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The only task on my calendar today was to drive 4-1/2 hours to Pennsylvania to pick up a Treasure Chest crane. After the disappointment of my first purchase - a very beaten up old clunker - I was super excited to win ($800) a new, unused machine. The pics looked great.

[i]And boy, was I pleased![/i] The eBay listing was honest. The machine's plexi and mirror back still had plastic protective coating on it from the factory. And the crane mech itself was still zip-tied on the track from the factory too. Brand spanking new. I bought his other new one also - now I have two identical cranes, beautiful neutral artwork (Statue of Liberty and some stars) so I don't have to replace that for my LEGO event.

I drove home with one crane inside my small SUV, and one on top.

During my drive home my brother called. He received a shipment for me. By 7:00pm I was back in town and at his house. It was two pallets of empty capsules - 1", 2", 4" and eggs. I knew I needed more 1" and 2". The 4" and eggs were just to test and play with, as I wasn't sure what would work in my new crane machines.

Well what can I say? Apparently I can't judge size very well. 2,000 four-inch capsules is a lot. LOL. My brother's shop is completely consumed by my 2 new cranes, my first clunker crane (plus extra parts), two pallets' worth of capsule boxes stacked around, and of course my road-case building lumber and hardware and tools.

Suddenly, I not only had my very first worthy crane (I had never even played one before, personally), but I also had the capsules to test with. [color=#0000cd][i]Yay![/i][/color] And that's what I did. I got to reading that crazy Asian/English "Functional Manual" and figuring our the dip-switches. I popped together a few empty 4" capsules to test it. A waste of 6 good capsules, I know (apparently they're sealed [i]for good[/i]!). But I was so eager. I was giddy as I moved the crane around and picked them up, one by one, and dropped them into the win chute.

One issue: when I fed my $5 bill through the machine, it racked up only 4 credits. Ugh Not good. On the next pass it successfully counted up all 5 credits.

Knowing full well that my brother would not be able to resist playing with it (should he wander out to his wood shop), I unplugged the machine and [i]cranked up the volume dial[/i]. Ahh, life's little pleasures.

I packed some of each of the capsules into my car and went home. I was greeted with a big box on my doorstep. Damn heavy. It's my battery-operated bill changer machine. [color=#0000cd][i]Wee![/i][/color] (Yesterday my new wi-fi printer arrived too!).

There was no settling in. I took the 4" capsules to my LEGO room. Wow, those things are huge! Well I got to filling them (about halfway). So much fun! I toyed with the quantity of parts, and the quality, mostly paying attention to mix vibrant colors - so I wouldn't have a bunch of all-gray capsules. As I worked, I debated how to set the difficulty on the machine. [color=#0000cd][i]How often do I want people to win?[/i][/color] Our convention is mostly about fun, not profit. But I would like these machines to pay for themselves eventually (or soon).

Filling 4" capsules with bunches of LEGO parts takes [u]forever[/u]. Ninety minutes later (2 hours? more?) I haven't finished even the first box of 375 capsules. But the ones I have filled are voluminous. With another hour put in tomorrow morning, I think I'll be ready to take what I've done to my brother's shop and test the machine for real - with real product.

I do believe these translucent capsules, under the lights of the Treasure Chest, will absolutely grab attention. I AM JUST GIDDY.




One complete box

At last, one box is done.

There were some disappointments, but it works. Due to a miscalculation (I forgot to consider wall-thickness in one of my drawings), I had to dramatically change plans. There is no room inside the box for a 3rd half-lid, so I'm leaving it with just two lids This leaves a few holds in the lid visible for the mounting brackets. And really, the whole double-half-lid design is now pointless. It may as well be one solid lid.

Also, I did not incorporate the intended center-support to keep the lid level. Once the machines are loaded with merchandise (and quarters), I fear the lid will sag, causing the 26" tall Beavers to lean in towards each other. But I think I'll leave it as-is, test it out this August, and if needed, I'll go back and retro-fit in a support bar.

Without the 3rd half-lid inside, this box is now also 2" deeper than need be. The next box will be shorter by 2". But that won't affect the lid size, so the lids should still be interchangeable.

[color=#006400][b]EDIT: Later that day...[/b][/color]

After discussing with my brother and reviewing the pictures, it was decided to simplify the whole design yet again. The next box will have a single/solid-lid design, and a cross-brace built into the lid to deter sagging (with 2 or 4 machines on top of it). Also, the Beavers were laid on their sides, facing each other, thus placing the coin mechs on the side, not the top. So the next box can be 2-7/8" shorter.

[color=#0000cd][i]Ugh. I was hoping not to waste this first box. But it's looking more like this will all be just a test-run for a new, improved design.[/i][/color]




Attaching Beavers to the box

I am excited to have completed the [i]outside[/i] of the box. I still need to pad the interior. Alas, one measurement was off, and all items will not nestle inside the box as planned. [color=#0000cd][i]Oh man is that ever disappointing.[/i][/color] But to fix it, correctly, with padding around everything, would require the entire box to be built 2-1/2" bigger in all directions. I really, really do not want to do that.

As can (barely) be seen in this photo, I'm centering the mounting plates on the lid. [color=#0000cd][i]But hey! What's this? Beaver does not provide the bolts needed to secure them in place?[/i][/color] I guess vendors like me are supposed to have basic stuff like that? Or perhaps they come with racks when purchased?

Ah well. Home Depot here I come.




First Beaver Box underway

I stormed my brother's shop and cleaned enough space for me to work. I was so ridiculously eager that I was racing along and, sadly, making mistakes. But ultimately, it's looking good so far.

Here is the bottom half of the first Beaver Box. Next to it, you may recognize from an earlier post, is my drawing of this box. I must say, [i]the bright red is so sweet looking! I cannot wait to see the green Beavers on top of this.[/i]

This has 2 latches on each side, because it will have 2 half-lids. These latches have locks built in, so the box is secure. Kids can't loosen the lids and cause the Beavers to topple. And if I do drill holes in the top for money to fall in, it will be a secure vault for the quarters.

The handles are on the same side as the latches, because I want the front to be clean looking. As I intend to most often have these lined up, I think the clean front will be nice.

Tomorrow: the lids. They will be tricky. I've not made "half lid pairs" before.

[color=#4b0082][b]UPDATE[/b][/color]: My "skills and forethought" have resulted in a half-lid that is about 1 or 2 sixteenths of an inch too wide I must drill out the rivets, disassemble it, cut it down, put it back together, and try again. [color=#0000cd][i]Why[/i][/color], you may ask, [color=#0000cd][i]don't you just build the other half-lid 2/16ths narrower?[/i][/color] Because when all boxes are done, I want all the lids to be interchangeable. So they must be identical widths.





We offer miniwashroom vending machines for minitoothbrushes and mouth spray. Our machines are modern and stylish designed for restaurants, pubs, hostels, shopping centres and airports.
Our website is [url="http://www.difresh.co.uk"]www.difresh.co.uk[/url]

Linda Kelly

Linda Kelly


Got a crane

I had planned to storm my brother's shop tomorrow and get working on the all-important Beaver cases.

But last night I won this [i]Treasure Chest ("100% working")[/i] on eBay. It's in New Jersey, 4 hours away from me. I will spend the day tomorrow picking it up. I probably should have calculated the gas cost before bidding on it. [color=#008000]I paid $205[/color].

And I am [u]kicking, kicking, kicking[/u] myself for missing the [u]other one[/u]. [color=#0000cd][i]Argh![/i][/color] The guy had two identical for auction, and I forgot and missed the first one, sold 4 minutes earlier. So, very, mad at myself. It sold for [color=#008000]$176[/color].




The master plan

Trying to envision my setup. What started as a simple idea (of vending LEGO from a candy machine) is growing. As the weeks count down to August, I'm truly out of time. So this is turning into a "master plan" for future years. I'll just get done what I can for this August.

I was mainly interested in how all items would fit together - what would tower too tall, what would be too small. This is a fairly accurate depiction - but I had to scale the people a bit [size=3](ps: don't google for images of "10-year-old boy model" - bad idea)[/size].

[b]Phase I[/b]: for this August, I will definitely have done: Box #1 and Box #4, with two 2" machines, one 1" machine, and a bill changer.

[b]Phase II[/b]: might get done this, if I'm lucky, is one a crane. If I attempt it this year, I'll have to fill the crane with items purchased at retail, or close to it. So I'd have to have a fair amount of "losers," which I prefer not to do. But for 2013, the LEGO company will sell me lots of parts cheap, so I can better afford the next stages...

[b]Phase III[/b]: Five more machines, all 1" capsules, with the various minifigure parts, for a Build-A-Fig setup. Each cap sells for $.75 = $3.75 for a fig, including a utensil or two. That's actually fairly cheap as figs go.

[b]Phase IV:[/b] Some type of "direct vend" of LEGO pieces, just like candy. As shown on Box #5.

[b]Phase V:[/b] A second crane - preferably a candy-crane, for direct scooping of LEGO parts dumped inside. But I've never seen a candy crane in real life, so not yet sure how big it is, or how it works.

And with that, I'll have completed this picture drawn.

[b]Future Phases[/b]: - I'd like to research a "coin pushing" machine that pushes LEGO instead. Not sure how that could work. Maybe also a gravity-machine. What else? Not sure. This photo I consider to be 5 "stations": 1) Random capsule parts, 2) Build-A-Fig, 3) Crane (small baggies), 4) Candy crane, and 5) Direct dump/vend parts. I feel that a good, complete "fun zone" would have at least 9 or 10 different [i]things to do[/i].

I'm pleased that all I've drawn thus far fits into 20 linear feet [size=3](drapes are 10' wide)[/size].

Just waiting... waiting... for my brother to allow me into his shop.




Diversifying the Business

Our vending business is going well. We are gradually adding new locations as we find them, but now my dear husband has the desire to open a food truck.

He is a great cook, and when he gets together with his friends, they cook for three days straight, and eat all weekend.

So, the first weekend in June, we are running an experiment. We've planned a great menu for a cookout at Wind Rock, a four wheeling convention in East Tennessee, that will hopefully make us some money, but more importantly will give him the experience of cooking for customers. If that goes well, we'll start looking at building a food truck.

I believe this is a good way to diversify our business, because we can sell drinks out of the truck that we have in the machines around town.

We are concentrating on one main dish, to make sure he has the ability and desire to conquer that task, along with chips, candy and drinks that we normally sell in the business.

Puerto Rican pork tacos on a flour tortilla, slaw, and a chipotle sour cream sauce that will add a little extra heat. About 3 oz of meat per taco, on 6 inch flour tortillas. We'll be selling the tacos at $3.50 each or 3 for $10. He'll be making about 480 servings, and hopefully he'll be able to move them all during the three day event.

Wish us luck!




just opened an office

well my business officially has an office. got a mini storage in january but already outgrown it. expecting a bunch of equipment to come in
soon and the mini storage just wasnt cutting it. not enough room for working, no water hook up or hose nearby, no a/c and summer is here. so in my search for a bigger storage space i came across an office/warehouse set up. splitting it with a friend it works out $50 cheaper than my mini storage. Not much to look at but it wil look better full of crane games







Ask, and ye shall receive

[size=4]Received the text from my brother: "[color=#0000CD][i]You got boxes here.[/i][/color]" Woo hoo! My very first vend machines![/size]

[size=4]They arrived the same day as the box parts I ordered - locking latches, padding, etc. Now I'm all set to build the first box. And [i]this[/i] is where I learn if I shall regret posting this blog, because my box design is impossible, or if I'm as brilliant as I like to imagine.[/size]

[size=4]Now just waiting a few more days for my bro to clean up his shop so I can use it.[/size]

[size=3]PS: Glad I waited for the NBs to arrive before I built the box. The stated dimensions of 11"x11" did not include the coin mech or spout; both jut out beyond. So I'll be checking that closely as I build the box. Ugh, I'm not looking forward to building this, figuring out all the nuances along the way, but I am really eager to see it complete![/size]





The idle time waiting for my first machines to arrive from Beaver is tough. Everywhere I go now, I look for gum ball machines and toy machines, to see the variety of setups.

While standing around the movie theater lobby I spied this unit. I was struck by the variety and quantity of merchandise crammed into a small setup. Those are Beaver machines, so I presumed them to be the same dimensions as what I ordered - 11"x11"x30" tall (mine are to be 26" tall).

There's 8 machines on this one wood rack, double-deckered, as it were. [color=#0000cd][i]Is my storage box plan a dumb idea?[/i][/color] This wood rack is roughly 24" deep and 46" wide. Mine would have only 4 units in the same space - single row. [color=#0000cd][i]Will my plan take up an unnecessary amount of real estate for the few machines?[/i][/color] At such expense - building the crates is a huge part of the cost - I really want to get it right the first time. But this idea seems so original, I haven't found anything else like it. So it's all new.

I figure, the only way I can really judge is to actually build the first box. I stared at this movie rack for an hour, debating. But in the end, I think I'll stick with my current design. After all the self-doubt, I end up right back where I was.

Ugh, I wish the first two Beavers would arrive.




Received candy

I received my order of [u]33 lbs of LEGO-shaped candy[/u] Yikes! The boxes were surprisingly small for the quantity. Everything's new, and a surprise, when you're seeing it for the first time.

Spoke to the manufacturer today, but they do not sell direct. They suggested A&A, but I did not find this item on their site. Anywho, I've got this 33 lbs to start with. If successful, I'll call A&A for this item next time.

I have [i]no plan[/i] whatsoever what to do with this candy. But my mind is opening to the possibilities.

I can dish out candy directly, in bulk. [color=#0000cd][i]Candy in a candy machine? Candy in a crane machine with candy-scoop? A crane game using opaque [u]eggs[/u] with mostly candy and a few "winners?" A crane game with no candy, but just LEGO parts dumped in for the grabbing?[/i] A crane with baggied small LEGO sets as prizes?[/color]

What started out as a single idea - build-a-minifig with 5 capsule machines - might possibly turn into a small area of machines and skill games. If not this August, then perhaps 2013.

Lots of options.




Ordered two Beavers

I have ordered my first two units - Beaver NB26s. A 1" capsule machine for $.50 and a 2" capsule for $1.00.

I'm rather eager to see them. When they arrive I can get to building their first road case - see how [i]that[/i] works out. The road case is really the big variable right now.




Test capsulating

My brother said to me, "[color=#0000cd][i]Look. Before you go spending all this money buying $300 candy machines, building $600 boxes, and all that, just buy a thousand of those little capsules,[/i][/color]" he sounded almost angry. "[color=#0000cd][i]And see how you enjoy filling those things.[/i][/color]"

So I purchased one box - [color=#ff0000]2,500[/color] one-inch capsules. When they arrived, I was excited. This was supposed to be a feasibility test, but I was actually giddy.

I sifted through my collection and selected an assortment of parts I call [i]"clips and bars."[/i] These little pieces are very interestingly shaped (not square bricks), in my opinion. And very small, like candy.

I arranged these cups of parts on my kitchen table and referenced them online, seeing that they were all close in value, ranging from [color=#ff0000]$.04[/color] to [color=#ff0000]$.07[/color]/pc. A couple were more extreme - one being [color=#ff0000]$.19[/color]/pc and another [color=#ff0000]$.12[/color]/pc, depending on color. I had 13 different pieces, each in multiple colors. This seemed a nice mix.

I tested a capsule to see how they would work out. I could fairly easily fit [color=#ff0000]7[/color] pieces in a 1" cap. That's an average value of [color=#ff0000]$.49[/color] per cap. This was perfect for a[color=#ff0000] $.50[/color] machine (having not yet determined what size-capped machine or what coin-value mechs I'd be buying).

[size=3][color=#FF0000]Note: My LEGO collection is all new parts from a former business. They are already sorted by shape and color. The cost referenced online are after-market prices, which is roughly double that of buying LEGO sets. Among knowledgeable LEGO fans these prices are absorbitant but expected for after-market scenarios. So my 50% profit is included in the $.49/capsule estimate.[/color][/size]

I turned on the TV and got to packing. I filled 250 capsules, and nearly two hours had passed. [color=#0000cd][i]Yikes.[/i][/color] I averaged [color=#ff0000]25 seconds[/color] to fill each cap! I did not expect it to take nearly that long. But I did have 250 caps completed, at a value of $125 waiting to be collected.

[color=#0000cd][i]And damn, they looked pretty![/i][/color] I was excited. I always get excited for new ideas - like I'm a kid myself. I can imagine what I would feel if discovering this toy machine at a LEGO show. I would get up close and peer into the side of the machine to see the parts offering. LEGO bits already have a natural beauty all their own. Nothing else is quite like it. They are pretty colors exuding playability and quality - all of which, even the [i]colors[/i], knock-off brands are unable to match. And somehow, the capsulation only added to the fun appearance.

[color=#0000ff][i]Is that it?[/i][/color] I thought. [color=#0000ff][i]That [b][u]tiny little[/u][/b] pile is 250?[/i][/color] Seemed like nothing! [color=#0000ff][i]And I need 700 to fill one machine - one time![/i][/color] Oy, this was gonna be some work.

Well, in conclusion for this chapter, I realize... this is going to take far longer than I'd hoped, but I'm so hot for the idea, nothing can stop me. This "test-run" which was meant to gauge the feasibility, simply turned into a day of shift-work. Mentally, I wasn't "testing" anything, as my brother had intended. I was simply - [i]working[/i].




The math (might not add up)

MS Excel spreadsheet of my costs. It's pretty dismal.

My friend Michelle is constantly telling me, "[color=#0000cd][i]You need to stop coming up with ideas that are just "cool" and work on ideas that will make you more money.[/i][/color]"

It's true. I really enjoy growing the event in a "fun" way, and not so concerned about profits. It's a personal issue, and I'm working on it. Considering [url="http://www.BrickFair.com"]BrickFair[/url] attracts [b]~20,000[/b] people each year, I'm taking home surprisingly little. I get these exciting new, fun, creative ideas in my head and I simply [i]must pursue[/i] them. Like this one.

My projection may be realistic, may be pessimistic. It assumes 40% sales of inventory (the first year), and hence, less investment in parts/capsules (but same income) the 2[sup]nd[/sup] year. And then the 3[sup]rd[/sup] year is a balance between the two. Pure speculation - all of it.

[i][size=2]Note: the [color=#FF0000][b]LEGO Parts Cost: $.05[/b][/color] versus [color=#008000][b]Sell For: $.50[/b][/color] is deceptive. The calculations lower in the spreadsheet assume 4 or 5 pieces per capsule. So no, I'm not selling at 10x profit.[/size][/i]

I don't mind the [color=#ff0000][b]$3,670[/b][/color] up-front setup costs. That's no biggie. Most my new ideas cost that, or more. But the [u]additional[/u] up-front cost [size=3](capsules and parts)[/size] at [color=#ff0000][b]$2,653[/b][/color] starts to hurt. [color=#ff0000][b]Six grand[/b][/color] up front, ugh. But the bottom figure, the running total of [b][color=#ff0000]-$1,529[/color][/b] [u]after 3 years[/u] - that's really disappointing. I'd rather break even in two years. And I think it might be possible. I used to vend LEGO parts online. I stopped a while back, but still have inventory left over. So the [i][color=#ff0000]Year-1 LEGO Parts[/color] cost[/i] of [color=#ff0000][b]$2,200[/b][/color] might be more like [color=#ff0000][b]$300[/b][/color], using mostly my leftovers. That alone will bring me to just about even in year #2.

So much guesswork - sigh. So many questions:[list=1]
[*]Will I sell far less than 40%? Or will they clean me out? Just how popular will this be? Total gamble, really.
[*]There's another smaller [url="http://www.BrickFair.com"]BrickFair[/url] in Alabama in January. So really, between now and August 2013, we will have seen 3 conventions. That's 3 events in just about 18 months. Better odds of breaking even.
[*]I may have found an affordable supply of minifig. If this comes to fruition, [i]all the pessimism evaporates[/i]. Minifigs would sell for $.75 each individual piece (5 pieces per fig) = [color=#008000][b]$3.75[/b][/color] per fig. Those puppies [u]would sell like mad[/u] - nearly guaranteeing profit - not just breaking even - by August 2013.
[*]Do I pack all "themed" parts together? So kids could approach a machine full of "bricks and slopes," and another machine of "plants and animals," etc? Or just mix them all up randomly?
[*]Do I include chaser prizes? Or make them all relatively value-equal? This is a tough one. Since we're specifically a LEGO show, [i]everyone knows the value[/i] of our product. I can't overstate this. If someone pays $.50 for a prize they value at 10 cents, it could upset kids, embarrass me and the event, and hurt sales. These machines will be far from anonymous. They are a direct and immediate reflection of our event, right there, right then.
Admittedly, my [i]Road Case[/i] expense of [color=#ff0000][b]$600[/b][/color] per box is a big factor. I've debated them, but ultimately believe them to be important. They serve many purposes, not the least of which is making the vend units appear [u]special[/u]. Unlike a typical, plain [size=3](or even ugly)[/size] rack, these will look like pedestals, boasting of the product atop them. At least that's how I see it.

After much personal debate, I'm not sure any financial forecast could stop me from at least trying this idea.




The box design

Settled: I want the best, most trustworthy machines, large capacity for both coins and product, so they will [size=2](hopefully)[/size] run all day without servicing during our busy event. We're getting [b]Northern Beavers[/b].

With NB20 in mind, I sat down to draw my dream box.

The [i][b]Shipping Crate[/b][/i], drawn in blue, has removable [size=2](not hinged)[/size] lids. Each lid has a back-edge of 1/2 male and 1/2 female tongue-and-groove tongue, so when paired together, they form a tight bond to both the base of the box, and to each other, making a solid, sealed box.

The [i][b]Contents Of Crate[/b][/i] is the key. It's two NBs plus a [i]3rd lid section[/i] I've labeled "[i][b]Perma-base[/b][/i]." That's because it will have the Beaver units' baseplate permanently attached to it. So the complete box actually includes [i]three lid sections[/i] of equal dimensions. I've drawn the Perma-base in red just for clarity. In reality, they'll all be identical.

Looking [i][b]Down Into Crate[/b][/i] we see how [size=2](I hope)[/size] these will pack. One-inch padding all around, and the lids [size=2](including Perma-base)[/size] have padding built-in as well. Because the lids are "hollow," the Perma-base actually slips [u]between[/u] the two vend units and partiallly [u]over[/u] and [u]around[/u] one of the NBs.

Added bonus [size=2](I hope)[/size]: the lids have an exterior width of ~15" and the box has an interior depth of the same. So whichever lid is placed inside in this manner acts as support for the closed lids. Because the lids are "hollow," without the 4th wall for structural support, I fear the two vending machines on top would cause sagging in the middle of the unified lid, causing the machines to topple inward/backward towards each other. With the 3rd lid stored inside, it acts as a brace, supporting the weight. [color=#0000ff][i]Fingers crossed on this one![/i][/color]

The beauty of this design is the [i][b]Ready To Dispense[/b][/i] setup. After fully removing both lids and emptying the box, one of the blue lid sections hides inside the now-empty box. The Perma-base takes its place as the lid to the box [size=2](with NB attaching plates pre-bolted on)[/size]. The two Northern Beavers attach with a single hand-bolt each, I'm told. [i]And voila! Ready to vend![/i] That's the insanely fast setup I was dreaming of.

[color=#ff0000][size=3][i]Side Note 1: The box's own lid is 28" wide [u]externally[/u], but the box itself is 30" wide [/i][/size][u][size=3][i]internally[/i][/size][/u][size=3][i] the [b]other direction[/b]. So when the lid is turned 1/4 turn, it fits [u]inside[/u] the box. Turned the other way it fits [u]on[/u] the box. Yay![/i][/size][/color]

[i][size=3][color=#ff0000]Side Note 2: The dimensions of the box were determined by the tricky turn-this-way-and-that-way lid. This resulted in a larger box than I planned. So my NB20's have become NB26's.[/color][/size][/i]

With two such boxes I have an island! The extra box would need to store somewhere out of sight. The lids are individually lockable to prevent kids from opening them. If the lid was to become unlatched - especially with the weight of full machines on top - it would risk the lid [i]tongue[/i] becoming disengaged with the base [i]groove[/i]. That would be bad.

[color=#0000ff][i]Why stop there?[/i][/color] I figured there may be some kids who don't want the capsule once they get their LEGO pieces. Where to recycle them? [color=#0000ff][i]Well, I have this big empty box[/i][/color] [size=2](save for the 3rd lid acting as brace inside)[/size], [color=#0000ff][i]so why not there?[/i][/color] So I've drawn in a little fitting on the front of the Perma-base. It's steel, like the latches. I'll drill a 1" or 2" hole in it, and tape a little sign there reading, "[i]Recycle empty unwanted capsules here.[/i]" Supposedly, at the end of the day, I'll have a bunch of empty, reusable capsules inside.

The total plan: 3 of these boxes, 5 NB26s, and one bill changer.

When lined next to each other, the 3 boxes will take up less space than a standard 8-foot table. Sure, it's more sparse than your typical bulk rack. But it will blend very nicely with our shows (and any other expos) which use standard 8-foot tables. Bonus: the battery powered, large capacity bill changer is nearly the same size of the NB26s. So it will hopefully fit inside a box just the same.

The real test comes when I have all the units, and get to building.

[i]Excited, but apprehensive...[/i]




The road case

By complete happenstance, as I was dreaming of this bulk vending LEGO idea, I was also in an arduous box-building task.

My convention has a lot of materials to ship back and forth, and we've suffered some losses in transit. The most recent broke my heart with the damages, and the time and money wasted. I was determined to improve our shipping situation before the next event in August.

I [b][i]knew[/i][/b] the type of box I wanted for our custom 8x8x8' display units. They're the boxes roadies use for bands. I surfed the web for weeks, finding builders and asking for quotes, reading blogs and message boards. Every blog said, "[i]If you want quality, pay someone. Don't try it yourself - it won't turn out good.[/i]"

I kept Googling until I found [url="http://www.diyroadcasesstore.com/"]www.diyroadcasesstore.com[/url]. They were [u]exactly[/u] what I was hoping for! I bought their $30 DVD. I can't say enough good words about this little company. That DVD removed all the mystery from those beautiful and functional road cases.

I ordered a few materials and bought my own wood from Home Depot. I cut my pieces, laminated them individually, and built two small black "test" boxes. They came out awesome. My brother - the home-builder - was impressed.

So I ordered a pallet more of boards (this time pre-laminated) and fittings and went to work building the crates for our 8x8x8' display units ([i][size=3]photograph[/size][/i]).

They have taken one week per box to build. [color=#0000ff][i]Ugh.[/i][/color] But they are sturdy as hell, and frankly, kinda fun to build (like LEGO!).

So now I have an idea of the box I'll be using for my future vending setup. The pictured crates are massive - eight feet long. But a smaller box may be ideal to hold two Beaver NB26s. The crate will also act as my stand. It can be laminated in a variety of colors - so if I plan it well, the color of the machine and the color of the box will draw attention and help sales. Ideally, this unit will take mere minutes to setup on-site at the show.

Details are in the works.




The change machine

I was so lost in the warm fuzzy bliss of imagining and researching that I forgot to seriouly envision the real-world workings of my setup.

Suddenly it occurred to me, [color=#0000ff][i]Will kids have any quarters on them?[/i][/color]

Initially I assumed I would collect the change from kids' pockets as they left the vendor area, having spent cash at other vendors. But most vendors at these shows wisely price their items rounded off to the nearest dollar. So there may not be as much change-in-pockets as I had first thought.

I would need a way to get quarters into the hands of would-be customers. And assigning a staff member to babysit the machines was not an attractive thought. The whole point of this venture was to add something new to the event that did not require a lot of babysitting. I wanted [u]easy to operate[/u], super-fast set up, etc.

I would need to get a change machine. Ugh. That's yet big budget item added to the ever-growing up-front cost of my plan. But I see no way around it. If kids are walking out of the vendor area with a few wrinkled $1 bills in their pockets, that's what I'll aim for.

Googling around, I finally found this one from Gulf Coast Vending Service. Among the best priced at $650 including shipping. It is battery operated, which is kinda nice. But even better, it holds a [i]whopping $400[/i] in quarters - which means less refilling by me (or a staffer). The next best machine I found held only $250 in quarters (and cost more).

So now my row of 5 vending machines has turned into a row of 5 vending machines and one change machine.




The problem with racks

My problem - in my unique situation - with multiple vending units - is, [color=#0000ff][i]How to rack them?[/i][/color]

[url="http://www.BrickFair.com"]BrickFair[/url] has a lot of material to move, and we fill up a 53' tractor trailer. This bulk vending idea will be yet one more thing added to the full truck. If I simply toss the rack atop other things in the truck, it runs this risk of falling between large, heavy pallets and getting crushed as the truck jostles along the highway. I've suffered this before, sadly.

If I box it up, it takes up a ton of space, and for what? Mostly air. I could perhaps find a rack that disassembles. But I don't want to do that. I want setup to be fast and easy. I don't need yet one more hour-long task in the setup process of our show.

Typical vendors don't have this issue, I suppose. Their machines tend to stay in one place. But transporting is a major issue for my setup.

[color=#0000ff][i]I will have to box up the machines anyway[/i][/color], I figure. [color=#0000ff][i]What if I build a sturdy box that acts as 1) Storage, 2) Safe shipping, and 3) Rack?[/i][/color] Now that would be cool. The box would [u]become the rack[/u], and I'd have less stuff to store, plus a built-in padded box for my machines.

With this idea settled, and my recent measurements of actual rack setups, I would have to draw up a tough, multi-purpose box/rack.




The shape (and size) of things to come

Having no experience with vending machines, my mind was a vacuum - a black void that needed to be filled. [color=#0000ff][i]How big are these machines? How much space do they take up? What rack systems are available? Are they freestanding? Are they heavy?[/i][/color]

I have - of course - walked past gumball machines thousands of times. But I never paid them much attention. I hadn't put money into one in decades (except for my recent test purchase - and even then I paid little attention to the machine size).

[color=#0000ff][i]How high must the first machine sit above the ground so a kid can get their hand under it? How many machines can I pack in per square foot? Can machines abut each other? Or must there be space between them?[/i][/color]

So many questions.

I googled for machines, and found many. Fortunately for the newcomer, the bulk vending industry is a fairly small but widely known community, where everyone seems to know everyone, and mostly agree on the basic knowledgebase. So the top machine makers were quickly identified. Alas, photos and descriptions of rack setups seemed to specify the size (height) of the rack, but not necessarily the overall height with machines sitting atop the rack. And certainly no specifics of the height of shelf one versus the height of shelf two, etc.

[color=#0000ff][i]How high must the upper units be above the lower units for a kid to get his hands underneath the spout? Must the upper unit sit back behind the front unit? Or can it overhang the front unit? If it does overhang, can I refill product?[/i][/color]

And here's a better one: [color=#0000ff][i]How far (across the lower machine) can a kid reach to get to the upper machine? If I build my own rack, and set the upper machine too far back, will this be a hazard for kids to reach across?[/i][/color] I really needed to get a sense this.

Another visit to grocers revealed they had the same rack setup. [color=#0000ff][i]Did I read online somewhere that Safeway operates its own bulk vending?[/i][/color] That would explain the identical machines. With measuring tape in hand, I wqrote down dimensions. I wonder how odd I looked? I was glad nobody questioned me - I just didn't want to deal with it.

So I finally wrapped my mind around the size. What about shipping? Unlike these "normal" setups, mine needs to travel to various shows.

[color=#0000ff][i]How would I move a rack of machines with breaking anything? Can I disassemble the racks and detach the machines? Would this take too long to setup and tear down?[/i][/color] (keeping in mind that I also must run the show itself, with 1,000 exhibitors in attendance)

Next challenge: packing, moving and storing.