Upgrades for polymer bills is vending more than just headaches

P.J.’s Coffee and Vending Services has got a lot more than a $20 headache.

For the Gibraltar Drive retailer, upgrading a new vending machine to accept the new $20 plastic bill costs $80 and an older machine can cost $400-$500. On top of that, the company estimates the additional cost of upgrading a bill validator with the necessary software is $20.

“It’s a lot of money because it’s a nickel-and-dime business,” says Paul Jorgensen, president of P.J.’s Coffee and Vending.

Many vending machines are having difficulty recognizing and accepting the new polymer bank notes issued by the Bank of Canada, which feature new designs and are no longer printed on paper or cotton.

Last year the Royal Canadian Mint also issued loonies and toonies with multi-ply plated steel technology that weighed less than previous alloy versions. The new coins caused problems in older parking metres.

However, Jorgensen said the changes don’t come with any compensation from the government, and small business owners like him have to suffer the loss. “And you’re talking per unit,” he said. “If you have 100 units in the field, that’s a lot of money to pay out.”

Imperial Vending Services president Scott Turner said a machine that hasn’t been upgraded has other costs. “If that person just has twenties as their method of payment then we’re losing sales,” he said, estimating his company has spent many months upgrading approximately 1,000 machines in Brampton, Mississauga and Oakville.

“I think it caught a lot of people off guard,” Jorgensen said.

Many vending machines specialize in food, soft drinks, snacks and coffee. As a result, Turner estimated only 15-20 per cent of his machines accept $20 bills.

However, P.J.’s Coffee will eventually have to install new bill validating software into their entire set of machines. The Bank of Canada is planning on introducing new $5 and $10 polymer bank notes later this year.

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