Patrick McDonald just wanted to figure out how to sell more T-shirts.
From that, his business was born. Miamisburg-based Innovative Vending Solutions (IVS) customizes vending machines to dispense almost any product in almost any setting.
The company’s core products include automated retail and self-serve kiosk devices. But McDonald and his partner in IVS, Jeff Thibodeau, believe they are changing the way vending machines are used — and changing retail business in the process. Their clients have included the Minnesota Vikings, Google Wallet Applications, IKEA, Jell-O Canada, talk show host Conan O’Brien and others.
For Jell-O Canada, IVS devised a “Jell-O Face” web cam as part of the machine. Photos of users taken with the camera were posted on a digital billboard.
In 2010, IVS created what it considers is the first NFL-branded vending machine for the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. The company also worked with MTV and Kia by create a T-shirt-dispensing unit at the 2010 MTV Movie awards.
And the company believes it is the first in the United States to create a machine that can be activated using Twitter.
IVS says it can tailor machines to nearly any marketing application at restaurants, factory floors, TV networks and more.
The business is increasingly international, but McDonald says he tries to keep it anchored in the Dayton area, often working with Budde Sheet Metal in Dayton to customize his machines. He has about 12 employees currently.
“I would never have imagined me being in this kind of business,” said McDonald, a U.S. Army veteran.
McDonald and his wife, Pamela, wanted to help their son, Nicholas, sell more T-shirts for his online store. Unable to sleep one night, McDonald found himself online, trying to find machines that could dispense T-shirts. The idea was simple: If a machine didn’t draw a decent business at one location, it could be moved to another.
The only options he found were in Japan.
“I thought, ‘Nobody else has them? Really? Am I on to something?’” McDonald recalled.
Nicholas had been dealing with muscular dystrophy and died in August 2012 at the age of 18. But the idea of tailoring machines to a customer’s needs only grew.
IVS considers itself an ODM — an original device manufacturer that takes cabinets and hardware created by partner manufacturers and customizes them. Nothing is sourced from overseas, but McDonald is careful not to identify his manufacturing partners, saying only that his touch screens are built in California and his cabinet-maker is in Iowa.
The company is also planning machines that use robotic arms and other advances, Thibodeau said. The machines can range in price from $6,000 to $30,000.
“There is always a market for the most basic machines — and the most advanced,” he said.