I saw a new and unusual vending machine at the movie theatre the other day that got me thinking. It dispensed candy – no big change up there – but how it dispensed candy intrigued me. I had to try it! I followed the instructions on the screen, watched the unit dispense the bulk candy into a specially labelled bag, and then it sealed the bag and it was mine.
Interesting, I thought, and of course being the tea sommelier that I am, my mind went into overdrive on what I could do with this. Could I dispense tea into the bags? “Yes,” came the answer – from behind me. I almost jumped! I guess I was using my outdoor voice. A man, or really the developer, installer, technician – basically the innovator – was right there. This was the first day the new machine was being installed. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. We started to talk about the possibilities of adding loose-leaf tea and after our quick consult we both decided, sure we could. But I had a movie to see, so off I went.
Now I can’t even remember the movie because my entrepreneurial mind was going crazy with the possibilities. I thought about it and realized physically it could happen, but why should it? Who would want to buy loose-leaf tea at a movie theatre? You want a hot cup of tea to drink during the movie, not some leaves to chew on like chewing tobacco, right? If the tea in the theatres was better I would drink it, but alas even the premium brand brings its B or C game, which means even then, it’s not great by my standards.
Figuring out the product mix is so key to knowing who the customer is. Keep it simple and go back to the basics: who, what, why, how. Where is where they are, and you can’t change that; its what you need to adapt to!
Who is buying in the location? Mom or Dad? For them or for the kids? For a younger brother or sister, or both? What are they buying? A pick-me-up, a dessert, or a thirst quencher?
Why are they buying? Boredom, need, to keep a sibling quiet or as an after activity refresher?
How will they be able to consume? Is there a place for a cup or should it be able to be hung over the back of the chair in front of them or their armrest? I am always struggling at an event as to where to put my snack! Make it easy, even if it’s a suggestion on your machine.
How about a pop-up? The talk in the retail space is all about doing pop-ups so that you can see how a location works first before you commit to an area, a concept, or a product. Could you do that in the vending arena? Why not, especially if it’s a new concept or product offering? Try a new product mix for a month at the beginning of a new hockey season if in an arena. If possible, be flexible about where you put it in the arena to make it easy to find. I’ve been in so many arenas where I have had to search out a little pick-me-up at half-time and couldn’t find one in a convenient location. Sometimes this is hard to negotiate, but if it means more sales, it would be worth it to try a test and see what happens.
So, just because you can, should you? Who would buy it? Remember even the best ideas are sometimes left on the cutting room floor because the location was not right for that product and that customer. That doesn’t mean you can’t pick those ideas off of the cutting room floor for the right customer in the right location. Remember what they say about setting up shop: location, location, location, but don’t forget customer, customer, customer either.
Cheers and time to go steep some tea and keep the ideas flowing.
Raelene Gannon is a certified tea sommelier and owner of loose-leaf tea manufacturer Tea and All Its Splendour. Raelene’s specialties include tea manufacturing, menus, food pairings and merchandising. She is the author of Tea: From Cup to Plate. To learn more about tea, visit
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