Combining Novelty and Convenience through Market Lane’s Vending Machine

Oct 5, 2020

We talk to Director and Co-Founder of Melbourne coffee roastery, Market Lane, about their answer to contactless and convenient customer service.

Fleur Studd remembers the fun of going to the vending machine as a kid, watching the spirals go around and getting a chocolate bar. The vending machines also met a need. You could buy the product at all hours, from a convenient location and in a contactless way.

After moving their coffee roastery to Weston St, Brunswick East in March this year, the Director and Co Founder of Market Lane – a renowned coffee roaster with six shops across Melbourne – had been considering ways they could make their ground and whole espresso and filter beans more accessible in the area, and service the local community.

So, they established a vending machine – which is temperature controlled to 12 degrees and has UV tinted glass to protect the beans – right outside their roastery.

“We have long been inspired by the vending machine culture in Japan [and] we loved the idea of people being able to come to our roastery at any time of day, and being able to load up on freshly roasted coffee beans or last minute filter paper for their brewers,” Studd tells Hospitality Unites.

 “We’ve been blown away by the response from our customers, and a lot of our customers have commented on how convenient it is for them.

“People are also loving the novelty factor of being able to buy their beans from a vending machine, and its been awesome to see our Instagram light up with locals posting photos of themselves next to the machine.”

Photographer: Abigail Varney

“We might have talked about it for another six months”

Market Lane isn’t the only hospitality business that has turned to vending machines amid COVID-19.

According to Studd, they had been discussing the idea for a long period of time, but the concept became more relevant as a result of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 meant that [the vending machine] was put in place quickly. We might have talked about the idea for another six months, but [enabling] people to buy our coffee in a contactless manner, at whatever time is convenient for them … became more urgent,” she says.

She says COVID-19 restrictions like the curfew and five-kilometre radius restrictions added to that sense of urgency.

“You might not be able to go to your favourite coffee shop all the time and, when you are brewing coffee from home and run out of beans, it can be quite stressful.

“The [vending machine] is quick and easy, it’s stocked full of great beans and is meeting the needs of customers.”

As the vending machine is located just outside their roastery, Market Lane regularly rotate their beans in order to ensure that they are never over 10-days-old.

Although she had visions of setting up Market Lane vending machines all over Melbourne, there are logistical challenges involved in maintaining and managing them.

“It’s not a process of set and forget. You have to make sure that the stock is fresh and topped up and – ideally –  you want to help customers if they can’t transact with the machines,” she says.

“We didn’t want to put [the machines] out there and create a disappointing experience because no one is available to help customers if they aren’t working.

“If we did roll out more, they’d be in locations where we can service them.”

Photographer: Tyson Stagg

“I didn’t appreciate some of the challenges before we installed them”

While the vending machine has provided another avenue for Market Lane customers to purchase their products, Studd emphasises that they won’t replace that in-person B2C experience.

“Vending machines will never replace that interaction with the barista or staff member,” she says.

“When a customer walks into our physical space, there is someone to help guide them, and make – or give them tips on how to make – great coffee. I don’t think vending machines will replace that.

“I think most of the people coming to the vending machine are Market Lane customers familiar with our offering, trust what we’re selling and know what they like. It’s another channel – a bit like online shopping – that adds to the convenience for customers.

“I think people appreciate the novelty factor as well.”

Photographer: Tyson Stegg

“We went into a bit of a holding pattern”

Market Lane doesn’t have any immediate plans to install more vending machines.

Rather, Studd says they are focused on adjusting to this new normal, and working on their sustainability goals.

“This is now business as normal, and things won’t necessarily go back to the way they were quickly,” she says.

“We’re looking at different things like adding solar panels in our warehouse, ways to bring back reusable cups in our venues and finding new ways to train and support our staff in this new world. We are also working on a Reconciliation Action plan, and becoming B Corp certified.

“We don’t have plans to open new shops at this stage, but we are always trying to be a better business, and use our business for good.”

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