What’s Jeff Reading: Vending Machines, Off Price Retail, Ghost Franchises

It wasn’t that long ago (actually it was, I’m afraid) when I reported, in a somewhat sarcastic tone, about Quiksilver trying to sell surf trunks in vending machines at resorts.  This was before their bankruptcy filing.  I thought that if they were highlighting this effort in a conference call, they were really struggling to find good news.  I’m not aware that they ever sold any that way.

Maybe they were just ahead of their time.  In “Cannoli kits and prime aged steaks: Here’s how the pandemic has revolutionized vending machines,” Laura Reiley describes where and how vending machines are being utilized.

All her examples are of food, the logistics of which seem way more difficult than apparel or accessories.  Or shoes?  Granted, no surfboard or snowboard is likely to fit in a vending machine.  The point is that we have here an already existing trend (robotics) that has been accelerated by the pandemic.  Will it stick as things “normalize?”  In some places and some ways, I imagine it will, helped by more efficient, reliable, automated, and cheaper machines.  Just something to think about.

Meanwhile, you know all the retail stores that have been closing?  “Off-Price is Dead-On When It Comes to Store Expansion, ” by Warren Shoulberg, makes it clear that’s not the case in the off-price and dollar stores.  You’ll recognize some of the names.  Unemployment and rising inflation are two things that might make low price more important for a really big part of the population- not necessarily just in the U.S.  But if all your customers are in the top five or so percent of the population by income, don’t worry about it.

Here’s another food example that may not be exactly relevant but is worth some thought.  “You’ve Heard of Ghost Kitchens. Meet the Ghost Franchises,” by Marissa Conrad, writes about created or existing brands where “In exchange for a cut of sales revenue, the brand supplies the name, logo, menu, recipes and publicity images to any restaurant owner with the space and staff to make burgers as a side hustle.”  It isn’t necessarily a burger brand, but all such brands are delivered via the usual apps.

This works particularly well for food right now because restaurants have extra capacity and people who apparently can’t cook are eating at home. Consider the speed at which brands can be created and go away, only to be replaced by other brands.  What does that do to the concept of a brand?  What we have here is another distribution disruption caused by the pandemic.  Will it stick?  Probably in some form.