By Tim Sanchez
This post may contain affiliate links, please see our full disclosure here
An entrepreneur is a businessperson who has vision and can see an opportunity and grab it. You must be observant and have an understanding about where there is a need that can be filled with a business and then capitalize on that need. There are so many small business opportunities out there already available and many more that can be invented. This is the first in a series of blogs that will overview various business opportunities and interview entrepreneurs who who successfully built their own business.
The first installment is vending business and I will relate how I started mine and what made it successful. I started, operated and sold my vending business many years ago. The vending industry has changed since I was in it, but the concept of how to go about fueling your entrepreneurial drive still works for whatever opportunity you want to pursue.
First off, when you want to build a successful business you will do the best when you do something that you love. If you love to do it you will naturally have the knowledge and skills to do it, or at least you will have the motivation and interest to develop the necessary skills.
My career choices early on were everything to do with driving delivery vehicles that went from place to place providing services, making sales and deliveries. I was working in a grocery store when I was 20, stocking shelves. Whenever any deliver person came into the store I was compelled to talk to them and ask them about their job and what it is like. One day I was talking to the bread guy and he said he was looking for a helper, so I started working for him delivering bread to stores and restaurants. This was my entry into the route sales business. After that I worked for bottled water delivery, coffee service, courier routes, newspaper route, Sysco foods and UPS. In the middle of all that I decided to start my own vending company.
I was 30, I was managing a bottled water company and doing well. Whenever I was making deliveries to businesses I would always see people getting things from the vending machines, I learned that having vending machines was an important part of a business for a fast and easy way for workers to grab a snack and a drink during their breaks. I was fascinated with this. I also observed, however, a lot of frustration over vending services. Machines were often empty, out of order or not stocked with the things people want. I would often see post-it notes on the machine begging the vendor to put a certain item in the machine. I overheard on many occasions people complaining about the vending machines always being out of the things people want. It was clear, many vending machine companies were not taking customer service seriously. I became passionate about wanting to provide vending machines along with excellent customer service and I would destroy my competition.
That was the motivating factor for me to start my vending machine business. I did not know much about vending other than the fact that somebody goes and fills the machine with stuff and takes out the money. So this is the key to starting any business; I researched and researched. One of the things I did was I went up to vendors when I saw them and asked questions about the business. I would ask questions like where do you get merchandise for the machines, where do you get machines, how do you get businesses to let you put a machine in their place? Many were not willing to answer those questions so I had to ask a lot of people to get a few nuggets of information. I took good notes and continued my research. I followed up on information by finding the places where vendors say they get supplies and I went there and asked more questions telling the suppliers that I am starting a vending business. They wanted another customer so they were more willing to fill me in. No matter what business you want to build, Once you are able to find suppliers who are willing to work with you; you will be on your way.
I bought a load of brand new bulk candy machines from one vender and went around to retail shops and placed candy machines in hair salons, dry cleaners, offices and bars. These are the machines where you put a quarter in, turn a dial and a handful of bulk candy comes out. It turns out bars were my biggest selling locations especially with Red Hots and Peanut M & M’s. I also found a vending machine repair service who refurbishes soda and snack vending machines and sells them. He also delivers the machines which is helpful because they are big and heavy. I bought a bunch of machines and I negotiated a discount because I bought several machines at a time. Once I had the machines I went to office buildings and factories and warehouses and simply asked the managers if they are happy with their vending service. Many of them were not. So I sold myself describing my many years of excellent customer service in various route sales jobs and promised I would do all of the things that their current vendor is not doing. It was surprisingly easy because vending machine operators in that area were really bad at that time. I know customer service and I convinced the customers that I would do better and they were sold. I convinced them to cancel their vending service and get their vendor to pick up the machines and as soon as they did, I put my machines in.
I bought my product from warehouse stores like Costco, Smart and Final, and others. Wherever I got the best prices or wherever there was a good sale on cases of product. I bought a used cargo van from a clearance dealership who sells fleets of vehicles to large companies. They had a fleet of cargo vans that had been traded in for a new fleet. They refurbished the trade ins and sold them cheap, the one I got was very reliable. I named my business The Snack Specialist. I specialized in providing snacks in businesses. I learned how to repair or replace the components of the machines. I stocked parts so I Could make repairs quickly.
It was a successful business, I built it from scratch and had to sell it due to family issues, but I made a big profit on the sale. I split the business into three routes and sold it to three individuals who were looking to get into the business.
That is my experience with the vending business. I am sharing this because I hope that if you have the entrepreneurial drive and want to start any business weather it be vending or something else, you can apply these principles to create your success. In a future blog I will relate what it was actually like running my vending business in more detail. Spoiler alert, it was great! I had all the freedom and flexibility to do many other things like pursue my Scuba Diving hobby. And I made some good money that set me up for another successful business endeavor that I will also write about soon. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.