Why I’m Keep An Eye on Coinstar

I’m keeping an eye on Coinstar because they seem to know where the money is.

Yes, it’s a lame joke that is, and I admit this, based on those green kiosks you see everywhere.  You know the ones, where you dump in that big pile of change you’ve accumulated and get a receipt of some kind (or even convert it to cards).  They’re everywhere it seems (especially out here in Silicon Valley), with that big Coinstar logo.

Not that geeky?  Well remember Coinstar is just part of Coinstar Incorporated.

Coinstar Inc.doesn’t just do those prominent Mean Green Machines though.  They do cards, e-payment kiosks, and so forth as part of their brand.  Neat stuff, sure, but you see it everywhere, right?

Not that interesting?  If you like films and games and shop, then you may be familiar with another brand.  Redbox, the famous movie-distribution kiosks with cheap rentals and return-anywhere policies.

You’ve seen Redbox all over as well – There’s 33,000 kiosks all over, more than their green machines.  The company grabbed them for a song in 2005, and it’s just been up and up.  Sure there’s been some legal kerfluffles, but I don’t think anyone’s going to try and take them down on the studio side.

The big red box has made some mean green money.

That probably has your attention, my fellow pro geek.  Movie and game distribution is pretty cool.  But apparently coinstar isn’t resting on their laurels.  They’ve go their eyes set on another big area, and an area where they can deliver more cheaply.


Yes, Coinstar is partnering with Seattle’s Best coffee to put high-end Coffee vending in stores.  Seattle’s Best is owned by Starbucks, and needs more exposure after the whole Border’s closing.  So now you’ll be able to get your fancy custom coffee out of a machine for cheap prices, like $1.50.  It’s enough to make me drink more coffee, and will doubtlessly make them money.

It’s pretty clear from this that A) Coinstar is a geeky place because they like money, movies, games, and caffeine, and B) They think ahead and plan ahead.  Redbox was cultivated.  The Seattle’s Best deal is clearly advantageous.

So yes, I’m suggesting pretty openly that you put them into your career plans.  They’re smart, they’re doing cool things, and they have openings in Illinois and Washington (near Seattle), both geeky and non-geeky places.

But there’s more.

See, I want to watch what they do next.

Money and cards makes sense.  Movie rentals, good job.  Coffee is next.  Each time Coinstar seems to find a good market, make smart moves, and work on making this cheap and more convenient.  So the real question here is what is the next target for them to make cheap and more convenient, and what’s it going to do to the market in general?

And my current bet is food.

The move to coffee is a great thing because coffee is about as popular as sex these days, and you’re less likely to fall asleep afterwards.  It shows smart awareness – and the ability to reach people who aren’t going to blow a lot of money on a Double Sprinkled Mochachinno Late or whatever.  A lot of coffee is overpriced and takes forever – this is sweet, fast, and cheap.

Now let’s think food.

Current trends in food are also interesting.  People are more and more health aware, even if so many discussions and fads are BS.  At the same time people want food fast, seem to have less time, and have odder schedules.  Food vending, either basics or prepared food, seems a logical target (and after coffee, really, you might go all the way).

Consider what’s already going on . . .

The Let’s Pizza vending machine.  Ok not exactly healthy, but still a few switched ingredients might make it less of a deliciously greasy death-wish producer.   Could this work?  Well, once Let’s Pizza becomes known, and people see automatic pizza is possible . . . well you do the math.  Yummy, pepperoni-covered math.

The Shop 24 automated convenience store.  I first heard of some of these when they landed in Texas.  So far Shop 24 seems to have validated itself.

These are just two examples that came to mind (and helped inspire this article).  A little digging can easily find more, from vending machines to attempts to return to the Automat days.  So people see money in this, clearly.

Now, enter Coinstar, with cash, success, and a slow move into foodstuffs, though admittedly drinkable ones.  Either of these companies – or others – could be perfect acquisition or partnering targets.  Since Coinstar clearly wants to keep going, and since this direction seems both valid and fitting, my prediction is that’s their future.

So, career-wise, yes, you should keep an eye on them, because I see them making another move in the next 2-5 years, and I see it being into food.  I see it as valid because people want food fast and sometimes healthy (which, with good automation and freshness you can do), and because the vending model of 24/7 service with little human intervention has its advantages on both the consumer and provider side.

If they make this move, as I predict, it means many others will jump on it.  This isn’t specialty like food or coffee, this is food, something many, many companies vend, sell, or ship.  So what are they going to do when Coinstar makes this move?  What are you going to do?  What about your career, or your company?

Me, I’m gonna sit back with a movie, coffee, and pizza, and watch . . .

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.