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Vending machine vitality

March 16, 2011
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The nice thing about vending machines is that they’re stocked with items the customers need (towels, cleaning, products, food, drinks, etc.); items the customers want (air fresheners, candy, etc.); and they do the selling for you.

But relying on your machine to do all the work (except stocking!) is a mistake. There are plenty of things carwash operators can and should do to maximize sales, and there are also costly mistakes that should be avoided.

Professional Carwashing & Detailing turned to the carwash industry’s vending experts to find out what attracts and deters possible vending machine sales and to also see what’s new and what the future holds with vending machine technology.

How to attract more purchases
James H. Holve, owner of ShurVendPlus Vendors, is a strong advocate for computer-driven window vendors with the “guaranteed delivery” system, which allow customers to see the products and make a choice. Holve offered four tips for encouraging purchases with these machines:

1. Make it obvious. “Operators need to realize that product vending is an impulse-driven activity,” explained Holve. “When the customer has an impulse to clean or fix a problem on their cars, a machine filled with cleaning products needs to be:
• Easily seen;
• Close to the customer; and
• Easy to use.”

According to Holve, the actual products need to be visible to the customer so they can buy what they need to fix their problem. “They do not want to look at a decal or a box where they have to guess what the product is,” he said.

2. Be reliable. “The vending machine needs to be very reliable in delivery and yet forgiving for the customer if a selected product is not vended or the customer pushes the wrong button on an empty column,” Holve said. “This is why a “guaranteed delivery system” is important. Also, a number to call should be listed in case they have questions or a complaint about the machine.”

3. Try something new. According to Holve, new products have to be tried constantly to find out which products sell at any particular site. Operators should use discounted sales and blowouts for products that do not move and put new ones in their place.

4. Make it easy. There should be nothing in the way of your customer spending their money at the vending machine. The vendor needs to accept any kind of payment: Bills, coins, tokens, and credit cards. “Credit cards make it easy to sell the higher-priced items such as loyalty cards, VIP cards, gift cards, token packs or token note packs, Holve suggested.

Maintain or detract purchases
The number one reason customers are discouraged from purchasing items through vending machines is they’re afraid of losing money, according to Becky Kube, president and co-owner Q.B. Enterprises, Inc.. “Conversely, the number one reason vending machines are damaged is when customers lose money,” she explained. “This occurs because there is no routine maintenance.”

Trent W. Walter, general manager of National Pride Equipment, Inc., said machines that show a lack of maintenance cause customers to buy products elsewhere because they do not trust the vendor. “Many operators just open the door, see if more product is needed and never check to see if they will accept a coin or if the mechanism is jammed,” Walter said. That’s a big mistake.

At a minimum, Kube said that every time a vending machine is filled, the coin mechanism should be tested. “Make sure there are no jammed coins or other debris inserted in the coin rail,” she suggested. “Preventative maintenance should also be preformed on the coin mechanism annually or any time coins start sticking.”

Kube said the main plate can be cleaned with any household cleanser, but make sure it is thoroughly rinsed and dried. “Metal filings and coin dust can be removed from the magnet by guiding the point of a screw driver along the edges of the magnet,” Kube said. “A pipe cleaner also makes a good brushing cleaner. Springs and knobs wear out with normal use and dirt and grime build up on the coin mechanism.”

Make sure you have the right machine
Kube said the most frequent mistake operators make with their vending machines and product offerings is they select a vending machine prior to selecting the vending products they want to sell. To avoid this mistake, for first time vending machine purchases, she said to take the following steps in order:

1. Decide on the types of products to be vended and how many you want to vend.

2. Select the machine location.

3. Select the vending machine.

Kube said that to get the spiral that is required for the product rather than struggle to find a product for an unfilled spiral adding that metal spirals for glass front machines are available in a range of diameters and widths and are relatively inexpensive.

“These decisions should be based on the type of wash, the type of equipment used to wash the car and the total number of wash bays,” she said. “If the goal is to vend only the basics — glass cleaner and a fragrance or tire shine — a simple three-column stainless steel drop-shelf machine may be all that is required.”

If an operator wants to sell all the basics products but at several price points, Kube said a glass front multi-vend machine is the solution.

Location, location, location
According to Kube, to better market and present vending options and encourage more sales per customer, place vending machines adjacent to the change machine.

“This keeps your customer from searching for vending products,” Kube explained. “Customers can’t miss seeing the vending items and a second trip for change won’t be required for purchases.”

Another successful vending location, she added, is between each carwash bay at the entry and/or exit of the bay. “Customers are more likely to buy what is next to them.”

Also, she noted be sure the vending area is well lighted. “Glass front vending machines are notorious for inadequate lighting, especially if a metal caging surrounds the machine. Reserve the center of a row or a space closest to the light source for dark vending packages and place light colored packages furthest from the light. This may require relocating some of the spirals to make things fit.”

Holve suggested the machines go in or very near the vacuum area of the carwash. “This is usually the only place on the wash site where the customer has time that is not metered so they can spend time cleaning their car. Customers will not walk very far to use a vendor; their impulse dies quickly if they have to use energy to walk a distance.”

Holve said a mistake he sees is many operators install the vendor in a place for of convenience or to save on power and customers have to go looking for it and can often give up when it is not easily seen. Machines, he said, “should stick out like “sore thumbs” so customers are forced to walk around them once in a while.”

Price points and profits
Price points are also an important decision to make early on, according to Kube. Vend products, she said, should range from $.50 to $2.

“Vending products are for one-time use only,” Kube explained. “Customers are going to buy it, use it once, possibly take it home and throw it away. If items are priced at more than $2, customers might think twice and go to a discount store for a larger multi-use product.”

Holve said it is amazing how many washes have no vending at all or only three to four drop shelves at the most. He said there are about 13 high sales volume products out of the hundreds listed in catalogs that account for 85 percent of the total vending volume at any carwash.

“The high sales volume product mix will vary from wash to wash, but the fact remains that the 18-selection vendors will allow the operator to offer his customers most of the products needed to satisfy them,” Holve said.

Walter said one should continuously challenge what they are offering, determine which item sells the least and change it to something different. “If all the items are selling then one needs to look at adding to what is offered,” he stated. “With the advent of through-the-wall vendors, the amount of items that can be vended in one spot is well over 20 products.”

Walter said to also not be afraid to offer something new or different. “The typical cost for a case of vending product ranges from $30-$50. This is a small low-risk investment that may drive more business and revenue to the wash,” he continued. “Bottom line, don’t let your product offering become stagnate offer something new.”

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