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Vending Machines: Cash Cow or Money Sponge?

“I like vending machines ’cause snacks are better when they fall. If I buy a candy bar at a store, oftentimes, I will drop it… So that it achieves its maximum flavor potential.” -Mitch Hedberg

It just wouldn’t feel right to start off a conversation like this without this quote from the late, great comedian. In fact, let’s pause for a moment of silence in his honor.

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And, we’re back. Seriously, how awesome is HQ? Barely a handful of sentences in and we’ve already laughed and cried. We churn out movie-quality material here, people. But let’s move on and get serious. We have a word count to respect.

Vending machines: Are they a good idea? The answer is basically the same as the question of CBD legality; yes, but no. It’s complicated.

There are several layers to this onion, so let’s start peeling. For most of us, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of vending machines are the ones for snacks and sodas; basically, the kind you see in factory break rooms and strategic locations outside of WalMart. Considering demographic we service, logic would suggest that it’s a good idea. For whatever reason, people who buy pipes tend to get hankerings for various snack foods (*shrug*). But let’s look a little closer at some facts.

Fact One: According to the data out there, the average snack machine nets all of five dollars a day in profit.

Fact Two: According to the website of one company that leases vending machines, breaking even requires a minimum of 12 sales a day.

Fact Three: Many states require a separate tax stamp for vending machines, adding even more to your accountant’s workload.
From these three points alone, it’s not looking good for traditional snack machines. Considering the minimal profit, it’s hard to imagine it would be worth the time, energy and costs associated.

Granted, in the right context, traditional vending machines can be a viable business model in that they produce passive income. Set up enough in strategic locations, pay your bills on time, and you’ll eventually have a moderate stream of income that requires little-to-no effort. But you’re a boutique retailer; the quantity over quality approach doesn’t really fit into your paradigm. You would be much better served investing in a couple of refrigerated units and placing a snack stand next to your register. That way, you’re not limited to what fits in the machine, you don’t have to deal with maintenance issues, and you’re not locked into an unnecessary lease just to quell your customers’ munchies.

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. We may have established that snack/soda machines are generally pointless for your business model, but there are myriad other types of contraptions that spit out goodies when you stuff them with the jingle in your pocket. For the sake of space, we’ll focus on the most prominent among them: gumball machines.

It’s hard to pinpoint what is so compelling about gumball machines, but it’s also hard to deny the difficulty of passing one by when you have quarters in your pocket. Chalk it up to the inner-child? Whatever the reason, they’re a solid investment. They’re relatively affordable, they’re practically a tractor beam for loose change, and if you pick up the right one, they can be a great aesthetic upgrade to your space. Plus, if you get a hold of one with a spiral dispensary track, GAME OVER. Seriously, show me a man who doesn’t find joy in watching that little sphere of chewable sugar spiral down the track and I’ll show you a man without a soul. What’s more, the possibilities are easily expandable. Here are a couple of ideas to get the gears turning (pun intended.)

Turn the machine into a contest. This especially works with the spiral track machine. Fill the machine with gumballs but be sure the green ones make up the lowest percentage of color. Then, offer a free pipe for anyone that scores a green gumball. You don’t have to go big here; it could be a dollar silicon spoon from China. The allure is in the thrill of winning. It’s that ‘Vegas’ sensation that compels us to throw our money down on the table when we know we’re probably better off just taking 20 bucks out of our wallets and setting it on fire.

Empty the machine of the cheap candy and cheaper toys and fill it instead with low-value smoke shop products. To pull this one off properly, you need the machine that works with those egg-like plastic cases, but it’s always a winner. In fact, there are already players in the industry who are jumping on the idea themselves, offering machines like this that are pre-filled with filter tips. Google “Coast2Coast Smoking” for more info on that. But you don’t necessarily need to buy the machine from them, just the right kind of machine and the plastic cases. Then, you can fill them with whatever you want. You can even go all out and incorporate this idea with the previous by adding a handful of store gift certificates to the mix. Please the inner-child with a grown-up toy and add the thrill of gambling; how could you go wrong?

The possibilities are truly endless. Use your imagination to build on the ideas we’ve provided and come up with something that’s completely your own. If you’re crafty and have some spare time, you don’t even have to drop that much cash into the concept. You can often find vintage machines on Ebay or Craigslist that can be fully functional with a just little THC-fueled TLC. Wanna get really crazy? Consider a claw machine. But we’ll get more into that one in a future issue.

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