How to Build a Profitable Vending Machine Route

This is part of a series of posts on the topic of starting a vending machine empire. Check out part one of our series about choosing the right type of vending machine here. 

Location, location, location. It’s the supposed foundation and motto of so many different businesses, and for good reason; various things in life are attributed to being in the right place at the right time, being able to predict the first part has proven to guarantee less effort in realizing one’s profit potential. This fact proves exceptionally important in the food service industry as a whole, not just the vending machine game. Very few people are going to travel far and outside to a remote location for a meal if they can find an amicable substitute notably closer. As a vending machine owner/operator, it is YOUR job to BE that substitute, to satisfy those cravings and needs in the there-and-then, for if anything that is THE main selling point. People MAY travel to go to certain restaurants, after forming attachments through their various positive points, but no one will care or search out a specific snack or soda vending machine beyond total extreme circumstances (like the one-of-a-kind, special machines that make totally different food; but we’ll assume this on the everyday machine standards).

There ARE Vending Machine Location Services available, great to use for those short on time, having real issues on one’s own, or simply looking to perform mass-installments fast. Taken some time, thought, and reconnaissance of your area, however, there should be no reason why you can’t simply do the deed yourself. Not only will it save on an unneeded cost, but getting further involved with WHERE the machines are, what’s working where, and simply developing those networks with the business contacts at each location can only help make the operation a solid success in the long run.


Interview on Starting a Vending Machine Route.

Popular Locations

There are plenty of locations that vending machines have simply become a natural fit, for one reason or another. You’ll DEFINITELY want to start looking into these, especially if dealing with the standard style food vending machines.

  • vm3Shopping Malls
  • Community Centers
  • Schools
  • Car Repair/Dealerships
  • Movie Theaters
  • Office Break Rooms/Common Areas
  • Hospitals
  • Hotel/Bank Lobbies
  • Ice Cream Shops
  • Airports
  • Restaurants/Cafes

Pro Tip: Need more help on building a vending machine route? Check out this article at VendingHow.com on the topic. 

On the Lookout

As many different possibilities as these popular spots present, sooner or later the list of local options in these categories will run out, likely getting help from having to cross off spots that either A: don’t fit YOUR specific product/machine or B: are already being used by others with no room or desire to add another. From this point you’ll have to start looking for different, unique, and alternative spots on your own, figuring out new possibilities to expand the business beyond the norm. Then again, if you’re already starting with a unique-product vending machine or other development, this is what you probably will have done (and SHOULD) do from the start.

When it comes to figuring out potential businesses and areas in your local/region/state to look into, there are two main avenues to take into consideration: Places people go to Spend Money, and places people go and are Forced to Wait/Stay around in.

vm4Many of the popular places listed above can be considered a combination of these two, but the former is particularly expressed in the Mall Example. Not to mention quite a few vending machines have proven success when placed outside; much like the various drink machines seen through big cities like New York and throughout Japan. Look into busy Downtown City sidewalks as a first step into possible avenues, making sure to pay attention to their regulations and who specifically owns which pieces of land; of course, it’s imperative to study which streets are walked the most.

Svm6peaking of outdoors, Bus Stops usually offer themselves as another distinctive possibility, falling into the latter ‘forced to wait’ category for customers. Multiple places of business will draw the need for customers to hang around for a certain period of time, so don’t be afraid to look into avenues that have yet to be considered. Why not consider something small for busy hair and beauty salons? Or, instead of a gym, something placed in the instruction area for sports/activity businesses like rock climbing and paintball? Heck, vending machines have found success when placing the right ones in restaurants and supermarkets, of all places, so who knows where else they can go?

Reach for the possibilities unconsidered, and with luck and skill, revolutionizing your business through your own model can launch this vending business to success. At the very least, you’ll have found a good place to start out!

Location Identified

vm1Once you’ve found some promising locations, you’ll want to go about a few important steps, not to mention taking some other things in mind.

  • Approach the business contact/manager to actually ask about placing the machine (we’ll discuss Pitch in the following chapter)
  • Be prepared to offer a Commission (or percentage of proceeds to offer to a/their charity) along with a written document that outlines the agreement
  • Definitely MAKE SURE to offer percentage over flat fee to safeguard the chance of failed placement
  • Double check to ensure there’s actually adequate space for the MACHINE and PEOPLE in the area
  • Don’t forget to make sure there are electrical outlets to be used for the automated machines! It’s amazing these obvious details one can gloss over
  • Ask your business contact for the space which snacks/drinks/etc people there usually enjoy or have proven successful in the past

 

Picking the Machine for the Place (or Vice Versa)

vm2Once you gather an idea on what locations in your area you’d like to do business in, it’s time to make specific choices. Whether you’re in operation of a veritable smorgasbord of different machine offerings, or just focus on the one, it becomes doubly important that you don’t place them in the WRONG location. Much like how you wouldn’t want to put a vending machine filled with candy and junk food in a weight loss clinic or gym, you subsequently wouldn’t want a super-healthy fruit machine at an amusement park (unless it was subsequently covered in chocolate).

Whether it’s a coffee machine in a pizza shop, a frozen lunch station in a mall or some other place without an available microwave, an iphone/electronic machine in a café, or simply any machine set in a place that already sells the same product, there are certain options for placement that just don’t make any feasible sense. Will they make some sales throughout their lives there? Most possibly at one way or another, but the effort and costs of placement and product simply becomes a waste of time when one could have put the same machine in a completely different location that could have generated a notably higher sales percentage.

vm5There’s little real trick to this, one should be able to use a very common sense logic to their decisions. We’ve already figured out that a high amount of traffic is going through the area, all we need is to consider the demographics; what kind of people are coming in most often or, more importantly, what is it that they would WANT or NEED in that location? Is this an office break room where customers would look for a quick bag of chips or a lunch to heat up in the microwave? Or is it a full mall/shop where people are already getting their main food needs, but may be curtailed with the easy satisfaction of some candy or novelty toy for only a couple quarters? If a snack machine is placed in a Gym, fill it with products like granola bars, nuts, fruit, and other things someone working out looks to snack on instead of empty calories; subsequently, sports drink/flavored water machines would get a better reception.

It’s things like that. Just keep some of these various things in mind, and your problems of ‘location, location, location’ will just breeze away.

About Andrew

A graduate in Bachelors of the International Culinary School at the Art Institutes, Andrew Steifer has spent his days obsessing over everything food and drink. While working towards his Wine Certification, he started writing his own Food Truck Blog focused on reviewing all the mobile vendors of Minnesota. Being the first person to stubbornly pursue a blog like this for their newly budding street food scene, it's safe to say Andrew's love of food trucks is almost dangerous, at least to his wallet. He's been writing since 2013, drinking since 2010, and consuming every delicious morsel he can find every chance he gets.
  • Julius Carey

    Your vending route is only as strong as your machines, so servicing and maintaining the vending machines in your route is essential.