Australia's first store run solely with vending machines

Published: 05 February 2017

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We all know the feeling… suddenly realising at 9pm you forgot to pick up the vitamins, or the phone-charger you lost… maybe some perfume?

Then it hits you that it’s too late to go to the shops, and you’re stuck for the night.

Well that gut-wrenching feeling may soon be a thing of the past, if Hari Shotham has anything to say about it.

Nestled in St Kilda, Mr Shotham has just opened Australia’s first ever store operated solely by vending machine.

Opened in late December, the retro-looking shopfront offers a wide array of products, including perfume, vitamins, mobile phone accessories, medicine, and all the drinks you could hope for.

And this is just the start… Mr Shotham has plans for coffee, fresh juices, DVDs… you name it, he wants it in his vending machines.

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The premise is simple: no shop assistants, no managers… 24/7 convenience and vending. Most days Mr Shotham doesn’t even make it in, monitoring the store via CCTV from his phone.

Mr Shotham found himself in Hong Kong, trying to launch a product with a friend, when he saw a vending machine selling umbrellas… and that’s when it hit him.

Australia needed this.

He came home, spoke to friends and family, and started dreaming.

“We ended up saying why not get 10… then it became 20, and suddenly we realised in this shop alone we’re going to have about 30 machines.

“It’s harder than it looks… you can’t just buy a machine. There are lots of tech issues to be fixed, the spirals need to work on a timer,” he said.

Currently operating from 13 vending machines, he estimates each machine turns over more than $1000 a week.

Mr Shotham is aiming for the stars, with plans for rapid expansion… 10 more vending-machine-only shops by mid-year is the target.

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Which is looking realistic already, he has hit a niche market and found residents of St Kilda are responding extremely well to the store.

“In the evenings and late at night when most of the shops are shut and there’s no shopping mall around, they find it very convenient to find things they need spur of the moment, or even things they need right now like paracetamol... or even underwear,” Mr Shotham said.

Taking the convenience game up a notch, Mr Shotham installed computers in the store that are linked to the chatrooms and online help sites of the products they stock, providing more assistance than the average store clerk.

“That’s why we’ve put up an interactive computer screen, that’s linked to every naturopath, every brand owners’ chit chat room, where they can talk directly with a professional, not a shelf stacker.

“If you go into a supermarket and you want to buy Blackmores fish oil, and you ask a stacker what do you think of the product… the stacker is going to give their opinion, but it’s not a professional opinion,” Mr Shotham said.

In such a short time, the store has already received multiple offers… with cafes, smoothie bars, and other companies hoping to cash in on the idea.