STAMFORD, CT—On his weekly trip to restock the vending machine at the Stamford Office Park cafeteria Friday, 56-year-old attendant Bob Ingersoll reminisced about how much the B3 slot selection has changed in the 20 years since he began servicing the popular snack dispenser.
"A lot of history in this row," said Ingersoll, twisting a key to open the large display door and refill B3's coil mechanism with Kit Kats. "Back when I was getting started, you wouldn't even think about putting Kit Kats in B3. In those days, it was always more of nougat slot. But then again times have changed."
"Yes, sir," he added, "B3's seen it all."
Ingersoll, whose resumé includes restocking machines at the Darien bowling alley, the Shell station on Post Road, and the New Lebanon Elementary School, first added the Stamford dispenser to his regular route in 1991, when the previous attendant retired. Upon taking an initial inventory, he quickly discovered that he had inherited a B3 in disarray.
With a backlog of unsold Cheetos and two lone packs of Razzles trapped behind them, Ingersoll opted to start the spindle from scratch rather than drop its price, a move that led him to fill the row with Milky Ways.
"It was a safe choice, but it was what I had to do to rebuild B3," he said. "Sure, Razzles are fine for a flex spot like F8 or G2, but not B3. B3 is an anchor row. It's at eye level and it needs a solid product in there to draw your attention to the C's, which is where you put the big guns like your Twix or your M&Ms. I didn't even consider Snickers, though. You can put Snickers anywhere and people will find it."
When things began to turn around, Ingersoll spent the next year cycling new items through B3, experimenting with Doritos, Twizzlers, and even the unconventional 100 Grand Bar. For a brief time, he stocked B3 with Rolos—a candy he said had been performing strong in D2 and deserved a shot at the big time.
The gambit, however, only achieved a short-lived success.
"Certain things work and certain things don't work," Ingersoll said. "But you can't be afraid to try something new. In 1994, I put Sour Patch Kids in there, which is something you just don't do. It's kind of an unwritten rule that they stay near your Combos and Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies. But I had a feeling Sour Patch Kids would be a solid B3."
According to Ingersoll, the decision paid off. He couldn't refill B3 fast enough, and the overnight success, he said, spilled over into unusually brisk sales for neighbors B2 and B4, and even gave Premium Nut Mix a bump.
For a time, he said, B3 was the new C6. Ingersoll acknowledged, however, that nothing can stay the "it" selection forever, and in early 1996, after six months of dismal sales, he made the difficult decision to move his remaining supply of Sour Patch Kids into G5.
"It tore me up to have to bury them like that," said Ingersoll, calling anything at knee level "the Graveyard." "But in the end, I think I did the right thing for B3. You couldn't deny how popular Twizzlers were at the time, and they needed a chance to shine."
Since then, the row has coasted at a respectable level, at turns seeing prosperity with SweeTarts, 3 Musketeers, Bugles, Gummi Worms, Fun Dip, and Hot Tamales. And for the past seven months, Kit Kats have settled into a comfortable groove.
When asked what the future holds for the slot, Ingersoll grew contemplative, saying that he was considering moving Ring Dings to B3 from A4, which he called a solid row that "nobody really talks about." In addition, Ingersoll said he could imagine a future where Clark Bars or even Nerds occupy the spot. He also admitted that the notion of "going classic" and putting plain Hershey bars there had crossed his mind.
"After two decades, I've built up enough confidence in B3 to try just about anything," he added. "Except breath mints. Those are always a J. Everyone knows that."