CHICAGO — Laundromat customers waiting for their laundry to finish have often found ways to pass the time thanks to the spare change in their pockets and the convenience and comfort of vending machines.
Snacks, beverages, laundry detergents, small toys and trinkets, and even video games have been at the disposal of laundry customers. But as the times and technology have changed, so, too, does customers’ vending needs.
American Coin-Op reached out to vending experts, who dispensed a wealth of information on the state of the vending industry, the changes and challenges that it faces, and opportunities Laundromat owners can capitalize on to raise their store’s vending game.
The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), the national trade association of the food and refreshment vending, coffee service and foodservice management industries, has been the leading voice of the vending industry since its inception in 1936.
Roni Moore, its vice president of marketing and public relations, says the $42 billion industry is currently in a “renaissance.”
“It is undergoing a significant rebirth, marked by innovation in technology, opportunities around providing ‘better for you’ products and new developments,” she says.
The “evolving” landscape of the industry ensures vending companies, like Freeport, Ill.-based Seaga Manufacturing, are on the constant pulse of industry trends, technology, and customer demands and behavior.
“As the public becomes more experienced with cashless payments and unattended sales, kiosks and vending machines, micro markets, vending operators and equipment manufacturers, like Seaga, need to keep evolving to meet that customer demand, and keep equipment out in the market that is going to sell through for our operators,” says Angela Olson, marketing manager at Seaga.
THE VENUE FOR VENDING
For Olson, Laundromats provide the ideal venue for vending machines.
“I think [Laundromat owners] have one of the perfect opportunities to add customer experience through vending,” she says.
Mark Gies, vice president of sales at Cicero, Ill.-based Vend-Rite Mfg., manufacturers of laundry soap dispensers and vending machines, agrees, adding that there will always be a necessity for the extra profit center in Laundromats.
“There’s certainly a need for it within a Laundromat, and depending upon the size of the Laundromat, it’s going to dictate the size of the soap machine,” says Gies, adding that the machine becomes an all-in-one stop for the end-user.
“When you go to a Laundromat, the convenience that you want to provide [is] the soap, a bleach, a softener and an additive,” he says, “so that [customers] don’t necessarily have to go outside of [your] Laundromat … to the grocery store across the street or down the block to buy that detergent.”
In addition to mainstays like snacks, soft drinks and laundry detergents, vending machines in today’s market have become more sophisticated, dispensing items like cupcakes, burritos and even electronic devices.
Olson considers these machines a “novelty,” but also believes that there is a place for them in the market.
“I think that for a Laundromat to look at realistically buying one of those, and making it pay for them, I think maybe it would be a little bit challenging, depending on your location,” she says.
So what are the popular items customers are looking for in vending machines?
“Obviously the Coca-Colas of the world, and especially the Pepsis of the world are heavily entrenched in vending and are the most popular items sold out of vending machines because of their grand presence in that arena,” says Olson, who adds that brand loyalty in retailing is also reflected upon the vending industry.
“Packaging with … a vending machine is always key, so we always keep in very close touch with those industries and work hand-in-hand with them in developing the best way to present and market and sell their products.”
From his segment, Gies says he sees a trend toward concentrated, higher-efficiency soap products, but that laundry customers are not necessarily brand-specific when it comes to detergents.
“They’re in that Laundromat to do their wash, so they’re going to buy whatever’s in that machine,” he says, adding that familiarity is what customers buy into.
“They’ve heard of All detergent, they’ve heard of Snuggle sheets, they’ve heard of Wisk, [so] as long as they’re somewhat familiar with the brand name, they’re going to buy it out of the vender.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion!