Characteristics of a Good Bulk Candy Vending Location

What features of a bulk candy vending location make the location “good” from a route owner’s perspective? Consistently heavy foot-traffic, especially where patrons of the host business have to wait for service, is an obvious answer. But, what about the non-revenue related characteristics of the location? Here are a couple to consider.

Close to Home

To minimize the driving time associated with servicing your route, it is usually best to keep your vending locations as close to home (or to your point of departure) as possible. This rule of thumb should be tempered with common sense. If the location in question is a strong producer (generating, say, more than $80 per month), then you might be willing to drive much farther to service the machine than in the case of a $12 per month producer. Regardless of the strength of the particular location, you should strive to avoid outliers – locations that are both far from your base of operation and also not near other machines on your route.

Indifference to Your Presence

The service-related activities associated with maintaining a vending route tend to draw attention from random passers-by. The act of harvesting coins from a candy or gumball machine often elicits curiosity, sometimes from patrons of the business and sometimes from employees. While this attention can be of a pleasant nature, it is usually not in your best interests as an operator to encourage questions or comments about your activities.

You are at the location to conduct business – your business – and the more anonymously you can do so the better. Regarding conversations with the owners or managers at your locations, recall that you are a guest in their establishment. Your goal is to keep the location. Any conversation, unsolicited or otherwise, with a decision maker at the location can become an occasion for the decision maker to rethink the vending arrangement.

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Bulk Candy Vending Mistakes

Running a bulk candy vending route is mostly fun and easy; however, every operator who has been in business for more than a few years will have stories to tell about setbacks, losses, and unpleasant surprises. Fortunately, the majority of such events can be mitigated or eliminated by adherence to best practices.  An alternative title for this blog post might be “Dumb Stuff that I have done while running my Bulk Candy Vending Route.”

Staying Away Too Long

Bulk candy vending is supposed to be a passive income method. And, up to a point, it is exactly that, but how passive is, to an extent, up the route owner. If, for example, you have a location where the candy product empties slowly, there will be a tendency to space out your visits to that location over longer and longer intervals until you establish a comfortable service schedule that keeps you from making unnecessary trips, but doesn’t entail the risk of having the machine run low on fresh product.  What you will learn however is that there are other risks associated with neglecting a location for, say, two, three, or four months at a stretch.

I’ve made the “away too long” mistake more than once. Here are some of the consequences:

  • The machine has an “Out of Order” sign on it, often because somebody inserted in the coin mechanism a coin (or other object) that isn’t a quarter. The location owner/manager didn’t bother to call you, but instead simply waited for you to show up again. When this happens, you’ve lost revenue on the malfunctioning machine and the “Out of Order” condition has eroded goodwill with the business owner.
  • The machine is gone. Either the business owner has moved your machine “offline” to a storage area – that’s if you’re lucky – or the business establishment has been renovated in your absence and the employees can’t recall what happened to your machine. The worst outcome is discovering that the location has gone out of business. In that case, your machine may no longer be on the premises. Even if you have the owner’s phone number, you are unlikely ever to retrieve the machine.

Lesson: It is best to visit your locations at least once every 6 weeks, even the “slow movers.”

Mismanaging Keys

Bulk candy machine manufacturers use different key-lock strategies. For example, when you buy a Beaver machine, you get one key that opens all Beaver machines of the particular model within a given geographic location.  So, you may have one key that will open all of the Beaver machines on your route. Alternatively, if you use Northwestern machines, a key is specific to a particular lock. If you lose a key, and if you did not record the number of that key, then you may have to drill the lock and order another key-lock set from the manufacturer in order to regain use of the machine.  On the other hand, if you did record your key numbers, you can simply order another key of the same number and resume operation with little delay or expense.

Lesson: Record your key numbers.

 

 

 

 

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U-Turn 4 Head Machine Review

U-Turn Machine Review

U-Turn Machine Review

Bulk candy vending operators are often as outspoken in their beliefs about certain types of vending machines as sports fans are about their favorite hockey or football teams.  One bulk candy vending machine manufacturer that seems to garner unusually passionate commentary is U-Turn  (http://www.uturnvending.com/home).  If you are not yet a member of http://vendiscuss.net/, I recommend that you visit their bulk candy vending thread.  I once read a post from a Vendiscuss member who stated that the only good use for a U-Turn machine is target practice.

Any bulk candy vending machine that fits your budget, doesn’t break down often, and makes you money consistently is a good machine.  Having said that, I will add that U-Turn machines do exhibit some design features that many operators dislike.   Since my experience is with the U-Turn 4 Head, I will restrict my comments to that particular model.

The Good Points

• Used machines and parts are readily available.  U-Turns are sold frequently on eBay and Craigslist. Likewise the parts.  You should be able to purchase descent looking, fully operational, used U-Turn 4 Head machines for around $100.

• Removable canisters.  U-Turn machines feature detachable plastic canisters that are easy to clean and easy to swap in and out on location.

• Multiple products offered.  This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the location. More on this below.

The Bad Points

• Not suitable for many locations.  To justify maintaining four different product types, you need a location that provides a fairly high level of patronage in relation to your machine.  Even if, for example, three of the products move briskly, but one does not, you will still end up tossing candy every three months or so.  This practice will cause you to lose money.  Most bulk candy vending locations simply do not provide the machine usage level needed to justify a 4 canister machine.

• Difficult to collect the coins.  In “older” U-Turn 4 Head machines (which are the ones most commonly available on the used market), there are plastic trays inside the machine that are supposed to catch the coins.  In fact, many of the coins miss the trays and you end up fishing around the bottom of the machine to pick up quarters one at a time from a flat surface. Not fun.

• Plastic coin mechanisms.  Plastic coin mechanisms are much less durable than metal coin mechanisms.  You can readily buy spare U-Turn coin mechanisms.  I had only one U-Turn coin mechanism failure in about 16 months of operation, but why risk the loss of revenue and business owner ill-will that stems from a machine malfunction when you can avoid the problem altogether by buying a machine that features a metal coin mechanism?

Happy Vending!

J. Scott Jackson

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Northwestern Super 60 Machine Review

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A Quick Disclaimer

I am not a marketing affiliate for the Northwestern Corporation.  What I have to say about Northwestern products stems strictly from my experience as a route owner using the Northwestern Super 60 machine.

I am a fan of Northwestern vending machines, especially the Northwestern Super 60 model shown in this blog post.  When I started vending, I was, like many  novice vendors, not sure how committed I was to the business.

First a Wrong “Turn”

Before going all out to purchase the highest quality equipment, I wanted proof of concept regarding bulk candy vending in general and my ability to make a profit.  So, I looked for modestly priced, used bulk candy vending machines on eBay.  My first four machines were U-Turn 4 Head models.

Though my U-Turn machines proved adequate to my purposes initially, I  realized after a few months that I did not want to build my route around machines that required me to maintain four different product types.  The four U-Turn heads translated into too much candy spoilage as I could could not count on getting enough high foot-traffic locations justify keeping fresh candy in four vending heads.

Why the Northwestern Super 60?

That’s when I started using new, Northwestern Super 60 machines, almost exclusively.  So, what is so good about Northwestern Super 60s?

They look great. In grocery stores where you find racks containing multiple rows of bulk candy vending heads, you are likely to find Northwestern machines.   Unlike many plastic bulk candy vending machines – the Vendstar 3000 is an example – Northwestern Super 60s are made of steel and cast alloy. These are durable machines that look like the industrial grade products that they are.

Collecting coins from the Super 60 is generally fast and easy. Facing the front of the machine, you simply lift the body case and rotate the case about 30 degrees. This exposes the machine base, which doubles as a coin reservoir.  The only potential trouble with Super 60 coin removal is that the coin reservoir is actually fairly shallow, meaning that if you are servicing the machine after half or more of the product has vended out, quarters are likely to spill when you lift the body case.

Unlike certain triple head machines – the LYPC Triple Shop comes to mind – the Northwestern Super 60 has detachable canisters, which means that you can quickly remove candy from the machine without touching the product.  Also, if you have a spare canister and want to change the product that you are selling at a particular location, you can simply pre-load the new product into the spare head and swap heads at the location in less than a minute.

Finally, the coin mechanisms on a Northwestern Super 60 are forgiving.  I mean by this that if a patron uses a penny (or some other non-quarter object) in the machine, the coin will normally vend through and not jamb the coin mechanism.  This is an extremely valuable feature.  Business owners, I have found, will only rarely call you when there is a malfunction involving your machine. Instead, they will put an “Out of Order” sign on the machine and just wait for you to arrive on your next service visit.  This causes you to lose revenue, alienates the business owner, and annoys patrons.  Seldom will this bad scenario unfold when you use a Northwestern Super 60 machine.

Happy Vending!

J. Scott Jackson

 

 

 

 

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