Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. has been a wholesale coffee roasting merchant in Richmond, Virginia, for years, but has recently started to include direct-to-consumer sales. The operation found it was doing its best work when it was able to educate its customers, and the best way to accomplish that aim was to have a direct outlet to them. Customers love buying coffee straight from the source, and the company has been welcoming customers into its roasting facility to buy coffee.
The company’s director of sales and marketing, Stephen Robertson, told PYMNTS in an interview that the company has a “striking amount of walk-in customers” who buy coffee from the company directly. The roastery, however, is not open during the range of hours that consumers might be available to shop. It is open during regular working hours, and it’s not open on the weekends. Even with those limitations, the company still receives many visitors — but not only when they are available for business. Shoppers also try to stop by on the weekends outside of the roastery’s hours.
The company wondered how to reach those customers without drastically changing its labor model or having to come into work on Saturdays. As a solution, the idea of a vending machine kept popping up — and the company ran with the concept. Today, Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. has a custom vending machine at its front door. But it’s not exactly like a traditional device selling chips or soda: The machine doesn’t accept cash. To make a purchase, consumers can come up to the device, swipe their cards (or tap with Apple Pay or Google Pay), and select their choice. The machine then doses out the product.
Automated Retail Innovation
The vending machine comes with one additional innovation beyond cashless (and contactless) payments. “It’s a temperature-controlled machine,” Robertson said. He noted the feature serves the company well in multiple seasons. In the summer, for instance, the climate is humid, so the air-conditioning helps. (The machine also has a dehumidifier installed.) Outside of that innovation, Robertson says it’s no different than any other vending machine from which a consumer would buy snacks.
To decide what to stock in the machine, the company dug into its existing data to determine the most popular items, so it had a good idea of the heavy-hitting varieties. For the most part, Robertson said, it’s a good selection of what’s new, what’s exciting and old favorites. And, from time to time, the company may toss in some exciting gear or merchandise if it works in the machine.
In addition to coffee and merchandise, the company also carries a V60 filter made by Hario in the machine. Robertson says it’s one of the most popular pour-over setups, and “it’s a filter you can’t easily get at most grocery stores,” so it made sense to have that product in the machine. The company promoted the device through a push with the news media to get the word out about the concept. Other customers discovered the option by merely visiting the roastery. Consumers can also come across the machine in other ways.
Since the company installed the device in recent months, Robertson says the products in it will sell out pretty much every weekend. He notes that the sales are consistent and, without coming back on Sunday afternoon to restock, it’s pretty much maxing out its sales every weekend.
Beyond coffee, retailers are selling all sorts of products through automated retail. Alpaca Market, for instance, has a network of vending machines and smart fridges in Austin, Texas, for healthy, on-the-go fare. The company offers a digital touchscreen on its vending machines that lets consumers browse its menu, peruse nutritional facts and ingredients and see pictures of the food. When they are ready to check out, diners can pay through the vending machine with credit cards, debit cards, Android Pay and Apple Pay.
Automated retail like vending machines are practical and convenient for on-the-go consumers, and they also spice up the regular coffee run. Blanchard’s set up a dedicated Instagram account for its machine — @Blanchards247 — so consumers could engage with the concept on social media as well. Robertson says that the hope, the dream is that “Saturday night at midnight there’s people snapping selfies” with the vending machine and sharing their coffee selection for the next morning.