Following the Kids Toward Popular Products

Follow children into restaurants, schools, family entertainment centers and while they wait for parents and you’ll see what’s hot in vending machines for 2012. And while you’re at it, don’t stop in the vestibule if you want to build new revenue. As the folks did at Vendomatic, Inc., based in Frederick, Md., the bulk vending company carted those machines clear into a large chain of department stores, up the elevator and directly into the kids’ department.
The machines are doing surprisingly well there, said Vendomatic owner and President Don Goletz, who also observed the merchandise trends kids are cultivating while at the machines. “Sticker book interest has dropped with technology-age kids and electronics making an impact. They have more to do than put stickers in a book.”
If any stickers are keeping up with the increased interest in tattoos, it’s the Angry Birds line and based on what he’s seeing as his company serves 17 Eastern states at 11,000 stores, Goletz expects the industry overall will continue to sell increasingly more licensed product. “We have in the past, and as manufacturers and suppliers get licensed, they’ll push up price points toward more 50 cent, 75 cent and $1 toys.”
Vendomatic is testing out ParSal’s All American Chicken machine, and Goletz expects to see more of them out in marketplace further into 2012 because of the small footprint, flashing lights, music and custom chicken sounds, and because it takes plastic eggs or 2-inch capsules for bulk product.
Vendomatic’s top accounts hold true to the vending industry’s mainstay for the most profitable locations, which are those boasting the foot traffic, such as supermarkets, dollar stores, bowling centers, malls, mass merchandisers, Walmarts and FECs.
Goletz would love to predict that due to the economy, as stores and retailers need more money, the industry would get new business that would help the bottom line of those who need revenue. “That’s the best that could happen, if everybody could get machines that they didn’t have in the past, which we always work toward building, not just swapping locations.”
The trend of increase in prices reaches cross-country to the West Coast. Rick Krikorian, owner of Rick’s Vending & Distributing, based in Visalia, Calif., noted that more operators are changing coin mechanisms to adapt to higher denominations. However, licensed products were not as strong as the hot fad type of merchandise in 2011, said Krikorian. “Disney doesn’t give their best licensed characters to the vending industry.”
While looking for the next hot trend to surface, Krikorian expects the same course to continue into 2012 that kids where vying for last year, including NFL stickers, Angry Birds and Sugar Sticker Tattoos, running strong for three years, continuously changing designs, and a glitter tattoo, as well as silly bands, with good readings on tongue tattoos.
“Kids go to the sticker machine to get tattoos,” said Krikorian, “Though I see a small increase on sayings stickers, making a surprisingly strong comeback from three to five years ago with a new version. Kids are into sayings if they can dial up the same ones that get into their psyche, and they look for them on the internet or iPhone. Someone did their research.”
Krikorian specializes in the small mom-and-pop establishments, the tried and true for kid traffic pizza parlors, restaurants, bowling alleys and skating rinks. “It all depends on the volume of the store. The industry is down a little with the influx of corporate businesses and the impact on small businesses, making it hard on our industry. The volume of a local grocer goes down 50 percent if a Target, that has no vending, moves into town. If Wal-Mart were to take it out, we’d be hurt big nationwide because we depend on regional and national chains. There’s no growth in the domestic market, rather overseas and corporate. They don’t think vending is value-added. If they did, we’d be in great shape because kids like to turn that crank to get a toy.”
Many operators decided to cash in on the staples, food and drink. With vending merchandise costs nearly doubled, Michael Willette, owner of Northeast Vending, said the markup just wasn’t there in his neck of the Manchester, Conn., woods. Yet, as he streamlined his 25-year-old business down to soda and snack machines only, sales are still off 35 percent. “It depends on whatever customers can bear in this economy,” he noted, “And it all balances out location to location. Better locations that want a commission average out with regular locations. Best is to diversify yourself.” The snacks and soda machines go hand in hand in his various hotel, school, gas station and laundromat locations.
Brand Vending, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., recently unveiled a new Sqwishland soft collectible toy product line. “Sqwishland is our number one seller in bulk vending and has sold a hundred million pieces,” said National Sales Manager Craig Goodman.
The Squishland line, as well as traditional tattoos, are popular because of the fan base following, and the traditional line is colorful and appeals to girls and boys alike, noted Goodman. The company doesn’t wait for trends to dictate its direction. Said Goodman, “Our practice is to study the market and try to logically figure out why a line will gain popularity.” That profitable market, he added, is any place that kids are present.
“We continuously get new versions in of what kids keep asking for and that’s what we sell the most of,” said Dan Pasckiewicz, owner of Cardinal Distributing Co., Inc., Baltimore, Md. “If it’s plush, one month we stock animals and the next, hearts. It’s variations of what’s popular and still in the 50 cent price range.”
The 25 cent and 50 cent capsule flat vend tattoos that currently attract the girls are back tattoos, and new versions appear for them every two to three months. Also popular with girls are Disney tattoos and their Princess stickers, and for little boys, mean looking dogs. Pasckiewicz noted that, “As adults, we think something might be a winner, put it in the machine, and kids walk right by it.”
In kids’ eyes, super are acrylic rings of various colors and designs. Also constant sellers are Icky Sticky creatures of revamped designs every three to four months. And already showing profitability promise are child finger-size crayon rings, Pasckiewicz said.
What’s popular gets moved along the pipeline and on Facebook, said Chuck Bengimina, owner of B&G Amusement and Vending Company, based in Kansas City, Mo. And the winners are Angry Birds, Fuzzy Face Mustaches, Sticky Hands, Mini-Malz small animals, farm and domesticated, and in a big way, tongue tattoos from Candy Tung Toos. Surprise hits are string Voodoo Dolls.
Tattoos fit nicely into the value of pretend play with today’s kids. “Tattoos are always a popular gimmick for kids to play with and be like adults,” noted Bengimina. “Stickers and tattoos will remain popular because there are so many more types to get copyrights on and to enhance a business.”
Kids are crowding around self-redemption machines and the All American Chicken machine. “Anything that can hold their attention for a brief moment does well,” said Bengimina. “Self-redemption has the ball to win every time. When the ball loads into the plunger area, comes up and out, it’s unique and gives satisfaction that they earned the prize. The interactive part supersedes just getting the prize.  And All American Chicken gives out an egg as a surprise and that holds their attention.” –

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