By Jennifer Harrison
Some call them the silent salesmen. Bulk vending machines have a lot to offer: they can take up little space, contain everything from plush toys and stickers to key chains and mini NFL cups, and because customers get a treat with the twist or the drop of a coin, satisfaction is almost guaranteed. To provide the scoop on bulk vending machine success, owners, operators and vending experts weighed in with their top tips of the trade.
Connect to the Customer and Tap into Trends
“If you wouldn’t buy it for yourself or your kids, then why would anyone else?” asked Clint Modrzejewski, sales manager for Lakeshore Merchandisers International, Springlake, Mich. which has been in the bulk vending machine and bulk supply distribution business in the United States and Canada for the past 20 years.
“Keep it simple and offer solid value. It’s not rocket science and operators need to learn how to master the perception that their customers have of their products and machines.” In Modrzejewski’s experience, items such as jewelry mixes and bouncy balls are sought-after classics. “Simplicity has merit and proves to be the most consistent for long-term success.”
Tapping into customer crazes works too.
“NFL-based products sell well and not just during football season, that’s all year long,” said Chip Catino, owner of C Vending Company, near Allentown, Pa., who’s been in the bulk vending business for over 15 years.
With over 100 machines in a variety of locations (from diners and grocery stores to laundromats and tattoo parlors) he’s often surprised by what sells and what does not. “One of my bulk vending locations is in an all-night diner and acrylic rings sell incredibly well there. If I run out, I hear about it.”
Catino admitted that it is hard to get into the head of the bulk vending customer and sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to what sells and what doesn’t. His biggest tip? “Listen to your distributor!”
Catino works with Cardinal Distributing out of Baltimore, Md., who offers a huge array of merchandise to fill vending machines – items such as mystical crystals, mini handcuffs and fake teeth. The distributor often suggests certain merchandise that historically has worked well for other vending machine operators. “99 out of 100 times it’s a winner,” Catino said.
Toby Denton of Super Lucky Games in southern California agreed that staying fresh and new is key. “Stay on top of the trends, keep the products fresh, clean and filled.”
Denton’s top-earning machine is the Designer 45 bulk rack from Impulse Industries. “I believe that the Designer 45 is a good earner because it is colorful and offers a wide variety of products for the consumer. Operators run candy, capsules, stickers and tattoos with prices ranging from 25 cents to $1.”
“When a small footprint is necessary, I use a Tomy Gacha vending machine because they take up only 1 or 2 square feet,” Denton said.
Location, Location, Location
“I believe the common theme for success with locations is anywhere there’s lots of foot traffic of all ages present,” explained Modrzejewski, adding that setting up vending machine shop in family, locally owned businesses, can be a win-win situation.
“Many of our operators locate in locally owned, family-friendly establishments. There is something [to be said] for the loyalty of customers who like to do business with others in their community, and that includes buying from vending machines at those locations.”
Then there is the issue of price.
“Over the past several years [we’ve seen] a gradual transition in price point from 25 cents up to 50 cents for a few 1.1-inch toy capsules and from 50 cents up to 75 cents and even $1 for some 2-inch capsule toys. There are some pretty cool toys available out there to help in the transition, but 50 cent items shouldn’t be neglected either,” Modrzejewski said.
Denton also uses a specific vending machine strategy to move merchandise.
“I will combine the various leftover capsules together and add a few premium capsules (normally vending at $1) and sell them for 50 cents with a Treasure Chest display. This is a good way to rid yourself of leftover inventory and also provide value to the consumer.”
Light Them Up
Stephen Dakin, owner of Champ Vending in Katy, Texas, likes to think outside the vending box.
Dakin has found success with the smaller-sized Glow Machine, a vending machine which sells light-up balls. His vending machine sits inside the Wild Wing Cafe in his hometown, and was an immediate hit. “I put it in, and within a week it was empty. I get about $300 to $400 a month from that little machine.”
Glow items can be hard to find in stores, thus making them more enticing to customers when they are discovered in a vending setting, especially when that customer is a kid. “They love that the balls light up.” Parents, on the other hand, like the fact that with bulk vending, there’s a prize at the end of the game. “They seem to have no problem giving their kids some money if they are guaranteed to get a toy.”