Vending machines are like a little corner store in the lobby of your accommodation.
Once just a means to satisfy snack cravings, they have evolved into versatile dispensers of almost any product you can pick up at a city minimart.
They can be customised to sell products from cosmetics to clothes, phone accessories to pharmaceuticals, champagne to cigarettes, and lollies to lotto tickets.
What you choose to dispense, suppliers say, is limited only by your imagination.
VisitCanberra, for example, is using vending machines across Sydney and Melbourne to dispense Canberra in a Can – five ‘flavours’ of entertainment experiences including tickets, vouchers and discounts for use in various venues around the city.
This may not be what you envisage in your lobby or courtyard, but a machine capable of stocking washing powder and toothbrushes, or sandwiches and juices, for example, might just be the difference in guests choosing to stay with you.
Just as importantly, they can become revenue generators rather than service providers, allowing accom owners to cash in on providing a useful service while saving money on staff meals and staff hours spent manning a kiosk.
Fresh food vending
As the world evolves, the demand for healthy fast food is growing. Food machines are versatile refrigerated machines that can vend fruit, sandwiches, wraps, salads, plates of food, pastries, pies, and milk.
For operators who don’t have a restaurant, providing breakfast and other fresh food options – including the ubiquitous meat pie – could be a real draw for check ins. And it allows access to real food at affordable prices at any time of the day or night.
Some models include a soft-vend system with delivery to a floor that rises to the product level and then lowers for easy product retrieval. This allows for the vending of products in take-away food containers and glass bottles and jars.
While refrigerated drinks dispensers are an established part of the vending landscape, hot drinks dispensers have always been, well, underwhelming.
Today’s new machines can be configured to produce up to 32 different hot drink options, including roast and ground coffee, instant coffee, leaf tea, hot chocolate, soup and milo in a range of cup sizes.
As a former accommodation owner, I’ve experienced the unwelcome intrusion at 5am from guests desperate for anything from band aids to birdseed. Oh, to have had a vending machine capable of dispensing these things with better humour and minus bed hair.
Machines can be stocked with stationary and office supplies, for example, or personal hygiene products, mints, deodorant, umbrellas and medical items.
Or, for the fastidious traveller, they can be stocked with tools, car wash sponges, cleaning towels, fragrance trees, tyre shine, luggage locks, tags and other travel goods.
For those with limited room, the latest machines can act as a one-stop shop, stocking a combination of chilled and ambient products to provide guests with a range of products.
Chips, chocolate and lollies can be stored on the upper shelves of the machines, for example, and chilled drinks lower down.
Glass front outdoor vending machines open up opportunities to expand your business to exterior locations that were previously not capable of being serviced.
They provide the same technical features and functionality as indoor machines, while offering weather resistance and anti-vandalism fittings.
Industry view: Basil Hourmouzis, CEO of Automatic Vending Specialists
Property managers need to view vending as retailing; as a way of making money from maximising sales.
To do this, they need an optimum location in a high traffic location like the foyer, and good merchandising – the machine must look modern and clean, while products must stand out.
Quality branded products make slightly less margin but sell substantially more than unknown cheaper products where you make more margin. 50 percent of $300 is far more than 70 percent of $100.
Remember promotions and advertising count – products that are promoted sell more than those that are not.
In a closed environment you can charge higher prices, but if there are shops around, you have to have competitive pricing.
Opportunities for services to guests
Brand the machine with your logo so it looks good and is identified as part of your brand.
Offer cold beverage, snack food and personal hygiene items. This means you no longer need to operate a kiosk behind reception. Product control is increased and staff are free to concentrate on what they are there to do – serve guests.
Offer promotions like bundle deals to encourage additional sales and offer Paywave on the machines.
Benefits to property managers include increased guest satisfaction, greater control over inventory and the opportunity to profit while offering a 24-hour service.
Opportunities for services to staff
Replacing staff canteens with vending machines that provide quality meals can save a business a fortune.
The machines store the fresh meal at around 3 degrees and can either contain a built-in microwave, or the meal can be heated in external microwaves.
The quality of the product is good, the cost of meals is competitive and the machine ensures staff have a food available 24/7.
Meals can be fully subsidised or partly subsidised, and tokens or vouchers can be provided to staff to control usage.
The lease or buy question
Property managers can enter into an operating lease for five years and at the end of that time, update the machine for the newest model.
Or they can buy the vending machine outright or enter into a finance lease (or similar) to purchase it.
Good vending suppliers will connect operators with distributors so properties can tailor products for ranging in the machines.
Machines can now be programmed to essentially say ‘would you like some fries with that?’ – i.e they now can prompt and upsell.
Touchscreens on vending machines are creating better interactions and making them better retailers, while consumers are becoming more comfortable with buying all sorts of products from them.
Paywave has increased sales through machines and now makes up, on average, over 50 percent of transactions through a machine.