Consider the lowly vending machine. Once nothing much more than a modest, self-service supplier of cigarettes, candy and soda pop, this iconic form of retail is getting new life.
Developed in the late 1800s, vending was a common method of delivering stamps, postcards and writing paper in England. The version shown here, made by Harper in England and owned by a lucky friend dispenses cigarettes and has a barometer to help predict the weather.
We’re all familiar with Coke machines—what better way to get an ice-cold beverage on demand? Remember RedBox, where you can get DVDs to watch at home and how revolutionary that was before streaming became widespread? But, in the past few years the concept of vending has turned in new and unexpected directions. Most updated versions not only have a much larger footprints than vending machines in the past, but they also carry a much wider assortment of products.
Today, a quick stroll down almost any airport concourse or through any mall will reveal vending opportunities from Benefit (cosmetics), Best Buy (electronics) or CVS (toiletries) to replenish empty products or replace forgotten items. Need flowers upon arrival? You’re covered. Want a new key or some shaving supplies? You can them pick up at retail with minimal hassle. Desperate for a cupcake fix? Sprinkles offers the solution.
One of our recent favorites is the Art-O-Mat. These retired cigarette machines have been restored with mid-century flair. And rather than picking up some smokes, you can purchase a piece of art.
Think about how a vending machine can transform delivery of your products. This is especially important to consider if your product is an impulse item. If commodities are part of your assortment, can a vending machine provide a much-needed item after hours? To pursue plus business, is there a way in which these machines—which look so much more modern, clever and substantial than in the past—can supplement traditional retail or bring your product into new channels?
I taught a class at a local university on non-traditional retail. One of my students developed a concept she called “flip-flop-drop.” It was a vending machine for use at beaches and pools where anyone could purchase essentials like flip flops, sunscreen and swim diapers. I loved the concept then, and still do today. An in-the-moment essential purchase.
Please reply with pictures or comments on interesting vending you’ve seen in the wild. We’re looking forward to seeing what you find.