A good business person is a master of inventory. Besides equipment breaking down, incorrect ordering or inventory management can be the largest cost to your business in the long run. Ordering is something that you need to rigorously track. You need to keep track of both what sells and what tends to expire. Though snacks and sodas have significantly more shelf life than vegetables or other perishables, they still expire and must be rotated. When ordering, strike the perfect balance between cost, variety, and storage space. Ideally you want to order certain product that you know will sell, which varies by region, city, and company. Yet you should also budget for testing out new product in the machines every time you fill them.
What your customers really want
Customer service in vending is a process of psychological discovery where, over time, you find out what your customers really want. The discovery is not fixed to any one item but rather to one concept – change. All customers want change. They go to a vending machine to satisfy an emotional craving or a change in their state. All snacks, no matter how delicious, operate under a law of diminishing returns. After a person eats the same bag of chips a certain amount of times, they will want to try something new. If you put the same product in your machines over time, your sales will decrease. You do not want this.
However, you should not order more than 50% of products that are an untested variety. Often it's much less than that percentage, because once you get large enough, your standard ordering will already include a lot of variety. Yet, you still never know when you're going to strike someone's fancy, and next time you go to the machine, all those products are sold out. Expect the unexpected.
Plan for deliveries or trips to the store that maximize your - or your employee's - time. This means that you shouldn't order every two weeks if you only need a couple things or every four weeks if it overfills your storage area. Like many other facets of the vending business, it is crucial to determine the correct frequency of ordering.
Ideally, you want to order enough product per quarter that you qualify for rebates from certain manufacturers. Your product cost is usually a fixed cost, but these rebates will bring your product cost down. Sometimes this simple thing is the difference between a growing business and one that is stagnant. To take advantage of rebates, it is useful to identify certain brands that offer a wide variety of selection among them, such as Coca Cola for beverages or Mars for candy bars. By ordering most of your product from one or two large manufacturers, you can keep variety in the machines but also work towards increasing your economy of scale in your ordering process.
Large manufacturers are aware of this, which is why they offer such incentives. Also, check to see if it is allowed in your contract with the manufacturer to resell your product to other smaller vendors. This way you can increase your volume and help others get a better deal. Only do this if it's legal and within the bounds of your contract.
How much product should I order?
First, keep track of what you ordered in the past and account for any fluctuations in your past order from the previous order. This will prevent you from over or under ordering. The best ordering process will result in all of your product being emptied from your storage area in the time between deliveries, but also result in you not having to buy extra product, possibly at a higher price. Aim for this ideal, but recognize that this will almost never happen. There are too many variables that can change the product level in your warehouse. By striving for this ideal though, you will make inventory management as efficient as possible.
Fluctuations, in particular, happen seasonally or when the temperature changes. Typically, you can expect to sell more soda the hotter it gets, and more snacks and coffee the colder it gets. In addition, there will be certain temperature thresholds that will drastically alter the buying behavior of your customers. If, in the middle of summer when it has been 70 degrees, the temperature drops below 60 degrees, you can expect a spike of snack and coffee purchases. Conversely, you can expect a spike in soda and water purchases if your region experiences a heat wave. Water sales rise even more than soda the hotter it gets. If it' s 90 degrees outside, the majority of people will tend to want water.
A good way to keep tabs on this phenomenon is to check in to see how you feel. Are you suddenly more hungry in response to a cold snap? Are you suddenly thirsty in response to a heat wave? Your customers will follow a similar pattern of behavior. If you keep track of ordering over a large amount of time (at least a year) you will be able to see these natural fluctuations and plan accordingly. A vendor watches the weather as much as a sailor.