I woke up this morning, sipped my cup of coffee, and learned of the evils of a new startup called Bodega. Bodega is essentially a fancy vending machine with a better logistics back end. A customer logs into the vending machine, opens the door, picks the items they want, and the machine auto registers what the customer took and charges them. The idea for these machines is that they will stock items that are regularly used in a house hold such as detergent, shaving cream, etc. Beyond the system determining which items are popular and stocking more or less of them it will also survey customers after they have used it a few times to ask what other items they would be interested in. The concept is that you have a little corner grocery store in your apartment, gym, office to be able to buy the little items you don’t want to make a run to the store for. To me this sounds terrific. LITERALLY today I have to go to the grocery to buy coffee filters. That’s it, just filters. Somehow I forgot I needed them when I went shopping the other day. If my LA Fitness had a Bodega machine that would be great. I go there almost every day anyway, and if I can grab dish soap or coffee filters while I’m walking out that would make me a happy boy.
To be clear from a business stand point these machines simply cannot replace a brick and mortar store of almost any kind. When you’re dealing with a vending machine there is a very finite amount of space. This means the per unit cost of an item will be ridiculous. A quarter pound of organic coffee would cost $10 at a Bodega vs. a pound being $10 at a store. Saying Bodega will replace the corner store is like saying a Panera will replace the local grocery. While theoretically you could buy every meal at a Panera it would cost you $1000 a month.
Not only does the concept not really compete with brick and mortar stores, but it could also actually help them. By offering the ability to try out new products customers may find new, and more expensive items that they’ll buy in quantity somewhere else. “Oh look dear… They have a quarter pound of the coffee that cats crap out! I’ve always wanted to try that!”
In fact, Garcia would consider making it harder for McDonald to set up the pantry boxes within his community. “I would ask my members not to allow these machines in any of their properties in New York State,” Garcia says. “And we would ask our Hispanic community not to use the service because they are not really bodegas. Real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community, having someone you know greet you and make the sandwich you like.”
All of this seems to be lost on the Hipsters. The most important thing being that the word “bodega” was “misappropriated” from the immigrant culture. Now to be clear I’m not a fan of companies being able to trademark common words, but this hate seems a bit of a stretch. You need to think about this for a second. If a vending machine can kill your brick and mortar bodega is it REALLY an issue with the vending machine company? What kills me in these arguments is that I actually go to mom and pop shop’s whenever I’m in an area where they’re prevalent. The biggest issue I see is that most of these businesses are run in a piss poor fashion. Old food, bored employees, dirty stores run by owners that assume that since they have had the shop open for 20 years that they are entitled to stay open. With gentrification of many of the areas these stores are in they have to deal with rising rents, property taxes, and compliance issues that the city never cared about enforcing when “no one important” lived in the neighborhoods. Is the name of a vending machine company really what needs to be scrutinized here?
I think this is a good example of a major issue with the current American economy. Old businesses feel as if they should have a right to be profitable simply because they have been in the past. They put little into modernization and updating for newer customer tastes, but then scream to high hell when a competitor comes in. In the #RESIST world it’s become incredibly easy to slap a “social justice” slant on this argument to try to make the failings of a business owner out to be some kind of cultural crusade. Instead of working together to clean up corner stores to make them more inviting, collaborating on logistics and inventory analytics, to figuring out what higher value adds a brick and mortar corner store could offer the argument devolves into whether or not a word has been misappropriated.
For everyone worried about the fate of bodegas let me suggest you grab a mop with bucket, a gallon of paint, and help install a modern POS rather than grabbing pitch forks against a startup that is franky probably going to fail anyway…