Vender bender: refresh your guest offering without leaving bumps in the road

My last encounter with an interesting vending machine (not a phrase I can say I’ve typed before) was with an ultra-healthy, vegan, paleo-themed installation during a hospital visit.

Not only did I purchase a meal just to experience the novelty of finding a genuinely health-conscious vending machine, but it started a conversation about vending options with my family that carried on into the car-ride home. It might surprise you to find out there are all manner of weird and wonderful vending machine options out there! From underwear, toiletries and junk food to alcohol, luxury goods and beach gear; there really is a vast array of product potential to populate the right machine.

This is great news for accommodation providers who are able to anticipate guest needs but might not have the space for an entire shop. Beachside properties could stock a machine with children’s toys and colourful thongs. Airport hotels could stock travel-sized toiletries that guests might have forgotten to place in their hand luggage. Unlike an in-house shop, vending machines can be located in bathrooms, guestrooms, different floors, or even out by the pool.

Vending machines themselves come in all different aesthetic styles, shapes and sizes. Of course, not every property suits this type of installation but for many properties, vending machines could be the ideal guest facility solution.

When considering whether a vending machine investment is right for your property, it’s imperative to think about the types of guest you most often cater to. Are there areas of your property where guests congregate for periods of time or frequent? Do you get lots of requests for common items? Phone chargers and earphones, for example, are items that people tend to forget but can’t bear to be without. Filling a vending machine with items like that in a lobby might be very convenient for your guests.

How many convenience shops are near your property? If there’s little within walking distance, there’s a good chance your guests will appreciate vending options. Similarly, what kind of food is accessible to your guests? If your in-house eatery is fine-dining, perhaps having convenient fast food options in a vending machine would go down well. Likewise, if you have lots of fast food chains around, providing some healthy options in a visible and accessible, 24/7 location could be a real winner.

Profits and costs

Profits are, of course, another top consideration. So long as you choose the right products to stock for your particular clientele, there should be a solid revenue stream in providing vending options. However, there’s no way to be certain whether operators will make a profit, break-even or suffer a loss until after installation. So, any operators considering a vending machine investment should prepare a spreadsheet model that calculates income from sales versus expenditure on capital and operating costs. Adjusting the number of sales in such a spreadsheet model should give a reasonable idea of the cash-neutral point. Experienced suppliers should be able to provide you with details, such as the average cost of dispense for specific machine types.

Machine costs for purchase vary depending not just on technology and physical appearance but also whether the machine is new or used, and whether it’s been imported from overseas. When inquiring with suppliers, ask what materials have been used to construct the machines: plastic tends to be cheaper. One thing to ask is whether the materials and mechanisms are still being manufactured: if not, it could make repairs difficult if something goes wrong.

Leasing vending machines rather than purchasing is also possible. Usually this will involve agreeing to keep purchasing the supplier’s consumables. Whether this will prove financially viable is a question of comparison to deals offered by other suppliers. Installation fees, whether you are buying or leasing, should be factored in as well.

Depending on what products you want to stock your machine with; you might need to invest in other storage solutions, electrical wiring or even plumbing for the machine might also be necessary. Ask the suppliers you inquire with about the infrastructure required to use their machines.

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