How to Start a Vending Machine Business: Cost, Tips, Pros and Cons

Starting a vending machine business can be a low-cost opportunity that is easily scalable. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Lisa Anthony
By Lisa Anthony 
Edited by Sally Lauckner

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Vending machines are not a novel business idea — they’re basically everywhere. However, if you’re looking to start your own business, there is a lot to like about the vending industry. Consider that there are millions of machines in the U.S. alone — and the vending machine industry in the U.S. generated over $8.6 billion in annual revenue in 2023


The vending machine industry is an attractive option for both new and experienced entrepreneurs because of its versatility. It can be a great weekend side hustle, a low startup-cost business or an interesting new way to expand your portfolio.

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Vending machine costs

The majority of the cost to start a vending machine business comes from the vending machines and the stock items, and can be financed through a small-business loan or personal savings. With as little as a $2,000 investment, you can generally get a basic vending machine business up and running.

Many vending machine operators recommend buying used or refurbished machines, which you can find between $1,200 and $3,000. A new vending machine will cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on its size and features.

Besides the machine itself, you'll also want to consider the cost of inventory to stock your machines. Depending on how many machines you plan to own and what kind of inventory you'll stock, this could span a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

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How to start a vending machine business: A step-by-step guide

Though helpful, previous experience and connections in the industry aren’t necessary to get a vending machine business off the ground — and make money doing it. Here's how to start a vending machine business in six steps.

1. Consider your vending machine options

There are a wide range of vending machines available today. In general, there are four different categories of vending machines (which we'll outline below). Consider all four types when choosing the machine whose products are best suited to the target market you’ve defined in your business plan.

Whichever type of vending machine you choose, start out with one or two machines with a specific market focus. That way, you can gradually learn about popular stock- and site-specific patterns, and add new machines accordingly.

Food and beverage vending

According to a report from Vending Market Watch released in 2023, food and beverage vending machines with snacks, soda and candy make up the majority of the vending market share in the U.S., with beverages alone accounting for 23% of vending sales.

You can get a machine that just offers drinks, snacks or snack-and-drink combinations. Some vending machine entrepreneurs choose to purchase different types of machines for one location or place one kind of machine in multiple locations. If you’re a new vending operator, consider starting with a specialty — healthy snacks, beverages or fresh food — until you learn more about the industry.

To make the most sales, cater your offerings to a specific, location-driven market. For instance, you might stock healthy alternatives such as protein bars and shakes at a gym location or juice and granola bars in a school vending machine.

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Bulk vending

Starting a vending machine business with machines that stock gum balls, stickers or rubber balls — also known as bulk vending — requires very little capital and low maintenance costs.

These typically low-maintenance vending machines might not be glamorous, but the quarters do add up. A refurbished vending machine could cost you less than $50 and bring in $30 per month with only a few sales a day. The products you’re offering have incredibly low overhead. In the right market — like a school or amusement park — this modest investment offers the potential for a reliable, passive income source.

Most bulk vending machines are mechanical devices and don’t require electricity or battery power to operate, which means the cost of operation is low to nonexistent. That said, many candy and toy vending machines are older, so a used device might require minor repairs before it’s functional.

Specialty vending

You're not just limited to food and drinks when starting a vending machine business. Large public places like arenas, airports and malls often have machines offering goods like tech accessories, beauty products or other specialty items. Some of these vending machines use the same technology as standard vending equipment, and some with advanced features like touch screens and contactless payment are differentiated as Automated Retail Machines.

Some specialty vending items include:

  • Hot beverages: Coffee or hot beverage vending can be successful in offices, universities and conference centers. Manufacturers often produce both specialty beverage equipment and traditional machines, so you may be able to combine your purchases.

  • Retail merchandise: Essential travel items like phone chargers, headphones and neck pillows can be lucrative vending products if you’re able to negotiate a contract with a local transit station or airport. Upscale vending machines in malls and airports often contain luxury skin care products or electronics.

  • Laundry products: Individually packaged detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets make great vending products if you identify the right market for it — like laundromats, apartment complexes or dormitories.

  • Tobacco: Tobacco vending is legal in many states and can be lucrative, depending on the state taxes. Even cannabis vending machines are becoming available, but with a much more limited market.

Franchising options

If you don’t want to build your business from scratch, you may want to consider buying a franchise to start your vending machine business. As a franchisee, you will be able to work within a proven business framework and receive extra support and training to get your vending business set up. You’ll also be able to decide how many or how few machines you want to invest in. However, keep in mind that as a franchisee, you will be responsible for paying a portion of your profits to the franchisor.

2. Find the right location for your vending machine

The location of your vending machine is a crucial factor in earning a profit. For instance, an upscale food and beverage vending machine might fail in a strip mall full of restaurants, but that same machine might flourish in an office park.

When starting a vending machine business, think about the locations where you have personally purchased something from a vending machine, as well as the times when people are most likely to purchase beverages, snacks or other items.

Some location ideas for your vending machine include:

  • Schools, colleges and university campuses.

  • Hospitals, medical centers and care facilities.

  • Grocery and retail stores.

  • Airports, train and bus stations.

  • Shopping malls.

  • Laundromats.

  • Gyms and other exercise facilities.

  • Business offices and complexes.

  • Apartment buildings.

  • Manufacturing plants, distribution centers and industrial parks.

  • Car dealerships.

Secure your location

If you already have locations in mind, reach out to proprietors or work on getting contact information for the relevant manager. Talking to prospective proprietors about location needs can help you get a better understanding of local demand and inform your vending machine and product selection.

Researching online or contacting your local Chamber of Commerce for information about major businesses in your area can help you identify potential locations. Ideally, try to place your vending machine at companies with at least 100 employees or considerable foot traffic, like a multi-business office park.

Understand state-specific vending laws, regulations and compliance

Different rules apply to various types of vending machines, and vending regulations vary by state. Before starting a vending machine business and reaching out to prospective location proprietors, find out how your state governs vendors by looking up your state and local small business regulations online.

Also, any vending machine you put in a public place may be subject to certain ADA compliance standards, and it’s a good idea to keep accessibility in mind when considering vending machine options.

Know commission requirements and prepare a proprietor contract

You’ll need to pay commission to the proprietor who provides the location and the electricity required to operate your machine. Generally, you can expect to pay the property owner 5% to 25% of the revenue from your vending machine.

Draw up a contract with the proprietor stating your agreed compensation rate, contract length and terms. Include provisions for breach of contract, too. It’s also smart to include expectations and obligations regarding servicing and restocking your vending machines, vandalism or theft, and the possibility of unprofitability. As always, have a lawyer look over the contract before signing.

3. Find your vending machine

Finding your vending machine can be as simple as an online search. To get an idea of the different vending machines offered and price points, search both local and national suppliers. You’ll also want to consider the cost of inventory when looking at vending machine prices.

You can start your search with these three types of sellers:

  1. Manufacturers or wholesale vending suppliers have the widest selection of vending machines for sale, new technology and end-to-end services for delivery, repairs and training. This is likely the most expensive option.

  2. Secondary market sellers or specialty online retailers allow you to browse multiple brands and models of vending machines and often have helpful resources for business owners.

  3. Consumer-to-consumer platforms like Craigslist and eBay have vending machines for sale. Save time by filtering by merchant or owner location, so you don’t have to worry about major shipping costs. This may be the best option for first-time vending entrepreneurs who don’t want to spend thousands on a new or refurbished machine.

Vending machines come with a range of features and capabilities, all at different price points.

Some of those special features include:

  • Snack/drink combination machines.

  • Credit card and large bill functionality.

  • Touch or voice accessibility.

  • Remote monitoring software and low-stock alerts.

  • Branded “wraps” for the front of your machine.

  • Interactive screens.

These special features can be tempting, but they will often add to the overall cost of the machine. Choose the vending machine that best fits the products you want to offer and what you can afford.

4. Explore your financing options

Starting a vending machine business doesn’t typically require as much startup capital as some other small businesses, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to start.

However, depending on the type and number of machines you want and the stock you plan to carry, you may want to explore financing. Here are some options to consider:

Short-term loan

If you’re already a business owner and have the business financial history to prove it, securing a short-term loan to finance your vending machine might be your best course.

Short-term lenders deposit a lump sum of cash directly to your business bank account, and you’ll repay your loan, plus interest, over a predetermined amount of time. Repayment terms for short-term loans are usually 12 months or less, although you may find terms up to 24 months. Interest rates are a bit higher than longer-term loans.

Short-term loans can be easier to qualify for than other forms of financing because lenders are often more flexible when it comes to credit score and time in business.

Equipment financing

An equipment financing loan is another option to consider. The terms of these loans depend on the value of your equipment, which also acts as collateral in case you default on your loan payments.

In addition to your financial information and business plan, you will need equipment quotes for the machine(s) you plan to purchase when you apply for an equipment loan. And, if you need capital to purchase inventory, you may want to consider inventory financing.

5. Stock your vending machine with inventory

Once you’ve settled on a vending machine, you have to stock it with inventory.

Rather than choosing to stock items based on wider food and beverage trends, pay attention to local, site-specific needs. To stay on the safe side, don’t over-order stock in the beginning, and adjust your offerings based on demand.

If you choose to provide combined food and beverage services in your vending machine business, drinks will make up most of your sales. As the growing refreshments market expands to flavored water and healthier beverages like coconut water, consider what your location can support in terms of pricier specialty foods and drinks.

Drink size and shapes will affect your range of machine choices, so if you feel strongly about selling cartons or irregularly shaped products, try to find a machine with adjustable product sizing.

6. Make the right investments

After you’ve purchased your machine and placed it at a selected location, you’ll want to focus on making the business profitable.

Invest in a vending management system (VMS)

Depending on the technology in your machine, your vending equipment may come pre-programmed with management software, which you can use to streamline operations, record inventory and track revenue.

If you have machines that require you to manually manage your inventory, it might be possible if you own just a couple of vending machines. Once you have five to 10 vending machines, though, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a vending management system to help you stay on top of your inventory remotely. VMS software allows you to remotely manage your vending machines from an internet-enabled device. Most VMS systems provide real-time inventory updates and reporting tools.

Invest in customer service

Even if you only have one or two vending machines, it’s worthwhile to emphasize customer service from the beginning of this (or any) venture.

Most importantly, ensure that your vending machines are stocked and functioning on a weekly or biweekly basis. You can also consider providing an 800-number for service requests and comments, which is a great way to get useful feedback.

Like many location-based businesses, vending operators are often dependent on word-of-mouth referrals and in-person connections. Foster relationships with business owners, look up your state’s vending association or join local networking groups for entrepreneurs.

Invest your time

Starting a vending machine business requires more than just capital investment — you’ll have to invest some time and attention to your vending machine business, too.

A full-size vending machine might require you to collect money weekly, which is important to keep in mind when determining how much time you can realistically spend traveling to locations. In addition to the time it takes to purchase inventory, visit locations and restock, operating a vending machine business requires you to spend time researching trends in sales, new products or locations, and talking to peers.

If you can’t get away from your full-time commitments often, bulk vending — with non-perishable candy or stickers — might be a good way for you to break into the vending machine business without sacrificing too much of your time.

Pros and cons of starting a vending machine business

Like any new venture, starting a vending machine business has advantages and disadvantages to consider.


  • Easy to scale: Scaling your vending machine business is relatively easy. You can start off with a few vending machines, and as you become more successful, expand locations.

  • Variety of choices: There are all types of vending machines. Vending machines now serve healthy foods, gourmet options and items completely unrelated to food.

  • Little to no overhead costs: There are little to no overhead costs of running a vending machine business, especially if you don’t have employees or require office space.


  • Time commitment: Operating a vending machine business will require you to commit some time and energy into stocking, servicing and collecting money from your machines on a regular basis.

  • Theft and vandalism: Vending machines can be an easy target when it comes to theft and vandalism. Ensure that your machines are in secure and safe areas to avoid a loss in profits.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, vending machines can be profitable. The average vending machine generates $75 a week or around $300 a month. However, vending machines that are well-stocked and placed in safe, high-traffic locations can generate more than double that.

Yes, vending machine owners pay rent or commission to the owner of the property. Vending machine owners generally pay between 5% to 25% of their vending machine sales.

Yes, vending machines are charged sales tax on the revenue they generate. The amount of sales tax varies depending on your state.

You can place vending machines in most commercial spaces such as offices, retail shops, bowling alleys and more. But you'll need to sign a contract with the property owner first.



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A version of this article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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