Best Vending Machine Business Ideas

Ashwin Honawar

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Top Vending Machine Business Ideas

Can you imagine that something that people on Earth were consuming at least 9,000 years ago, was the main reason for the invention and rising popularity of vending machines in the USA and the world? Sounds unbelievable, right?

So if you’re thinking of entering a small business of setting up a vending machine in the US, I can assure you, it would certainly make good sense. While a vending machine might not exactly help you to become a millionaire, unless you install thousands of these ubiquitous gadgets in every nook and cranny of the US, it could give you a decent side income. And depending on how many vending machines you install and operate successfully, they could provide an income that could meet all your household expenses and other living costs.

However, to set up a vending machine business in the US, it’s essential to know how this system began.

Therefore, let’s delve into brief yet interesting history, facts and figures about the vending machine business in the USA.

Vending Machine History, Facts & Figures

Now, if you imagined that these ubiquitous vending machines that’s almost omnipresent across the USA are a modern creation or invention, think again. These facts might surprise you. The history of vending machines is very interesting too.

First Vending Machine in the World

As a matter of fact, the first ever vending machine was made around the year 1st Century AD by Heron of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician, inventor, physicist and engineer. Though the location of this vending machine remains buried in obscurity, it was an engineering marvel by even modern standards.

Worshippers had to insert a coin in the machine, which would activate an array of levers and the coin would drop into a plate. The weight of this coin and the lever movements would enable Heron’s machine to dispense a certain volume of water.

This water was called “Holy Water” (not from Christianity) because it was used for personal cleansing before entering any Greek temple and for offering during rituals.

Talk of Vintage Wine

Around the same time in ancient China, an inventor Hang Zheng created a vending machine to dispense wine for customers. It operated on the principle of weights and used coins too. The more the coins, the greater the volume of wine you could buy in that era or around the 1st Century AD.

A Mark of Respect

A prototype of a vending machine was displayed at the court of Emperor Akbar somewhere during the 1550s. This vending machine would dispense a small quantity of fragrance or ‘attar’ made of extracts of flowers, fragrant woods, spices and herbs, among others. It is believed that anyone that wished to attend Emperor Akbar’s court had to anoint themselves with this fragrance for two reasons: to dispel any body odours and as mark of respect to the ruler.

Industrial Revolution in Europe

In Europe too, there were different types of vending machines during the 17th and 18th centuries, primarily necessitated by era of colonialization and industrialization. These vending machines were mechanical and operated by coins on the weight, as usual.

They were generally used for dispensing tobacco and tobacco products that were widely used by factory workers and sailors.

Tutti-Frutti Chewing Gums

The first vending machine in the US, or what can vaguely qualify as the precursor to those we see nowadays was installed at the New York Railway Station in 1888. In fact, there were three such vending machines that were installed by the Thomas Adams Chewing Gum Company.

Thomas Adams, the founder and inventor of the company and machines was targeting rail travellers with his Tutti-Frutti flavored chewing gum. These machines proved to be a success and paved the way for other companies to try the same, thus ushering in an era of modern-day vending machines across America.

Current Scenario

Nowadays, almost every Fast Moving Consumer Goods or FMCG company as well as newspaper companies and others have vending machines at strategic locations across the USA. As of early 2024, there were between five million and seven million vending machines spread throughout the USA.

This translates as one vending machine for every 70 persons in the US.

Typically, a person in the USA spends between $27 and $35 per year on buying myriad stuff available through vending machines. This translates as a combined revenue of $7 billion to $9 billion for the vending machine retail businesses.

Profits from vending machines can however fluctuate wildly. On average, you can earn between $300 and $600 per vending machine per month. However, this will depend a lot upon the location of the vending machine, the type of products you offer and seasonal highs and lows, among others.

Things to Consider for Vending Machine Business

Should you find the above facts and figures interesting and would love to join the group of entrepreneurs who own vending machine businesses, consider any of these 10 ideas that I will be writing about.

Before you venture into a vending machine business, it’s best to do some market research and find ideal locations for placing the devices. Also, decide on the type of products that you would like to offer.

Though vending machines are generally considered standalone business units capable of taking cash and dispensing some product, owners of these businesses have to get several licenses and permits from the state government as well as local authorities such as a civic body.

Additionally, you will require agreements with organizations or individuals that own the place you plan to base your vending machine.

Now let’s look at the five best vending machine business ideas.

Five Best Vending Machine Business Ideas

This list of the five best vending machine business ideas has been compiled after thorough research. While each of these five types of vending machines will attract customers, the most important thing is installing them at the right place with the right mix of products. Furthermore, you will also have to replenish a vending machine at least once daily.

Remember, this is a highly competitive business. There are large corporations that also operate their own vending machines. You would be pitted against such heavyweight competitors too.

Here’s my list of ideas:

1. Soda and Soft Drinks

Soda and Soft Drinks

Soda and soft drink vending machines are the most common due to their popularity in the USA. These vending machines usually also sell bottled drinking water and in some cases, juice packets or bottles. A lot of these vending machines are operated by companies and hence, sell only their products.

You could offer unknown or lesser known and local brands. There are several local brands of soda and soft drinks that might tie up for vending their products through your machines. However, there are no such restrictions on selling any brands. In some cases, you might need clearances from larger soda companies to sell from your vending machine.

2. Condoms and Contraceptive Pills

Condoms and Contraceptive Pills_ vending machine business

Surprisingly, vending machines that sell condoms and contraceptive pills rank as the second most popular in the US. You can find these located outside educational institutions, hotels, picnic spots, motels and other such places where couples frequent.

Some organizations provide condoms free of cost and could hire your vending machine by paying rent. Or you can offer all types of condoms and contraceptive pills. These vending machines are famous because Americans try and avoid unwanted pregnancies and also protect themselves against HIV infections.

Also Read: How to Start a Vending Machine Business

3. Confectionery & Chocolate

Confectionery & Chocolate

Regardless of whether we’re adults or kids, a bit of candy, jujubes, marshmallows and chocolate is always welcome. Therefore, vending machines offering chocolate and confectionery can fetch you a lot of profits.

These are usually located near schools and colleges, travel locations such as bus terminus, train stations and airports too. As a rule, every vending machine that sells confectionery and chocolate is usually very successful.

However, you will have to ensure that your vending machine is located in an area where harsh sunlight doesn’t affect the products inside on any given day.

4. Meals-On-The-Go


One of my favourite vending machines in the US was located a little away from the University of Colorado Boulder, several years ago.

This vending machine would dispense precooked meals that included Asian staples such as ready-to-eat packets of noodles and rice cooked in Indian, Chinese and Thai culinary styles. It also dispensed Sushi, if I recall correctly. Such types of vending machines that dispense meals on the go are very popular across the USA.

Generally, you can find these in markets and other crowded areas. The food is reasonably priced and superior quality too. Hence, they have good demand from several quarters.

5. Baby Requirements

vending machine business for Baby Requirements

A vending machine that sells baby needs such as diapers, premix feeding formulas, baby lotions, diaper rash powders and cream and a few simple toys is also in great demand across the US.

You can find these vending machines almost everywhere. Some of the top spots to find such vending machines are travel hubs such as train and bus stations as well as airports.

Other locations include parks and stadiums, outside malls and superstores as well as picnic spots and sometimes, residential and office areas. Due to the high demand for such products, you could expect good profits from your vending machine business.

More Vending Machine Ideas

There are a few more ideas for vending machines that you could also try. However, you can expect stiff competition since most vending machines in these fields would be owned and operated by large organizations.

  • Common medicines such as painkillers and antacids.
  • Newspapers and magazines.
  • Branded sports drinks and rehydration mixtures.
  • Lipsticks, eyeliners and mascara for women.
  • Toys from top companies since the trade is highly regulated.

Most of these items can’t be sold by anyone unless they hold clearances and permits from organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration. Medicine vending machines are primarily owned by pharma companies and those selling women’s cosmetics are run by the brand owners only.

So, if you have now an idea of what type of vending machine business you want to enter, let’s look at some of the best locations where you can install one and make money.

Best Locations for Vending Machines in the USA

Best Locations for Vending Machines in USA

The type of vending machine business idea that you utilize will normally decide the location. However, here are some of the best locations for placing a vending machine for your business.

You’re free to choose any location. However, you’ll have to visit the vending machine at least twice a day to refill stocks unless you tie-up with some businesses to help.

Here’s my list of the best locations:

  • Within or outside schools and their campuses
  • Within or outside a college/ university and its campuses.
  • Camping Grounds
  • Picnic spots.
  • Within or near hospitals and clinics
  • Gas stations where there are no stores
  • Bus terminus and bus stands
  • Train stations and terminus
  • Within or outside airports
  • Parking lots
  • Outside supermarkets and malls
  • In crowded office areas
  • Market areas
  • Outside shrines such as synagogues, churches and temples, among others
  • Outside banks and especially near standalone ATM kiosks

These are some of the best locations to install your vending machine for business. However, take care to select areas that’re safer so that no freak vandalizes your vending machine and creates a huge loss for you.

In Conclusion

Starting a vending machine is a superb, low-investment business idea. Usually, you can get a vending machine customized for your needs for just about $3,500 to $5,000 depending on features and size. Usually, most businesses that own vending machines offer a mix of products, each from a different machine. They place their vending machines strategically in order to attract the highest number of buyers.

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