As Aaron Pelto waited in the video arcade at Zodo’s for a videographer from the television show Today in America to start filming him, he said, “My mother told me I used to ride my Big Wheel in a suit.” It’s one of those well-worn stories that, no matter how factual they are, perfectly capture a person’s essence. “I was never one to work the lemonade stand,” he said, sharing another practiced line, “but I was happy to franchise it.”
Pelto, owner of Big Bear Import Brokers, LLC, is being featured on an episode of Today in America to present one of his inventions, the Web Glow Machine. Today in America, an hour-long news-style television program that focuses entire episodes on a single topic, is hosted by legendary NFL quarterback and broadcaster Terry Bradshaw. Pelto will appear on an episode about innovative vending machines.
Pelto called the television program’s discovery of his machine a “blessing.” One of the television show’s researchers happens to live in Florida near a Web Glow Machine location.
The Web Glow Machine is a vending machine that sells glow-in-the-dark novelty items with flashing LED lights. Pelto invented it to solve a number of logistical sales problems. He originally imported and sold the flashing toys to retailers, but they did not sell evenly. It was also difficult to display them because their batteries would die. His machine includes display cases that power the toys through electricity from a wall socket. And toys are distributed to buyers randomly so inventories sell evenly. (This is also a sales advantage since kids might be willing to make multiple purchases in order to get a specific toy.)
The biggest attraction to the businesses that house the machines, however, is its Web redemption program. When your five-year-old buys a toy from the machine, he or she also acquires points that can be accumulated and applied to larger prizes such as a Nintendo Wii or Apple iPod via a Web site. Claiming such prizes requires that you register by providing your name, address, and demographic information. A business like Zodo’s can then use that information to fill your mailbox with letters advertising their birthday party rates right around the time your five-year-old becomes a soon-to-be six-year-old.
The machine, covered in blinking and flashing multi-colored lights and displaying two columns of blinking toys, is like the cherry-flavored cigarette version of vending machines. It’s the ultimate delivery system for children.
Pelto, who grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, began his first import business at the age of 19 when his father’s friend passed on a tantalizing bit of information to him at a family barbecue. When a retailer or wholesaler orders a product from a factory, the factory produces extras just in case any items sent in the original order are defective. These overruns are rarely used up, so the factory is usually willing to offload them at a cheap price.
Pelto acquired an office space in the low-rent, high-crime neighborhood of Sunnyslope and started calling up factories, ordering items like lawn chairs and garden hoses for resale. He has since begun inventing, marketing, and branding novelty items such as tie-dye glow sticks and a Livestrong-style silicon bracelet.
The Web Glow Machine, however, is Pelto’s pièce de résistance. It won Best New Product Award at the 2009 International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo, the largest amusement industry trade show. Currently there are about 1,300 machines in operation.
Pelto relocated himself and his business to Santa Barbara two years ago in order to be closer to his wife Rebecca’s family. The first of 20 airings of his segment on Today in America is scheduled for December on the Fox Business Channel.