I know a girl who owns gumball machines.

Two little girls, actually. This is a great idea for parents who are trying to teach their children the value of money. It’s also a great idea for a woman who has the drive and resources to launch a vending business successfully.

The vending business is not limited to large snack machines and six-foot beverage dispensers. The vending business includes portable gumball and candy machines scattered around your city, county, state and region. We’re talking handle-twisting machines that dispense Skittles, M&Ms, Mike & Ikes and gumballs.

These two little girls actually stumbled into the vending business by chance. Their parents were leasing a building that came with an old gumball machine.  Once the parents opened their business, they put the girls in charge of monitoring and refilling the gumball machines. The girls were so excited with the money they earned during the first few months in charge of the gumball machines, they presented their parents with a compelling business opportunity: If Mom and Dad would invest in their business, the two girls would start a vending business as a way to earn money for school trips, school clothes, and eventually college. How can any parent deny that kind of thinking?

After a few months in the business, the girls were able to buy another used machine for $60 and approached a local business owner and simply told the truth – “Part of this money goes for our allowance, part of it is for our college savings.  Is it okay if we keep a machine in your store?”  The same tactic worked with their third and fourth machines. They approach local, privately-owned, small businesses like boutiques, tire shops, salons and the like.  Once a month they check on the machines. They empty the coins, pay the shop owners a flat fee for the use of their shop space and refill the machines the same day.

kid with money | African American girl counting change in jar

With eight locations, vendors can attend to two machines every weekend. This way, the kids get a regular weekly allowance and the machines are serviced once a month.

So, what’s the take?  You or your kids should plan to bring in $30 – $60 per month per machine.  If you’re collecting less than that, relocate your machine. With eight machines, you reinvest about $35 per week into the business and pocket the remaining $100 to $380 per month.

  • Skills inventory: Basic arithmetic, memory (for refills)
  • Physical / virtual inventory: Machines, candy, machine route, phone
  • Launch cost: Single-head machines start at about $65 per machine. Buy them used and get up to 50% off the regular price. The cost to fill each machine will be around $10, depending on what’s inside.
  • Marketing: Get cute little business cards made that compliment your little gum dropper website. If you’re using the college money angle, get brochures made that talk about your kids and their goals. When my daughter was in elementary school, she wanted to be Secretary of State. People find that sort of thing adorable! When I was her age, all I wanted to do was learn the choreography to the “Thriller” video. People love knowing that by paying a quarter for a handful of Mike and Ikes they’re quite possibly sending a kid to the White House.

Also tap into your local media and exploit (in a good way) the wonderful business your kids have started using newspaper write-ups and other print and digital media, especially if you live in the inner city. And I’m sure you won’t forget to tell everybody you can that your kids rock.

This post is an excerpt from my book, 70 Cool Home Business Ideas for Women Who Think Outside the Box. 70 women offer 70 case studies of 70 home business ideas.