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Home > Business > Business Headline > Report

The future of vending machines

Paul Lukas, | June 19, 2007 15:28 IST

In 1959, the Vendo Co. unveiled a new "million-dollar line" of Coca-Cola vending machines. Highlights included such futuristic details as a lit sign for "greater-selling impact" and a new fully pivoting hinge that let the door leading to the soda open 180 degrees. The new designs, immortalized in the short promotional film The Refreshing Look, represented the pinnacle of vending-machine technology.

Almost five decades later, Coke machines are more ubiquitous than ever. But the future of automatic merchandising, as it's known in the trade, isn't in mass-produced cans of soda. Rather, it's in products and services created on demand and custom-tailored to consumers' preferences.

"People feel like they're entitled to something that's made just for them," says James Bickers, editor of SelfServiceWorld magazine. Why accept a vanilla ice-cream bar when you can have fresh cake-batter ice cream with peanut-butter cups?

That's just one of 96 flavor possibilities from MooBella, a Massachusetts operation whose machines allow you to mix your own flavor of ice cream, complete with add-ins. MooBella machines, currently configured for cafeteria setups and available in two Boston locations, should be ready for a vending rollout in early 2008.

Since 2005, Glasgow-based Beautiful Vending has installed more than 700 of its coin-operated hair-straightening irons in women's restrooms all over the UK and Ireland (a pound buys two minutes of personalized grooming time). The American rollout is slated for this summer.

But the most fertile vending opportunity may lie in digital media. Seattle-based MOD Systems offers a kiosk that lets customers burn music and movies while they wait, turning any size retailer into a superstore. "Entertainment content is a $35 billion business, and there isn't enough shelf space to support the breadth of catalog," says Anthony Bay, MOD's chairman.

"There are over 65,000 DVD titles, and Wal-Mart carries only 2,600 of them." With the film industry now finalizing licensing and security issues, these kiosks should start appearing in retailers around the country soon. A touch-screen kiosk that replaces a warehouse? How refreshing.

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