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How much does it REALLY cost to get started in creative vending?

Updated: May 13, 2022

I truly believe you can get started on any budget. After all, used capsule machines are very cheap and so are table top models, if you can find them. But to start with a full-size, credit-card enabled vending machine, delivered to your home & professionally moved into location, fully stocked with delightful inventory, you are looking at an investment of roughly $3000.

Can you do it for cheaper? Absolutely! It’ll take some muscle, some skill, possibly some tears, but you can do it. And you can get started with more than $3k. That will allow you to scale and grow faster.

Personally, I started my business with $1000. I bought a $150 slender, 3-wide snack machine from a laundromat going out of business. I transported it with the help of friends and damaged the machine in the process. (Any pro will tell you NOT to lay a machine down on its side, but I learned the hard way!

To get the machine working again, I spent ~$500 for a new motherboard, new refurbished coin mech (I traded in my old coin mech one to get a better price on the new), and a new fluorescent bulb with filter. Even with those upgrades, the machine was simply too outdated to ever accept cashless payments. It could only ever take cash- coins, $1s & $5s, never a credit card reader.

I spent under $250 to fill the entire 3-wide machine with inventory. In those early days, my machine was mostly stocked with weird stuff I found at thrift shops and in free boxes, plus some practical convenience store items and art by a couple friends. I hadn’t developed my own products, had no packaging system in place, not even a printer/photocopier to use. I was using kraft paper bags taken from the pub I worked at to package my mystery bags. Not only was that bad employee behavior, the bags weren’t even the right size and they jammed all the damn time!

**Seriously look at the those bags in the bottom row.

Too big! No breathing room.**

My friend Matt Stanger painted my 1st machine for free. I bought the spray paint for about $20, he provided the pin striping paint. He has since painted more than 20 machines for me, not for free. (Also picture here is DJ Smokey Wonder who made the soundrtrack for Creative Vending Revolution. Best neighbor ever!)

After the initial self-transport fiasco, I opted to pay professionals (the same ones who’d sold me the motherboard and coin mech) to move the machine into location. It was only a few blocks to move, and after all the parts I’d bought and service calls I’d made to them, they were emotionally invested in this experiment so they charged me just $50.

And so, for $1000, I was able to install my 1st machine. Within a month, that tough old gal, with her sparkly blue paint job and cash-only appetite, had completely recouped my initial investment! And for that entire month and many months afterwards I was running ragged trying to figure out packaging, source inventory consistently and develop my own products.

Nowadays, I buy machines for ~$2000, with card readers installed, with top of the line bill readers and coin mechs. I get them from vending machine professionals, not laundromat owners. I do not ever transport machines myself, even when they just have to be moved from one side of a venue to another. I always have enough packaged and ready-to-stock inventory in my van to fill a machine or 2, so stocking a brand new vending machine, something that used to take me weeks, I can do in an hour. I still do a lot of repair work on my machines that are in service, but I don’t do any repairs or maintenance on newly purchased machines. It typically takes more than 3 months for a new machine to pay for itself, but the whole experience of getting it installed is much, much easier and quicker.

Moral of the story: there is no ONE right way to start your business. Your budget, your risk tolerance, your desire to get handy and do machine repair, and the cost of the inventory you carry will all influence your start-up costs.

If you’re on a super tight budget, here’s a video from Rayzo Vending about using candy machines to scale your business and establish business credit.

And if you want to know start a creative vending business, successfully right from the get go, take my online course Creative Vending Revolution.

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