Stony Brook students gained a new retail option earlier this month when nine electronic vending machines were installed in various locations around the campus on March 8.
The machines, created by the Bethpage-based company Vengo Labs, each offer a handful of small products like headphones and phone chargers in locations like Harriman Hall and East Side Dining. Vengo machines accept Wolfie Wallet and credit card payments, but do not take cash. Stony Brook received the machines through a contract with Canteen, Vengo Labs’ vending partner.
Founded in 2012, Vengo Labs gained widespread recognition when founder Brian Shimmerlik secured a $2 million investment on the entrepreneurial reality TV show Shark Tank in 2016. Shimmerlik pitched the machines as a convenient venue for selling small items and displaying video advertisements for the brands whose products they carry.
While the size of the machine limits what it can hold, the type of products a given Vengo machine carries are individually selected based on what the company believes will sell best in its given location, Vengo Labs Business Development Director Adam Gartenberg said.
“The idea is to put the right products in the right place at the right time,” Gartenberg said. “We use the software that we have and the shape, size and form factor to put the machines in the best locations.”
Most of the Vengo machines on campus are deliberately placed away from traditional retail venues on campus. The products and locations for Stony Brook’s machines were selected with the help of data collected from 300 Vengo machines currently installed on other college campuses, Gartenberg said.
“We know that if we go into a library that a certain amount of products are going to sell well there,” Gartenberg said. “If we go into an academic building, it’s not going to sell the same items. If we go into a dorm it’s going to be separate as well.”
Both Vengo Labs and Angela Agnello, director of marketing and communications for the Faculty Student Association, argue that the machines do not compete with more traditional campus retail outlets like the campus bookstore because of their limited range of products and location away from most vendors. Agnello added that the Seawolves Marketplace located in the SAC will be converted to a coffee shop after the Fall 2018 semester, and will no longer serve as a convenience store.
“The Vengo machines are not competing with retail locations on campus as they carry only a limited number of items,” Agnello wrote in an email. “While the machines have been mostly installed in locations away from traditional vendors, the Student Activities Center (SAC) was a good fit to feature a machine since it is located in the center of campus.”
Chelsea Connor, communications and media relations director for the New York-based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents both retail workers and vendors, argued that automated retail options create more jobs than they take away when questioned about the machines’ impact on the retail job market.
“Where one employee’s job might be lost, a company that’s operating machines is going to have to hire threefold,” Connor said. “Somebody is going to have to build the machine, somebody is going to have to service the machine and somebody is going to have to field calls from customers.”
Sales from the Stony Brook machines have been strong so far, Gartenberg said, and Vengo Labs plans to expand its operations on campus as soon as the Fall 2018 semester.