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Vending machine basics

October 11, 2010
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Looking for an additional profit center to help you weather out rain, economic downturns and volatile gas prices? Look no further than the vending machine.

Indeed, vending is a natural fit for any type of carwash; no attendants are needed for these handy sales centers and they require little maintenance. Vending machines can sell snacks, accessories, and items that can help customers with the carwash cleaning process. The sales selection is entirely customized by the carwash operator and the experience is dictated by the needs of the customer.

Your path to vending profits begins with just a few simple decisions:

  • Which products to vend;
  • The vend price point for each products;
  • The type vending machine to be used; and
  • Whether to purchase a change machine.

See what your wash can handle
Your first order of business is to decide the type of products you want to vend and select their price points. A key factor in this decision will be the availability of an on-site change machine. If your carwash uses an auto cashier at the point of entry and minimal personnel, it can usually have vending items adjacent to the vacuums as the attendant will be available to make change.

In the absence of an attendant to make change or a change machine, no product should be sold with a vend price greater than $1. The customers should have at least a dollar in change in their pockets or in their cars. Only three to four items, which are considered “the basics,” should be considered to vend:

  1. Window wipes;
  2. A tire dressing or protectant;
  3. A cloth or paper towel; and
  4. A hanging air freshener.

This is the starting point for every carwash that vends, and in many cases the only items that are really needed. All of these items vend for $1 or less and are readily available from multiple manufacturers.

Choose your type of vending machine
By limiting vending to a few items under $1, single column stainless steel vending machines are the best vend method as well as the least expensive route. Also, owners and operators wanting to move a large number of customers through the vacuum area as quickly as possible, will be happy with selling only a few items less than or equal to $1.

Mechanical single column vending machine prices range from $330 to $360 and a single triple column vending machine costs about $730. These machines mount on any wall or light post with a mounting bracket and are easy to service.

A larger idea
If the an operator or owner is interested in offering a greater quantity and variety of vending items or vending items that sell for more than $1, there are two things to be considered.

The first is the purchase of a change machine and/or a credit card changer combination. Change machines not only allow the purchase of items greater than $1, they promote multiple purchases. Change machines need to be installed where rear access to the machine is available and it is in a convenient and visible place for the customer. Prices range from a low of $2,400 up to $6,000.

The second option is a credit card and/or change machine which is offered as a component of the vending machine. These machines accept a variety of bill values or can accept credit cards as well as dollar bills.

There are several freestanding electronic vending machines available that accept bills and credit cards. The top of the line vending combination is a vending machine which accepts dollar bills and credit cards and can dispense from 12 to 60 products. In this scenario, multiple price points for the same vending item can be found.

Towel vending 101
If vending towels, there are a few things owners and operators need to know. Not every towel is the same and they don’t all cost the same either.

The original vending towel was cellulose wood pulp or “paper” and sold for 25 or 50 cents. This single item was the bread and butter of vending at self-serve washes for years. Later, synthetic towels made of polypropylene became available. These were better, more heavy-duty than paper, and sold for 50 to 75 cents. The energy involved in selling towels at these low prices is such that there is not a lot of profit.

Today’s towels are manufactured from 100 percent woven cotton, terry cloth and microfiber and generally sell between $1 and $2. Microfiber towels are the most recent addition to the towel market. Because of their absorbency they clean well with just water and without the use of chemicals. They sell for at least $2. They are also very safe and not damaging to cars.

Multiple price points
Multiple price points for the same vending item can also happen when it comes to vending spray pump bottles of glass cleaner, moist towelette glass wipes, as well as hanging cardboard fragrances and spray pump bottles of fragrance.

Vending allows the benefits of a free-standing electronic vending machine with a changer selling multiple products at a variety of price points, versus three to four products in a single machine. Both work for the owner and operator and offer an additional profit center which requires little maintenance and only need to be kept clean and safe. A win-win for the owners and the customers.

Becky Kube is the president and co-owner Q.B. Enterprises, Inc., based in Culpeper, VA. For more information, you can write to her at or visit

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