Vending machines are not just for chips and candy bars any more.
At least not the kind Scott Turner runs.
Turner’s business, TBOX, operates a series of high-tech vending machines across Northwest Florida where customers can purchase t-shirts, hats and now even 30A Gear.
Turner’s concept is part of a growing movement for businesses to provide higher-end products in vending machines.
Red Box, the movie rental kiosks, may be the most popular in the United States, but people across the globe have started using vending machines to sell everything from iPods and phone chargers to shoes.
“Once we got into researching it ourselves, we found these kind of machines are popular in Asia and Europe, but not a whole lot of people are doing it in the states,” said Turner, who started out with ice vending machines, but quickly saw a need for something more.
A vending machine can serve as a pop-up store — without the expense of overhead — and the concept is catching on.
“It helps businesses expand to an area they might not be able to otherwise, to have a presence without having to have a storefront, staffing and all that goes with it,” said Turner.
The technology has come a long way since the days of coin-operated soda and snack machines.
Turner’s machines use LED lights and a system of infrared sensors so the machine conserves energy when not in use.
All merchandise is tracked electronically, as well, which helps decrease the business’s ecological footprint. In years past, vending machine stockers had to travel with a big semi-truck full of products and assess what needed to be restocked on site.
Turner can use a compact car to visit and restock machines. He knows exactly which products and how many he needs before he ever leaves the warehouse.
Customers make purchases with credit cards and if any problem arises, the machine sends a text to Turner and he can operate it remotely to provide whatever customer service is needed.
30A Gear vending machines are in place at HarborWalk Village, Destin Commons, Silver Sands Premium Outlets and Pier Park. You can buy t-shirts, hats, drink huggies, license plate decals, Tervis tumblers and even coffee.
“With the technology available, these things are pretty amazing,” Turner said. “They’re eco-friendly, business and customer friendly. We’re really excited to have them out there for people to use.”