The Vending Machine Business: How Much Do Vending Machines Really Make and How Do I Start?

On the outside, vending machine small businesses don’t seem like part of a glamorous career. But when you learn that experts expect the global vending machine market to reach $146.6 billion in value by 2027, you might think about buying a vending machine.

So what is it like owning a vending machine business? What expenses can you expect as vending machine operators? How do you maximize your income with a vending machine? What is the vending machine profit potential versus start-up costs?

Let’s talk about what you need to know when buying a vending machine and building a business.

The Vending Machine Business

Vending machines have been a common staple in Americana since 1884 when William Henry Fruen patented his Automatic Liquid-Drawing Device. The concept of a vending machine is simplistic and slick. Besides adding fancy features like credit card readers, not much of the core principle has changed. Put money in, a product comes out. You don’t have to waste money on employing a cashier to process the transaction.

This saves you overhead and makes the products available at all hours. From their humble origins as a drink dispensers, vending machines have expanded to include everything from luxury items to hot, ready-made food. All you have to do is make sure the machine is operational and stocked and you’re good to go, right?

There’s a little bit more to it than that. But as far as businesses go, it’s a fairly simple and affordable one to start. To get started, you need:

  • A machine
  • Products
  • A location

Securing each of those takes time and research. But by making wise business decisions, you could start your own successful small business by buying a vending machine.

How Much Is a Vending Machine? How to Buy a Vending Machine

Like every business, there’s an almost infinite range of startup costs for different machines. Buying a vending machine could be as affordable as finding a free, broken antique gumball machine on Facebook Marketplace or sinking $10k into a state-of-the-art model with all the bells and whistles.

The cost will completely depend on the type of machine you want and where you buy it. Here are the three most common places to look when buying a vending machine.

  • Manufacturers and wholesale suppliers: If you want a brand-new, never before owned vending machine, you’ll need to go straight to the manufacturer. You could get a deal on a lower cost per unit if you buy wholesale, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. When starting out, only get one or two machines and go from there.
  • Secondary market sellers: Think a pre-owned vending machine will do just fine? Look up specialty online retailers selling used or refurbished machines for a fraction of the brand-new cost.
  • Consumer-to-consumer marketplaces: If you’ve ever scrolled through Facebook Marketplace or used Craigslist, you’ve used a consumer-to-consumer platform. You could look there to see if someone local is closing down their vending machine business and buy straight from them. This avenue will likely be your most affordable option.

Are Vending Machines Profitable? How Much Does a Vending Machine Make?

If vending machines weren’t profitable, why would they still exist? We would have moved on to a bigger and better sales tactic if the vending machine business no longer made people money.

The trick to running a successful vending machine business is finding your market. A dazzling, state-of-the-art machine won’t turn a profit if there isn’t enough foot traffic. And having a neck pillow vending machine in an office space won’t make much sense.

Having a bigger and better machine with a more expensive product doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger net profit margin. If you aren’t careful, you could easily lose money and never make back your overhead if you don’t do your research.

Finding the right place and the right product for your vending machine will make or break your business when starting a vending machine company. Whether you want a side hustle or a vending machine empire, the name of the game is knowing your market.

Buying a Vending Machine Isn’t the First Step

Before you go ahead and start buying a vending machine, you need to figure out a location and your products. The location will determine what you want to sell, so that has to be your first step in building your business.

Think about where you’ve used vending machines before. You’ve likely seen them in:

  • Grocery stores
  • Malls
  • Office buildings
  • Rest stops
  • Airports
  • Schools and college campuses

Can you think of any of those profitable locations near you that don’t already have a vending machine? Once you think of a place, think about what you would sell there. If you were working, studying, or walking at that location, what would you want to have access to? Snacks? Cosmetics? Neck pillows? Hot beverages? Temporary tattoos?

The product you sell will impact the type of machine you need. Knowing the power consumption (or lack thereof for manual machines) is important to know when bringing up your business idea with the landowners.

Once you have a tentative business plan in place, reach out to the people who own your potential location. Talk with them to see if they’re interested in collaborating with you to offer a vending machine to their customers. In most cases, the property owner will receive 10-25% of your revenue to cover electricity and for offering you the space.

Start Small, Grow Slowly

When becoming a business owner, it’s enticing to go all in and start off big. But when you start your vending machine business, you need to start small. If you go out and buy a lot of expensive machines, you won’t make any profit for quite some time.

Vending machines earn a profit, but not overnight. It takes time to recoup the money you spent on the machine, and if you don’t sell all your goods, you’ll have to toss expired products. Successful vending machine owners know that this industry isn’t about a quick profit, but a steady stream of income that builds over time.

Buying a vending machine could start out as a way to generate passive income. But if you do your research, you could build it into a great small business.

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Author, Artist, Photographer.

Sarah Margaret is an artist who expresses her love for feminism, equality, and justice through a variety of mediums: photography, filmmaking, poetry, illustration, song, acting, and of course, writing.

She owns Still Poetry Photography, a company that showcases her passion for capturing poetic moments in time. Instead of poetry in motion, she captures visual poetry in fractions of a second, making cherished keepsakes of unforgettable moments.

She is the artist behind the Still Poetry Etsy shop, which houses her illustrations and bespoke, handmade items. She is the author of intricacies are just cracks in the wall, a narrative poetry anthology that follows a young woman discovering herself as she emerges from an abusive relationship.

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