When Candace Nelson was pregnant with her second child, she suffered late-night cravings for gourmet cupcakes.
But even as the founder of Sprinkles
Cupcakes, an upscale chain of cupcake
bakeries, Nelson had no after-hours access to the tasty delicacies she sold all
day. “‘I own a cupcake bakery, and I
can’t get a cupcake in the middle of the
night!” she bemoaned.
Problem solved. Today, a bright
pink “Cupcake ATM” stands in front
of Sprinkles flagship store in Beverly
Hills. Following Nelson’s unrequited
cupcake craving, the company worked
with an overseas manufacturer to develop an automated dispenser that
holds up to 600 cupcakes. Customers
simply use a touchscreen to select one
of many flavors, pay with a credit card
and stand by as a robotic arm delivers
the boxed product. A single cupcake
is $4 — 50 cents more than the store-bought version. The surcharge helps
underwrite the cost of the machine,
but customers don’t seem to mind. The
Beverly Hills machine currently sells
about 1,000 cupcakes daily.
“Since it launched in March, we have
improved parts of it and replaced the
user interface,” said Charles Nelson,
who co-owns the chain with his wife.
“I expect each machine to improve on
the previous model.”
Recently, the company installed a
second Cupcake ATM at its Chicago
location, and customer response was so
great that the machine shut down for
several hours. “During opening week,
it overheated due a combination of con-
tinuous transactions — 24 hours a day —
and warm, humid weather,” said Nelson.
“We added cooling ducts to the machine
to avoid future weather-related issues.”
Despite initial challenges, the chain’s
long-term goal is to place Cupcake
ATMs in high-traffic areas in each city
with a Sprinkles store. “Within the
next few months, we’ll roll them out in
Houston, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and
New York,” he said.
Vending machines have been around
since the early 1880s when the first one
— a postcard dispenser — launched in
London. Within 10 years, similar ma-
chines popped up in America selling
everything from gum, cigars, cigarettes
and stamps to soda poured into cups.
For decades, they were associated in
consumers’ minds with candy, chips
and soft drinks. But that has changed.
BY PAT PAPE
Convenience reaches new heights when most anything
can be sold from today’s vending machines.