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Today, it's rare to see a carwash location without a vending machine. In fact, many washes have multiple machines stocked with a multitude of products meant to drive impulse sales and increase owner profits. Using the newest vending technology available, it's easier than ever to securely place products front and center.
What's not to love?
Owners and operators love vending machines because they generate profits, and they require very little upkeep. "The main thing is just keeping it wiped out," according to Phil Masters, national accounts manager with Fawn Vendors. "The coin acceptor, they're all electronic today. There's no moving parts … there's very little maintenance involved other than just keeping the coin insert clean."
Customers love vending machines because of the products and convenience they offer. Unlike old-style vendors, most up-to-date vending machines can hold a large variety products, and this has led to customers making multiple vendor purchases during one visit. "One thing I've heard from a lot of owner/operators is that [customers will] buy more than one item out of the machine," Masters said.
One vending machine feature that encourages multiple sales is the ability to accept credit cards. "Right now the big glass front vending machines, you can get them with bill acceptors, you can get them with credit card acceptors, and that's not a problem," Becky Kube, owner of Q.B. Enterprises Inc., said.
Owners who use glass-front vendors are actually seeing greater sales because of the credit card usage. "People are already seeing that their average ticket price goes up with a credit card," Kube stated. "You know it's not like you put in $1 and you get four quarters back and you buy something. With a credit card they might buy two things or three things."
The next evolutionary step will be the addition of credit card and bill acceptors to smaller vending machines. These triple-column machines often hold about 12 to 15 items, and now they generally accept only quarters or tokens. There has been no credit card activity in this area because the cost has been too exorbitant. At the same time, Kube said these stainless steel drop shelf machines have proven to be the "bread and butter" of the industry due to the fact that they are so dependable.
Their popularity makes these machines perfect candidates for credit card acceptors. "But it's all about price, because right now, adding a bill acceptor or a credit card capability to a vending machine costs as much as the vending machine itself. And so … it's not really an option. It's just too much money," Kube said.
Masters said adding Internet based technology to vending machines will be another important industry advance. Internet connectivity will make it so an operator can sit in his or her office and maintain vending machine item inventories, and owners will be able to see exact sales figures at any given time. Also, wireless connectivity will let owners download sales, work with inventory control and order vending products at any location.
One key piece of technology that is already common in today's machines is a guaranteed delivery system. This system ensures that, when customers deposit their money, the machine will always deliver a product or return the money. "That's a new feature in our models that [has] been very well received by the owner/operators, and especially the customers," Masters said.
There are a number of companies that pre-package popular products for vending in the carwash industry. "Oh, we're seeing a lot of … accessory type products, like towels, sponge packs," Masters said. "We're looking at detail type of products like a bug remover, and many other type of products that [are] readily available from the major suppliers today."
One product feature that has been added to new vendor models is the ability to stock 10 selections of cold drinks along with a selection of car care accessory products. Masters explained that this combination has proved very successful in the carwash market. Cold drinks will always be popular products with carwash customers and employees as well.
"I try to guide my customers to the basics," Kube said. "And you need to decide the products you're going to sell before you decide the vending machine you're going to buy. Because … they go hand in hand." The four main products Kube recommended are:
With towels, Kube said it doesn't matter if a wash offers a paper towel, a cotton towel, a terry towel, a microfiber towel or a diaper, just so long as a towel is available to customers. Any kind of towel is a must-have for customers, so that makes it a vending machine staple.
The next product is a glass cleaner. Since the car has already been through the carwash, the outside of the windows should be clean, but customers want to wash the inside windows. Kube noted that there are about six different companies that make packaged synthetic towels or paper towels with glass cleaner in them. Some of these cleaners use detergent and require another towel to dry the window after cleaning, while some are ammonia based and they clean naturally.
The next product carwashes should offer is some type of tire protectant. "That's something that's very popular with washes," Kube said. Protectant is available for vending in 4-ounce spray pump bottles and in spray cans of foam. Protectant can also come in packaged sponges that have the protectant inside of them.
The final product Kube suggested was a fragrance. Fragrance is available in two types: Cardboard fragrances that people hang on their rear view mirrors and 2-ounce spray pump bottles.
Kube said that the cardboard fragrances are very, very popular, and she estimated that 80 percent of her company's fragrance sales are the cardboards. The cardboards can include popular images from movies and other places, and customers will often buy the products just for these images.
Spray pump fragrance bottles are popular because they allow the customer to control the amount of fragrance in the car. Kube stated that the pump bottles are more popular with families or women that want to spray a little fragrance but don't want an image hanging from their mirror.
Once the vending products are selected, an owner still needs to select a desired price point for each product. The price points will reveal what type of vending machine is needed. "You don't want to get a microfiber towel and then put it in a machine that won't go any higher than a dollar," Kube said. "You've got to decide the end product before you ever buy the vending machine."
One example is if an owner pays a couple of thousand dollars for a glass front vending machine that holds 30 products. Here, he or she will not be able to generate enough profit selling a paper towel worth only 50 or 75 cents. Kube said the owner will want to choose a higher-priced towel for higher profits.
Window cleaner is also available in multiple price points. Kube said two examples of $2 price point window cleaners are a 2-ounce spray pump bottle with a towel as well as a 4-ounce bottle of cleaner. Also, there are different types of tire protectant products available at $1, $2 or $3 price points.
There are a number of features on new vending machines that make them more secure than ever. Machines come with pry proof sides that make it very difficult for a would-be thief to pop open the door. The machines also have a ring guard high-security top to protect them from the elements.
A vendor that Masters' company introduced also has a built-in alarm system. This alarm system responds to motion where, if somebody hits the machine or tries to get inside, a loud deterrent alarm will sound. The high-pitched alarm was designed to be heard over a large area. After an alarm, the machine will automatically reset itself then turn on again.
Finally, vending machines can weigh over 900 lbs., so the weight helps secure them from theft. Now, a ground locking system has been introduced that makes the machines even more secure. A machine can be locked to concrete by the lock-down systems that attach to each of the four legs, Masters said.