Bulk Vending Prizes and Toys
Taking a Calculated Approach to Stocking Best Bests

If there’s a single issue about which vending machine and coin-op machine operators can concur,

it’s this: The prevalent trend in capsule toys and non-capsule toys prizes is that no trend exists; what’s hot and what’s not truly differs not only from company to company, but from location to location. If another issue on which players agree is added to the mix, it’s that attracting the attention of target audiences should not be left to chance.

Rick Krikorian is owner of Rick’s Vending & Distributing in Visalia, Calif. Although he relies somewhat on his intuition to identify potential winners on the bulk vending and toy/prize fronts alike, he experiments with candidates for one- and two-inch capsules before rolling them out to his customer base. The latter consists primarily of independently operated bowling alleys, skating rinks, pizza parlors and restaurants.

“I’ll order one, two or three boxes of items you can put in capsules, and then give them to local customers to get their opinions and quick one- or two-week read on the situation,” Krikorian explained. “I’ll also compare the sales figures for anything I’m testing with sales figures for ‘proven’ items. If they’re consistent, then I know I probably have a winner.”

Currently, Krikorian’s most in-demand capsulated toys are aliens and Ninja fighting men for boys and acrylic rings and other “bling” for girls; 32-millimeter balls and erasers appeal to both genders. NFL stickers, Angry Birds and Sugar Sticker Tattoos are moving briskly as well. “Right now, these are what kids see as value for their money,” Krikorian stated, adding that youngsters ages 4 to 12 comprise the target market for capsulated items.

“But that changes on a dime.”

For the latter reason, and to ensure that capsulated toys garner children’s attention no matter what venue they happen to be visiting, Krikorian changes his assortments every month or two. “If you keep the same items in there month after month, they’ll stop looking,” he said.

In non-capsulated toys and prizes, the audience for which starts with kids ages 8 and up and extends through to the adult crowd, team-specific NFL and, to a lesser extent, MLB merchandise, including, but not limited to small plush and bumper stickers, remains in favor.

Krikorian attributed this pattern in large part to the large pockets of team sports fanatics that frequent the locations he serves; in football, these encompass fans of the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco 49ers, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys; in baseball, San Francisco Giants devotees.

“Really, anything that’s lightweight and can be easily picked up by a crane, goes,” Krikorian said.

Like Rick’s Vending & Distributing, Amusement Unlimited of Eugene, Ore., caters to the younger crowd, kids in the 3- to 8-year-old age group, with capsule toys and to tweens and up with non-capsule toys and prizes. Office Manager Jon Rust, whose responsibilities extend, along with those of his brother Jamie, to toy- and prize-buying, said Sqwishland squishy, rubber-like toys in zoo, sea, jungle and barnyard animal motifs currently trump all other offerings on the capsule toy front.

“Kids like these because they provide a lot of value for very little money,” Rust noted. “They can carry them in their pockets, play with them in the tub, build up collections and use them in play with other toys.”

Other capsule favorites, Rust said, encompass almost any type of jewelry and stickers and removable tattoos, in designs that range from Disney Princesses and superheroes to animals and skull-and-crossbones. Rust attributed the popularity of tattoos to the fact that children want to emulate the increasing number of adults who seem to be jumping on the tattoo bandwagon. “Parents are fine with them because they know they can be washed off easily in a few days, if not sooner,” Rust said.

For Amusement Unlimited, two-in capsule toys move best in self-redemption machines and the All American Chicken machine. Rust speculated that this is because many children are more thrilled by the idea that they have won something (even if, in self-redemption machines, they really haven’t) than by the idea that they merely bought it.

As for non-capsule prizes, which appeal to all ages, Rust said kids as young as 3 years old are most captivated by plush, especially Angry Birds plush given its overall popularity, and small battery-operated, remote-control cars, “for the cool factor.” Pricier prizes, including movies, DVDs, Apple iTunes and movie gift cards and electronic devices rate with the older set.

While Amusement Unlimited does not perform trials of toys and prizes as Rick’s Vending & Distributing does, instinct and observations of what might be moving in other operators’ locations leads to about 90 percent of merchandise selection made by Rust and others involved in the process. “The remaining 10 percent is a gamble, but with everything, we know within one to two weeks whether it will take off in general and if not, we find other ways to dispose of it, so to speak,” Rust said.

To continually draw attention to the contents of all machines, product is rotated regularly. Occasionally, it is moved between locations to keep customers guessing about what will be available.

Tattoos are also major heavy-hitters on the capsule side for B&G Amusement and Vending Company, according to Owner Chuck Bengimina. However, tongue tattoos, offered by Candy Tung Toos, trump other tattoos in terms of popularity.

“Kids want to be like adults, and this gives them a way to” emulate their elders with a slightly different twist, Bengimina said. The same catalyst continues to bode well for Fuzzy Face Mustaches.

For some operators, the best-performing capsule toys – and non-capsule toys and prizes, for that matter – are those that aren’t commonly seen in self-redemption machines and games supplied by competitors.

“Unique is what we look for, what captures attention and what sells,” said Douglas Coon, owner of Fun World in Lake George, N.Y. Magnetic rattle snake egg capsule toys are the operator’s top capsule toy prize at the moment. Angry Oranges plush in three sizes occupy the head of the non-capsule hit parade.

“Kids are into the novelty,” Coon noted, adding that along with a bit of uniqueness, the novelty factor is his gauge for identifying potential winners. –

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