Semi-automatic? It’s a vending machine, not a weapon, and you can see this big, oddly futuristic contraption in the lobby at the Hudson here in New York as well as at the Mondrian South Beach and the Sanderson in London.
As anyone knows who’s ever craved a midnight Coke, vending machines are nothing new at hotels. But the semi-automatic, with its singular appearance and attention-grabbing offerings – 24-karat gold handcuffs, anyone? – is different.
We road tested the Hudson’s semi-automatic a while back. But eager to know more, we spoke with Kim Walker, senior vice-president for marketing at Morgans Hotel Group.
How did the semi-automatic come about?
When we opened the Mondrian South Beach we didn’t have enough space for a conventional shop. We wanted something innovative and unique, so we came up with this. We realized it was something we could use wherever there was a need for a shop but no space. We’re thinking of putting our next one in at the Clift hotel in San Francisco.
How come you’re selling a $1 million apartment in a vending machine?
We curated the contents so the semi-automatic would have some of the necessities a guest might need like a toothbrush and toothpaste. Then we picked items that would be interesting and fun to take home, like the $18 Holly GoLightly sleep mask or the $10 heart sunglasses. The $1 million apartment was picked so while someone was browsing they’d see something unusual and fun. It hasn’t sold, and neither has the Bentley we stocked, unfortunately. But they’re definitely interesting items to have in a vending machine, and they got people talking.
It looks expensive. Who designed it?
The design was a collaboration between the company that made the machine, designer Marcel Wanders, the Mondrian designers and our internal design team. The company worked mainly on the function – how the machine’s arm moves and releases the object – and we worked more on the colors, the look of the bags, how many pieces we wanted to stock. And yes, it was expensive. This was an investment, but we once we did the initial one, we could do others.
Is that an animation of an arm swinging around and picking up items or is it the real thing?
It’s an actual arm coming down. The arm sucks onto the bag, pulls it down and puts it in the cylinder that spins around to the front so you can grab the bag. There’s only a certain weight the arm can hold, so we have some constraints on what we stock.
All the semi-automatics carry top sellers like the Holly GoLightly sleep mask and the gold handcuffs from Kiki de Montparnasse. Anagrams and Ouiji boards have been good sellers. Then we have specific things for different hotels, like men’s swim trunks and women’s binikis at Mondrian South Beach and jewelry by Pamela Love, who’s a London designer, at the Sanderson. The semi-automatics get used a lot. I think it’s fun for people to watch the machine work, and the price point — $10 to $30 – seems to be what people want to spend.
And what’s not?
We curated a couple of old-time books thinking people would be interested in buying a book they hadn’t read in a long time, like Catcher in the Rye. I thought they would do a little better, but maybe people just aren’t reading paper books. We’re keeping them because I love to turn paper pages. And it’s all about variety.