Necessity leads to ingenuity
By Naomi Szeben
In speaking with the vending and convenience service industry’s leaders, I was most impressed with their ingenuity. In this issue you will read about how some vendors met a challenge, or transformed a difficult situation into an opportunity.
Today’s shopkeepers, like Joshua Applestone, or Canadian restaurateurs Emma and George Byrens of Emma’s Back Porch, saved on the price of real estate by using vending in an unconventional way. For Joshua, the cost of hiring more butchers or paying for astronomical real estate fees in New York were out of the question. The Byrens found themselves too busy to run a gift shop. Besides, the floor space was more valuable as a restaurant. How could both companies sell their goods without sacrificing space, or paying more for staff and/or rent?
Successful business people are not afraid to “think outside the box” and in these cases, both company owners found a unique solution to their problems. By refurbishing or using custom made vending machines, both companies were able to meet needs and make a profit while doing so. While climbing real estate prices are to blame for many bricks-and-mortar stores closing, this does open a realm of opportunities for vendors to think of innovative ways to use vending machines as both a way to advertise their company and sell its wares.
Many entrepreneurs see issues like rent, and advertising as an expensive part of running a business. However, as Lorna Kane of Kane’s Distributing points out, vending machines are portable. If the data gleaned from the telemetrics indicates that the location isn’t working out, a vending machine can be (relatively) easily moved to a new space. Try that with a boutique with a one-year lease!
The lemons-to-lemonade attitude is what separates successful business owners from those who see an obstacle, but not an opportunity. Obstacle: High rental fees in large cities and tourist towns. Opportunity: Small, un-manned space for advertising and selling goods and services by automated means.
The nature of today’s economy has changed the way vending machines interact with clients and how they are used. Entrepreneurs are getting creative with their machine’s contents. Farms are now selling eggs with specially modified vending machines, making a roadside stand a better use of a farm hand’s time. Lunchtime in the heart of downtown is often on a strict time schedule, and pizzeria-automats are making hot, fresh pizza at the touch of a button; lunch is ready with time to spare! The family run butcher shop now accommodates city dwellers who often do not work the standard nine-to-five shift. Forgot to buy a leg of lamb after leaving work? The meat vending machine has your back, and your client’s dinner party is saved. Stumped for presents? Pop-up shops are short-lived, but finding a one-of-a-kind unique artisanal gift can now be found in vending machines in certain locations.
Consider the small start-up; a vending machine has relatively low overhead, and has advantages that a kiosk in a mall or a booth cannot provide: Telemetrics. While some staff can provide inventory, today’s technology can see how many people interact with the machine, how many pass by and that data can be used to change anything from the interface, the attractive advertising gel-wrap on the machine to the contents of the machine itself.
Today’s vendor is going the way of tiny houses: The once popular realm of full-size shops now has become a smaller, more efficient version of a boutique. More vendors are seeing the appeal and the potential of “thinking outside the box” and putting their wares “inside the box,” by using the machine to showcase and sell unique goods. Vending machines are truly the new pop-up shop.
The mobility and the data acquisition that vending machines offer would be nothing without the business owners’ imagination. If you can dream it, you can sell it.