A 24-hour vending machine makes Blanchard’s coffee accessible anytime, day or night — so if you’re craving your caffeine fix, they’ve got you covered.
A coffee vending machine has taken up residence outside Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co.‘s main production facility. Stocking whole beans, coffee grounds, and a variety of coffee-related supplies, this machine has turned Blanchard’s into a 24-hour operation.
Blanchard’s, founded by David Blanchard, is a specialty coffee roaster that has been roasting in Richmond for roughly 14 years.
“We focus on great coffee, but outside of that, we try to make sure that we’re working towards sustainable sourcing for all of our coffees,” says Stephen T. Robertson, Blanchard’s Director of Sales & Marketing.
Since 2005, Blanchard’s has been mainly focusing on wholesale sales of their coffee beans. However, in the past couple of years, they’ve tried their hand at retail, a decision that has led them to a lot more direct dealings with the people who actually drink their coffee.
Unfortunately, while they like selling their coffee directly to customers, Blanchard’s is not able to maintain a full-time retail location. They’ve found that a lot of potential customers are working during their roastery’s normal operating hours of 8am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Despite not being able to stay open later, they wanted to reach the customers who could only get to them at night and on weekends. The vending machine was a solution that struck Blanchard’s as both perfect and cool.
“It’s a throwback to old school sales,” said Robertson. “We thought that a vending machine was a cool way to throw the best thing we had out towards our customers, and let them encounter those coffees in their own time and their own way.”
Of course, having a device that is unsupervised and available 24/7 to the public can raise issues of security protection. But Blanchard’s has taken some measures to improve security for the machine. One is that it contains no cash — customers will only be able to pay for their coffee beans with cards, Apple pay, and Google pay. And if nothing else, they trust their customers.
“We recognize that we’re putting something out into the public and that means anything goes at that point,” Robertson said. “Our hope is that people treat it as they would treat any other business that is putting itself out there.”
Blanchard’s custom vending machine came from an Ashland-based local vending machine company. The specialty machine is temperature-controlled allowing for the coffee to stay at Blanchard’s standards while remaining convenient for the customer.
Prior research indicated to Blanchard’s that there was a big demand for a machine like this one. Since its release, sales numbers have very much borne that out.
“In the three weekends that we’ve had the machine running, we have nearly sold out every weekend,” Robertson said. “I hope over the course of a six-month evaluation that we can decide whether it’s something that we want to add multiple locations for in the future.”
The 24 hour vending machine has a wide variety of options to choose from. Consistent offerings include regular top sellers, as well as personal favorites of the staff, and some guest favorites. Their newest coffee blends will be available as well.
“There will be a top shelf offering, which is our newest and most favorite single-origin offering,” Robertson said. “We’ve also put some gear in there. For instance, we’ve got some B-64 filters that have been super-popular in the last few weeks.”
Blanchard’s purposefully put supplies into the machine for those customers who may be brewing at home and need filters that aren’t readily available at the grocery store. This sort of outreach is how Blanchard’s wants to show that they have their customer’s needs in mind.
“We want to make sure people feel comfortable engaging with the brand at the vending machines,” Robertson said. “We’ve set up a unique Instagram account just for the machine and we encourage people to post pictures and tell their stories while they get coffee from the machine.”
As far as the staff at Blanchard’s knows, they are the first coffee roaster to create a vending machine specifically for their coffee. They had their first vending machine-exclusive sale over Labor Day weekend, and hope to do more promotions drawing attention to the machine in the future.
“We encourage people to engage with us and have some fun with it,” said Robertson. “We want people telling their stories and having some fun with it. Make it something special.”
You can visit Blanchard’s 24-hour coffee vending machine in front of their roastery at 1903 Westwood Ave, or on Instagram @Blanchards247.
Top Photo by Brea Hill