Bulk vending, which represents less than 1 percent of the total vending industry, can be a successful business venture when given the right amount of planning and sales expertise. Toys and stickers are a common choice to fill bulk vending machines, which are primarily located in grocery stores, restaurants, Laundromats and malls. To attract the prime demographic for toys and stickers, and continuously inspire sales, vending machine owners must stay on top of the trends and repeatedly make decisions about what works and what does not.
Henry Brown, owner of Brown’s Coin Machines, Inc. in Waco, Texas, said when it comes to toys and stickers, those in their early teens are his target market. “The younger teens like to buy what is popular. Right now ‘Hannah Montana’ stickers are the best seller, but there are some old-fashioned favorites that do well,” said Brown. NFL and MLB stickers are an example of something that always sells, although their popularity is seasonal.
To enhance toy and sticker sales, Brown said he places machines in areas where the target audience is spending time. “Teens are hanging around in convenience stores and cafes, so we know to keep our machines in those locations. Cafes are the top-selling location for toys and stickers by far,” said Brown.
In Houston, Texas, Richard Barton, operations manager at Global Vending Corporation, said that his bulk vending machines are present at 40 CiCi’s Pizza locations in the Houston area. With the plush mix for the claw machines being the best-selling toy product and Ed Hardy stickers also doing well, it is clear to see that popularity is based somewhat on current trends, but old faithfuls, like stuffed animals, are still a big draw.
“Our demographic is children aged 6 to 17. We take a look at our locations and if it is a restaurant with more of a young crowd, we will put more toys and stickers in those locations,” remarked Barton, about how he captures more business from this group.
Trends come and go, so stocking both those fad items and the standard top-sellers is key, according to Ralph Lacy, owner of Lacy Vending Inc. in Greenville, Texas. “You’ve got your seasonal top-sellers, such as NFL stickers during football season, and then your trendy items, like the rubber band bracelets. Those trendy pieces do not last too long, so you also have to have merchandise that will sell anytime, such as the ring mix, which is always a good bet,” Lacy said.
Lacy does well selling to teens, who want novelties and jewelry, and also to little children, who like the ring mixes and anything fuzzy. “To attract more business, you have to keep a variety of merchandise in stock. There must be something for everyone,” said Lacy. To further draw in sales, Lacy likes to have a lead item in each machine, something more appealing and fun, which helps attract customers and keeps them playing.
Lacy’s machines are found in grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, Laundromats and beauty shops and all these locations perform well. Said Lacy, “We also have machines in some Ma and Pa grocery shops that you may not imagine would have done well, but they really do as well as a supermarket chain. You just can’t tell by looking at a place if it will perform well or not.”
Similarly, Tyler Cannon, manager for Lakeside Electronic and Amusement Company in Madisonville, La., said that it is difficult to tell how well a location will do by sight alone. “We have machines in restaurants, Laundromats and drug stores, but there are two restaurant locations that outperform the others,” Cannon said. Cannon surmised that the good sales could be because these restaurants are in a high-traffic area or that it is an upper-class clientele, but he does not know for sure.
“Our demographic is children aged 3 to 12,” said Cannon, who sticks with what he knows will sell, when it comes to stocking machines being successful. Currently, that means providing locations with machines that feature NFL stickers and squishy animal pencil toppers, which are all the rage. “The pencil toppers do really well right now. They come in many styles, such as sea animals and jungle animals, and they are 25 cents each,” described Cannon. Old favorites sell well, too, for Cannon’s company, such as ring mixes.
Joseph Horak, owner of Automatic Amusements and Music Company in Waterloo, Iowa, follows popular culture when buying stickers and toys for his vending machines. “Right now, ‘Family Guy’ stickers and toy figurines are our most popular sellers for kids aged 8 to 14,” Horak remarked. “You have to stay on top of the latest trends. Kids get bored easily and they switch to new shows, so you have to always be up on those things,” said Horak, whose machines are located in movie theaters and bowling alleys.
While the other owners of bulk vending machine companies would stress the importance of popular culture when buying merchandise, Chad Jansen, president of Extreme Fun Amusement in Bozeman, Mont., had something different to say. “Old-fashioned favorites win hands down!” exclaimed Jansen. “Although, you have to have brand name items to keep up with the times and show variety for different ages,” Jansen said. Two to 18 year olds are the group that Jansen considers to be his demographic for stickers and toys. The younger set is drawn to the “sticky mix,” which are various sticky toys, and the teenagers prefer the stickers that feature crude sayings, such as those by the company Happy Bunny or Monkey Madness.
To keep customers interested and coming back for more, variety is key, according to Jansen, who likes to stock NFL, Disney, Ben 10 and Spongebob merchandise, in addition to the above-mentioned favorites. To guarantee good sales, Jansen also suggested locations where there is a captive audience. For Jansen, those places are pizza and burger restaurants, where there are many patrons that fit his demographic.
Whether it is toys and stickers that reflect the latest trends, or those good, old staples, like plastic rings and sports-related items, it is clear that with a good variety of both, the bases are all covered. With awareness of the target audience and serving locations that cater to that particular age group, a bulk vending machine operator can be on the road to successful sales. –