davol noted, redemption games inspire a thrill similar to that of gambling – the excitement of putting in a quarter and getting a whole lot more. That’s why his company increasingly uses gift cards as a lure, “things they can redeem in a sporting goods or a grocery store,” Davol said. “Monetary value is the closest thing we can get to that gambling aspect.
“If people feel like they’re going to get something that can be exchanged for something that they want in a store,” Davol added, “whether it’s beer, gas, or groceries – then they feel the money they invest into a Key Master is money they’ll get back.”