How to Start Your Own Vending Machine Business


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Vending Machine

Tired of trading time for money at your 9 to 5 job? Looking for a way to make passive income with minimal startup costs and overhead?

Then starting a vending machine business may be perfect for you.

The vending machine industry was valued at $42 billion last year and is expected to grow at 8.1% from 2024 to 2030.

Profitable vending machines are everywhere — offices, apartment buildings, gyms, airports.

Wherever people gather, there’s an opportunity to provide convenient access to snacks, drinks, and other bestselling impulse-buy items.

And it’s a great market to get into because it’s extremely fragmented, with vast potential for growth. No national player owns more than 5% market share.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • How the vending machine business model works
  • The step-by-step process to go from zero to $1,000+ in monthly passive income
  • Finding ideal locations and signing contracts
  • Buying used machines vs leasing new ones
  • Stocking, restocking, and maintenance procedures
  • Risks to watch out for and mitigation tactics

Want to go deeper? Check out Mike Hoffmann’s Vendingpreneur program (Side Hustle Show listeners get 10% off!). 

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An Overview: How Do Vending Machine Businesses Make Money?

Vending machine businesses operate by purchasing or leasing vending machines, filling them with products, then splitting the profits.

It’s that simple!

You secure locations to install your vending machines, usually through a standard 3 to 5 year agreement. This guarantees no other machines can service that location.

how to start a vending machine business

Next, you buy wholesale products like snacks, candy, gum, drinks, and even healthy alternatives—anything that can fit inside the vending machine slots—and mark up the cost 3X to 6X.

So if you purchased a snack for $1, you would sell it out of your machine for $3 to $4. Do that enough times with enough products and it really starts to add up!

You’ll need to restock items that sell out and collect the cash/credit payments. But smart vending machine owners outsource these tasks for around $20/hr, making this an impressively hands-off income stream.

Now let’s walk through the setup process:

Identify The Right Locations To Place Your Vending Machines

The foundation of a profitable vending machine business is foot traffic. So what should you look for in an ideal placement spot?

Mike Hoffmann operates a network of 15 vending machines generating thousands of dollars per month, and targets locations with at least 100 units or 100+ employees passing by on a regular basis. Examples include:

  • Office buildings/corporate campuses
  • High-density apartment complexes
  • Airports
  • Universities
  • Recreational facilities like gyms, pools

Essentially, anywhere large groups routinely gather and may want a convenient snack purchase.

Vending Machines vs Amenities

When reaching out to these locations, avoid the word “vending” which may trigger visions of outdated, neglected machines. Instead, lead with luxury “amenities.”

Today’s modern vending machines include cashless payments, cameras to reduce theft, sensors to proactively reorder popular items, and high-end finishes to seamlessly match any environment.

So focus the conversation on improving their offerings through cutting-edge amenities with self-service convenience.

Once inside, close the manager by emphasizing how outsourcing vending frees up their staff. No more wasting time running to the store to restock kitchens. No more leaving residents, guests, and employees disappointed when supply closets sit empty.

You handle everything end-to-end, leaving more time for properties to focus on their core business. It’s a total win-win.

Buy Your Vending Machines Upfront or Use $0 Down Financing

Financing

Purchasing your first vending machine is a huge milestone. While used ones offer cheaper startup costs, they come with downsides: higher maintenance and limited features.

Instead, buy a new one whenever possible. And great news—most vending machine distributors offer 0% down financing programs with predictable loan payments.

For example, one of Mike’s combo snack and drink machines costs $5,500. At today’s rates, financing that over 5 years equals around $170 per month.

But the key is that first payment isn’t due until 90 days after installation. Giving you roughly 3 months to recoup profits before any outlay.

Where To Buy Vending Machines

Other options for sourcing vending machines include:

New machines range from $3,000 – $10,000 while used/refurbished machines start around $1,000.

Fill Your Vending Machine With Best Selling Items

Okay, you’ve secured financing and found the perfect spot. Now it’s time for the fun part—selecting what products your vending machine will sell!

The mix of snacks, drinks, and other items ultimately comes down to testing. But these categories represent big opportunities:

Drinks:

  • Soda
  • Energy drinks (Monster, Red Bull)
  • Water
  • Sparkling water (LaCroix)
  • Coffee

Food:

  • Candy bars
  • Chips
  • Pastries (cupcakes)
  • Gum and mints

Healthy Alternatives:

  • Sandwiches
  • Vegetable Chips
  • Kombucha & Probiotic Drinks
  • Fresh fruit packs
  • Natural juices
  • Dried Fruit

Higher Price Point:

  • Headphones & chargers
  • Toiletries (toothbrushes, facemasks)
  • Souvenirs (at airports, landmarks)
  • Lego kits

Whatever you choose, aim to purchase wholesale and sell at a 3-6X markup. Vending machine shoppers expect and happily accept these premium prices for the convenience factor.

Emphasize variety to drive more sales. You can also offer tasty yet nourishing products free from artificial additives to satisfy consumer demand.

It aligns better for locations with an emphasis on nutrition, performance, or corporate wellness.

Office workers may desire energy drinks, protein bars, and caffeine. College students may seek late-night snacks like candy, chips, and ramen noodles.

Micromarket example

Set The Right Prices & Promote Top Sellers

Pricing for vending machine items comes down to maximizing profits while moving enough volume. The right product mix helps. But you also need to keep an eye on how fast items sell and adjust how much they cost over time.

Cashless Vending Machine

Modern vending machines give owners complete control over digital price displays. This flexibility lets you easily identify and promote the most popular picks through limited-time discounts or spotlight visibility.

Some locations share back-end data on buying behaviors if you negotiate revenue sharing. This allows for decisions based on hard numbers, not just guesswork.

Expect high single-digit sales of large-size candy bags around $4 and 20 oz. sodas from $2-$3 range. Price accordingly based on what moves.

Branding Your Vending Machine Business

Create brand awareness by:

  • Custom wrapping your machine in vibrant colors/logos
  • Printing your brand name, slogan, and contact info
  • Offering promotions like free gifts with purchases over $10
  • Rewarding referrals with free products

Market on social media and run local ads. Word-of-mouth referrals will spread organically if you offer unique, high-demand products.

Streamlining Operations for Vending Machines

Managing a thriving vending machine business takes organization. Inventory levels must be tracked to plan restocking.

Cloud-based route management software like Canteloupe lets you remotely monitor your sales.

Such programs automate inventory alerts, cashless payments, online ordering and more.

Investing in automation maximizes efficiency so you can grow your business faster.

Outsource Restocking & Consider Route Managers

Once your vending machines get humming along, staying on top of refilling bestsellers and collecting cash can eat up serious hours in the day.

The good news? This becomes a perfect task to outsource for around $20 per hour.

Post an ad for a weekly restocking gig on Craigslist and TaskRabbit, or ask family and friends if they want to make some extra money. Provide them inventory tracking sheets. Allowing you to remotely monitor supply levels via text or email.

Taskrabbit and Craigslist

Some owners enjoy the weekly commitment to service their vending machines personally. But offloading the operational work is key to building a scalable, passive side hustle.

As your network expands, consider hiring an area manager to handle restocking, maintenance, and cash collection for multiple vending machines across a defined territory.

Streamline Your Vending Machines With Technology

Modern vending machines now come Wi-Fi enabled, allowing owners to remotely track real-time inventory levels, sales velocities, foot traffic, and other metrics through online dashboards and mobile apps.

This technology revolution removes previous roadblocks, when the only way to gauge demand involved driving from location to location.

Beyond the vending machines themselves, additional software helps owners organize contacts, plan efficient restocking routes, access financial reporting and simplify taxes.

While technology requires a slightly higher upfront investment, the long-term time and cost savings make systems well worth it.

Scale Through Multiple Machines & Selling Your Route

Most entrepreneurs don’t stop at one vending machine. Because once the framework gets built—from product supply chains to location agreements to restocking processes—it simply becomes a matter of duplication.

Adding more and more vending machines creates economies of scale and higher earnings.

But say you want to exit the business eventually. Every vending machine generates dependable cash flow worthy of a sales multiplier.

Industry experts confirm popular routes frequently sell for 2X-4X yearly gross revenues. An impressive return from these hands-off small business investments.

Minimizing Your Risks

While vending machines require remarkably little oversight, some key risks need awareness:

  • Machine failure/damage – Start with new vending machines under warranty for repair/replacement coverage. Also maintain a relationship with a certified repair company as backup.
  • Product liability – Carry a general liability insurance policy to protect against potential recalls or other issues.
  • Inventory shrinkage – Leverage security camera systems many modern vending machines come equipped with to prevent and track theft.
  • Poor location performance – Not all placement spots will succeed. Focus on high traffic areas and keep machines filled with bestselling selections.
  • Low-cost competitors – Offer great service and modern options to stand out. Lock in multi-year exclusivity contracts when possible.

Wrapping Up and Next Steps

As you can see, starting a vending machine business gives almost anyone a chance to secure hands-off income streams. With consistency and reinvesting profits, it’s realistic to reach thousands in monthly passive earnings within 12 months.

The keys come down to securing enough foot traffic locations, keeping restocking and maintenance simple through outsourcing, and leveraging today’s technology to remotely monitor your assets.

So if you’re eager to escape the rat race and design a business tailored around your ideal lifestyle, vending machines deserve a hard look.

For additional guidance, check out Mike’s Vendingpreneur program. (Side Hustle Show listeners get 10% off!)

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

Usually Hustling, Occasionally Social

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