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How to Manage Your Vending Machine Inventory

Streamline your vending machine business with well-thought-out inventory management. Read our tips and tricks and learn how to stay ahead of your stocking schedule!

September 20, 2023


Having an effective inventory management system makes it a lot easier to manage a growing vending machine business. Without a proper system, you risk stockouts, overstocks, and spoilage that may prove costly to your vending machine business in the long run.

To be on top of things, you must have a process for sourcing, inspecting and maintaining your machines, and storing products. You must also have a schedule for restocking your vending machines and a system for monitoring inventory management levels. In this post, I will take you through all the best practices you need to know about vending machine inventory management.

Where to Keep Vending Machine Inventory

You have the option of keeping your inventory at home or in a dedicated warehouse where different vending machine management systems are employed. When starting a vending machine company, it is perfectly okay to store vending supplies in your home’s garage or spare room and keep management simple. Because you must keep products off the ground, you can erect racks at home to carry the vending products.

As your business gets bigger and vending machines get harder to effectively manage, you can rent a storage unit or warehouse to keep your vending machine supplies. Warehouses are better because they tend to have easier access and better lighting than storage units. You can make the cost of warehousing bearable by sharing the space with another vending company.

A warehouse can help you save money in two ways with a vending machine business. First, having enough space to store excess products gives you the wiggle room to take advantage of bulk discounts. Second, when you find a warehouse close to your vending machine route, you will save time and money during your restocking runs.

How to Organize Inventory in Your House

At home, consider having your machine inventory in a spare room or the garage. Food products should always be kept off the ground so you don't fill up your vending machines with degraded products. This protects them from moisture damage, pest infestations, and dust. Keeping your vending machine products off the ground also ensures adequate airflow in the room and makes it easy to clean the place. 

For supply management at home, you will need:

  • Freestanding plastic shelving racks. These storage units will help you keep your vending machine products off the ground. You can find durable shelving racks at your local Home Depot or online.
  • Plastic bins. Storage bins will come in handy when organizing products such as snacks. You can get them from your local Home Depot or online. 

Organize Snacks in Your House

No need for vending machine management systems yet. Plastic bins and freestanding racks come in handy too when organizing snacks for your vending machines. In each bin, you will stack snacks by brand. Removing the snacks for vending machines from their box packaging and putting them in bins is useful because you can clearly see at a glance how much of each snack you have left. 

Each brand of snacks should be in its own plastic bin. You can put a sticker in each bin to denote the brand that’s supposed to go there. This way, when you run out of a product, you will know what you need to order. When adding a new batch of snacks to a bin, put it at the back of the pile so that the old batch that’s likely to go bad first gets sold first.

How to Organize Vending Machine Inventory in a Warehouse

A warehouse will likely be dustier than your home. You might want to skip removing snacks from their box packaging to put them in bins unless the bins have lids. When you reach a level where you can afford to have a dedicated warehouse and dedicated vending machine management systems, you will likely also be using good software to manage inventory that can help you track inventory of your intelligent vending machines. Bins will not be necessary as a result.

For your vending machine warehouse, consider getting strong racks from a local hardware store. Plastic racks will probably not be able to withstand the demands of a busy warehouse and a big vending machine demand. There's a chance that at the end you'll end up missing inventory.

Below are the things you need to pay attention to for inventory management and when restocking vending machines from a warehouse:

  • Keep products off the ground. Ensure that food products are always off the ground. This helps keep dust, pests, and moisture off your supplies, especially the electronics like spare card readers or touch displays.
  • Your truck’s exhaust. When you back up a truck at the warehouse, the exhaust pipe should not be pointed at any food supplies. Aside from the fumes, you also risk blowing dust on the food.
  • Wrap beverages in plastic. Cases of beverages that come wrapped in plastic should stay in the plastic wrapper until it is time to take them to vending machines. This is about protecting the consumer and ensuring that you keep dirt and contaminating agents off the bottles and cans. For loose cans that are not wrapped in plastic, consider putting cardboard on top to shield them from falling dust. Customers don’t want to drink from dusty cans.
  • Avoid lifting heavy cases from the ground. It helps to stack some pallets on the ground where you can put heavy cases of drinks so that you are not lifting from down low. It is more comfortable to handle heavy cases this way. Your back and knees will thank you.
  • Get a refrigerator for chocolate and candy. For products such as candy and chocolate that can’t handle the heat of a warehouse in the summer, consider getting a refrigerator. You don't want the shape of your snacks to be unusual in vending machines. If you can’t buy it new, you can get a cheap used refrigerator on eBay and Craigslist. Alternatively, keep your vending machine snacks in an air-conditioned office/home. 
  • Shelve inventory management by type and brand. For organization and tracking purposes, keep like products together the same way as you wood inside vending machines. For instance, you can have cookies on one shelf and chips on another. This approach will also help you avoid missing inventory.
  • Check expiry dates. Losses due to spoilage are mostly avoidable if you know how fast various product brands move in your vending machines, don’t overstock, and don’t order products that are close to their sell-by-dates. Generally, you want to check the expiry dates for every order as it arrives in your vending machine warehouse. It is not a good idea to assume that the last ordered batch will be the last to expire.
  • Expand storage space by going vertical. One of the main benefits of a warehouse is that it provides you with the space to take advantage of bulk discounts whenever your local retailer is running an offer. Whenever you are running out of space, you can put light vending machine products such as boxes of chips on shelves above arm's reach. Get a rolling ladder to make storing and retrieving these products easy and safe.

How to Keep Track of Inventory

While it is possible to keep track of machine inventory manually, the best way to do it is to use automated retail vending software with your mobile device. This is where it's super good to have smart vending machines or custom-made vending machines. Tracking inventory for your vending machines using software will help you optimize inventory management, see the real-time performance of your business, and provide you with data to make better executive decisions. A good supply management software, both third-party and native software that comes with a smart vending machine, will provide features to track inventory in the following ways:

  • Product levels. Smart vending machines will allow you to see how much of each product you have left in your warehouse and each vending machine.
  • Expiry dates. Smart vending machine software will show accurate data on expiry dates on your mobile device so you can stay ahead of spoilage.
  • Costs. As a successful vending business owner, it is beneficial to know the total value of inventory you are holding, product unit costs, and the average cost per refill or per product.
  • Reorder levels. Most vending software will warn you whenever stock levels drop below your predetermined reorder points. This way, you will avoid stockouts.
  • Vending telemetry solution. When you have a vending telemetry solution in place it collects data about transactions, products or machine status, and displays it through a vending machine management software. It also offers some custom machine settings to play around with.

Industry leaders in vending machine technology and smart vending machines providers include Vendsoft, Televend, VendingMetrics, and Cantaloupe.

How to Manually Track Inventory Without Vending Software

In a small vending machine venture, you can manage inventory without smart vending machines or a fancy vending manager dashboard and have an accurate picture of sales numbers. There are two things, you will need to do:

1. Instute FIFO in your storage space: If you don't own smart vending machines, you want to ensure that inventory in your home is set in such a way that new stock goes to the back of the pile. This way, old stock that is likely to go bad is shipped to your vending machines first. FIFO stands for first in, first out.

2. Use Product Cards/Stickers in Your Vending Machines. On your vending machine coils where the last coil on a column is, put a card. The card will move down as the product on the column sells. When you come back to restock, you will be able to tell how many of the said product has been sold going by how many spaces the card has moved. This information will help you know how fast the product sells so you can avoid stockouts or overstocks of your vending machines.

Bonus Inventory Management Tips

How to Reduce Spoilage in Slow-Selling Vending Machines

When vending operators have a slow-selling vending machines, their stock has a high likelihood of going bad. Even when you have the time, it costs gas money to do restocking runs of your vending machines and it doesn’t make sense to do these runs to add just a few snacks. In this case, you will benefit from having snacks and drinks with a long shelf life. Many nuts have a shelf-life of 10 months or more. Several brands of chips are good for eight or more months.

How to Choose Inventory for a New Location

When vending operators have a new location for vending machines, how do they set up the account? You have the option of putting in a selection of your best-selling products and then making adjustments with time or asking the location owner what products they’d want to see in the machine. You can give them a list of all the products you offer, have them select what they want, and then use their selection to make a decision. With time, you’ll use sales figures to make product adjustments that lead to customer satisfaction.

Warehouse Tools Worth Investing in

For efficiency and safety in your vending machine warehouse, consider investing in the following safety equipment:

  • Rechargeable lights. Overhead lights in a warehouse tend to be located too high up. When they malfunction, you need a backup light source to save the day before a repairman arrives. Buy rechargeable lights in the warehouse as a backup.
  • Rolling ladder. A rolling ladder is simple to use and is a lot safer than a standard ladder. You can easily move it around the warehouse with different inventory levels without the help of a second party.
  • A big garbage bin. You want a garbage bin inside the vending machine warehouse. You will be dumping a lot of boxes, plastics, wrappers, and a bunch of other things in it.
  • Cleaning tools and supplies. It is important to keep the warehouse clean at all times. A dirty warehouse with food crumbs is a magnet for rodents and other unwanted pests.
  • Pallet jacks. Pallet jacks make moving pallets easy. Invest in at least one pallet jack. They may also help when moving vending machines.
  • Cutting tools. With so much inventory there'll always be something that needs untangling or shortening.

Do You Need Labels in a Vending Warehouse?

In a small vending machine business with lower inventory levels where you are the only among few vending machine operators, it is easy to run a warehouse without labels as you know where everything is. When you have employees, however, you need labels to ensure consistency. You need to label where every type of product goes. All you need is adhesive stickers and a marker pen to make labels. 

Project Inventory Needs for Your Vending Machine Business

What inventory levels you can store at home or in a warehouse will depend mostly on how fast your vending locations sell the said products and the number of shopping trips you are comfortable making to source inventory. You must also pay attention to product shelf life. You can project inventory needs for your vending machine business by doing the following:

  • Measure and record sales trends. When you have accurate sales data, over time you will be able to predict future product demand based on your customers’ buying patterns. You can record this vending data manually on a notepad or use inventory management software.
  • Know the lead time. If you order your vending products online, it is important to know the lead time. Lead time refers to the time it takes the supplier to deliver the products. For instance, if it takes a supplier 5 days to deliver chips and you sell 10 bags of chips every day, you want to have 50 bags of chips or more available when making an order so you don’t run out of stock before new stock arrives.
  • Set a reorder point. Having a specific reorder point helps you avoid stockouts. For instance, you can set your reorder point for Doritos at 60 bags (reorder when you have only 60 bags left). This should also help to keep your refill costs down.

When analyzing sales data, vending machine operators really want to compare apples to apples. For instance, the demand for cold soft drinks will likely be higher in the summer than in winter. Also, your sales data should help you avoid carrying too much stock to the extent that some of them go bad. Vending products have different shelf lives. Below are the shelf lives of various types of vending products:

  • Chips - 2 to 3 months
  • Bottled soda - 3 to 4 months
  • Canned Diet soda - 3 to 4 months
  • Canned regular soda - 9 to 12 months
  • Most sugary drinks and juices - 9 to 12 months
  • Bottled water - 10 years
  • Chocolate - 9 to 12 months
  • Candy - 18 months
  • Nuts - 6 to 10 months
  • Granola Bars - 6 to 8 months
  • Pop-Tarts - 5 to 7 months

Your products will only last for as long as the indicated shelf lives if you store them under the conditions recommended by the manufacturer. Ensure your warehouse is clean, adequately aerated, and free of mold and dampness.

Closing Thoughts

Good practices to manage inventory can help you streamline operations and make scaling a vending business possible. They can be utilized even without intelligent vending machines or with a current business management system. It is beneficial to take inventory management seriously even if you are running only one vending location. It is a sign that you have what it takes to run a big route. When you finally start running several vending locations, such systems will ensure efficiency and consistency, especially when there are several employees handling inventory.

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