Here is a quick list of all the ways I believe will help you minimize theft with your honor box business.
Clear price labels. This can be price sticker(s) near the cash slot, and you can also add dot or price gun labels on each snack ("garage sale labels") if it fits your business model.
Exchanging the boxes frequently. A box that is well stocked and looks full and "happy" will get more business and less theft. A box that looks "sad" can expect more theft and less sales and respect. The same goes for bulk and vending machines... the rusty, low stock, etc ones are sitting ducks. The same would be true for a car that sat parked in the same place for weeks with a flat or a house with lights off and mail overflowing its mailbox... they become an easy target for theft or problems. The aim should be to time the routes so boxes are exchanged when they're roughly half empty (probably 1-4 weeks for most places, vast majority should be exchanged every 2 weeks). Changing the box more frequently instead of letting them go nearly empty also minimizes expired snacks and lowers theft.
Clean looking box. This is common sense and ties into frequent box exchange, but cardboard boxes are very cheap and fairly easy to clean (pencil eraser helps, magic eraser with a drop of water works decent, whole new box fairly cheap too). The acrylic boxes are very easy to clean. There is no reason they should have substantial smudge marks, big creases, potato chip grease spots, etc. There should be no expired snacks in the boxes... keep track of those, donate them or toss them, and write them off when you do taxes. New locating should be done with brand new boxes whenever possible.
Customers are always right. Your box arrangement should go with what people are buying. I'm all for keeping every box 90% or more identical for reasons of efficiency with stocking and counting, but if many boxes are selling out of fruit snacks yet your granola bars hardly ever sell any, probably adjust to have 1 or 2 more fruit snacks and 1 or 2 less granola bars in each and every box. Variety just for the sake of variety is also useful to mix it up, so it is good to keep a few spaces rotating at least one or two new items from time to time (more true for snack boxes with same employees buying week after week than mint/lollipop boxes with random customers buying).
Doing your own locating. This builds valuable rapport with the owner/manager and other employees at the location. It creates a win-win where they value the box. People generally are nicer and more respectful to folks they know and like. A return visit after 1 week is good for new accounts to exchange the box (emphasize "just bringing you a fresh one") and to build more trust and familiarity. If you simply use a telemarketing locator who just pushes the charity guilt trip on the business and then you drop off the box without hardly saying hi or getting anyone's name, you are probably digging your own grave for a poor performer or even a box removal request upcoming. You want them to like and care more about the box than they care about the average crusty magazine in the lobby or Lysol can in the break room.
Being friendly with location staff. This is a no-brainer, but you should be well groomed, dressed fairly well, smiling, and have a list of at least a couple people's names for each location. Greeting them by name, telling them "just bringing you guys a fresh box," exchanging small talk about weather/sports/etc, and maybe a high five or handshake on some box exchange visits is ideal. Again, people generally don't steal from people they like... and they might even go out of their way to tell co-workers about the box, help promote your box, keep an eye on the box, and aid your success.
Securing the cash box. This can be hole punches with zip ties, packing tape, or whatever you devise to make the cash box flap on your style of box secured and tamper-evident. It won't prevent someone who really wants to break in there or who steals the whole box, but that stuff is rare. A basic security measure on the cash box will keep the honest people honest.
Let them position the box. Yes, you usually want your mint/sucker boxes by the cash register or your snack box in the break room, but keep in mind that it's not your business. The owner probably knows it better than you do, and you want them to feel in control. These are generally control people; it's their business and their decision. They may have limited space, knowledge of where is best foot traffic, they might pick a location by a security camera you are unaware of, or some other reasoning. Besides, any box position is better than in your garage and making $0 per week. You'd ideally have the box in a clean, well lit location like a top shelf, but all you can really do is softly suggest that ("do you think the box would do well ___ ___ ___?"). The only time I'd ever strongly steer them on where to position it is if a snack box is getting continued high theft in a lobby or customer area or if a mint/sucker box is getting very low sales in a back room; in that case, you can explain the situation and ask them if they want to move it into the break/lobby room instead (if not, just remove the box... see below).
Don't hesitate to dump bad locations. If locations are not performing (theft % is too high or volume is way too low), don't hesitate to replace them. A customer who doesn't pay is not a customer... those are theives. Especially with snack boxes, if a pattern of increased and consistent theft is becoming clear, it is best to learn the lesson and move on. Don't let it cost you money and occupy your mental space. It is a waste of time to putz with discussions or sticky notes for reasons below. More often than not, the owner/manager will just take offense if you accuse the location of shortage, and the employees will just realize they can steal more if you leave notes. If your logs show that trust and respect relationship between that location and your box is compromised, then it needs to end. Just like a romantic couple or any relationship with broken trust, it's best to cut your losses and begin anew. Tell them whatever you like ("Sorry, I'm no longer servicing this location" is fine)... just end it.
Avoid talking about theft or shortage at all costs. Keep it positive. This goes for locating scripts and especially for established locations. The negative signs like "Not Free!" or " Please Pay!" on boxes are just dumb. If you were looking at grocery store or gas station snacks and someone said those things to you, you'd feel like you were being accused of stealing. The "Box Was Short" or "Box Will Be Removed" sticky notes on snack boxes are even dumber. Those signs and notes broadcast that people are stealing from the box, and people will just begin to steal more if they realize others have been stealing and/or they have been noticed... since the notes imply the box will probably be gone soon anyways. Even the honest people who were paying for snacks will quickly decide they don't want to pay for what other people are taking for free once they see those notes. Nobody wants to be the only fool paying; people hate double standards. If the owner/manager or anyone ever asks how the box is doing, asks if people are good about paying, or asks if box sales are good, simply reply "doing well" or "oh, it's right in line with most of my locations" and change the subject to light and fluffy small talk. Then finish up and get out of there asap. Treat it how your accountant would treat you asking him how much his shoes and his lobby art cost... or how a woman would treat you asking if that was her hair was the real natural color.
Easy pricing. Increments of $1 or multiples like 2/$1 or 3/$1 or 2/$3 etc is easy. Basic structure keeps people from having to bother the cashier for change or even worse: people having the urge to get into the cash box to make change. Difficult pricing will cause shortage and probably start to annoy the cashier (if there is one). You want your box to be liked and enjoyed... not viewed as a nuisance.
Give freebie bonuses to the locations. The best way to get people to do what you want comes down to two words: pay them. This gift can be a bit of candy (use something not sold in your box) or whatever you can get for a few dollars per location. I would suggest this be done at time of locating and then a few times per year (not at Christmas when gifts are simply lost in the shuffle). Again, this simply banks on the human norm of reciprocity and gets people to like you... and people generally treat people they like much better than strangers or people they know yet feel neutral or negative about.
Have good quality snacks. Everyone likes to save money, but you'd rather have 50% gross profit on a huge number than 70% on a much lower number. You need some favorite snacks that are attention getters and easily recognized. Those companies spend a lot on branding, and you need to take advantage of that. Which exact snacks those are depends on your price and your area. Examples would be that every vending machine or snack box should probably have regular Snickers and peanut M&M, Cheez It bag 1.5oz. Every 4/$1 or 3/$1 charity box could consider York patties, mini or fun size Snickers, and Blow Pops.
Snacks appropriate to the price. If you have 3/$1 as your price, you shouldn't have small Tootsie rolls and small Jolly Ranchers and candy that buyers feel should be 5/$1 or even 10/$1 in terms of value. People will reject that price (rightly so), and many will not buy, might take extra, or might have some and just not pay at all. If the snacks are more appropriate for the price (eg, Blow Pops or fun size big name candy bars for that same 3/$1 price), people are more likely to pay. For any price, you want the value to be there for the buyers.
This post was originally published on VendDiscuss.