Dollars And Sense

Vending machines can use up to 4,200 kilowatt hours (KWh) annually, depending on the type of machine, location and any energy-efficient measures used with a specific machine. Simple math indicates that if the rate per KWh is the national average of 9.49 cents, and a respectable 3,750 KWh were used last year, the annual bill would be approximately $350. Unfortunately, we do not all live in Idaho, where the average KWh rate is 5.28 cents, the lowest nationally.

Oddly enough, I now have one item on my list of reasons not to move to Hawaii (the average KWh is 28 cents, yikes!). After the cost of the product, a vendor’s time and a department’s commission or location fee, the profit margin can be razor-thin at times. Regardless of profit, why should taxpayers pay to keep snacks and drinks cold for a small, almost immeasurable, segment of the population? It is as if the general public is paying for part of every soda that is purchased at any given machine.

A vending machine only becomes profitable when the commission or location fee out-paces electrical consumption. Where above that black line do you want to be? Having staff make change and perform other customer-service tasks in relation to a snack machine for a net annual profit of $1 is not economically viable. The key is to work with a vendor closely to assure you are getting as much out of the machine as the vendor- and the public are, while being environmentally responsible.

How to reduce costs and retain more profits from a vending machine:

· Share electrical costs for operating a machine with the vending machine company/owner.

· When applicable, use passive infrared-occupancy sensors to lower electrical consumption.

· Configure the cost of operating the vending machine into the percentage you retain from any profits.

· Have a low-use machine–or one in an area where there is little or no return–taken out or moved to another location

· Monitor the electrical consumption each month, and charge it back to the vending contractor.

· De-lamp, or retrofit, a machine with an energy-efficient lamp.

The objective is to understand more clearly the cost of operating a vending machine and reducing the utility bill. These methods may not be applicable in all situations and contracts, but should create new or further existing dialog with your vendor.

In some cases a vending machine is as much a necessity as a drinking fountain, but it can be a burden financially and environmentally on a municipality when not managed correctly. Why should an entire community unknowingly subsidize the cost of operating a vending machine for a small fraction of the population? Apply the technology currently on the market. While there will be some initial start-up cost, over time you will recoup that by reducing your utility bill. Lastly, work with your vendor regularly to understand how the machine operates and, most of all, to keep the contract/agreement financially equitable for both parties.

Steve Yeskulsky is a CPRP currently working in the parks and recreation industry in Sarasota, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at

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