Getting into The Ice Cream Vending Machine Business

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By Jessie Villanueva

ice cream vending machine

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It’s cold today! Let’s get an ice cream treat from the vending machine. It’s too hot outside! What an excellent time to indulge in the yumminess of sweet and flavorful ice cream! Can you see? Ice cream goes well in any weather—a treat for every sweet-toothed person.

Thus, many entrepreneurs take advantage of this opportunity to invest in ice cream vending machine business. So, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and love ice cream, starting an ice cream vending business is for you. And with the right strategy, you’ll have a cult following making your ice cream treats the talk of the town.

Are Ice cream vending machines profitable?


The profitability of ice cream vending machines depends on factors like location and machine  type. On average, vending machines rake in about $35 weekly, but success varies based on where the machine is placed and the variations it dispenses. Vendors usually buy products in bulk, selling them at a markup of up to 86%, with ice creams being a high-margin item.

The key is choosing the right spot. A vending machine strategically placed on a bustling boardwalk can outperform one tucked away in a half-filled office building. According to vending machine consultant Lakinya Francis, some machines can recoup their cost in as little as six months when situated in ideal locations.

The type of vending machine matters too. Ice cream vending machines, dealing in pre-packed ice creams, often have low margins and lower operational costs. On the other hand, more sophisticated ice cream machines that prepare ice creams on demand can generate more revenue but come with higher startup and maintenance expenses. Thus, Selecting the right machine and location is crucial for maximizing profitability.

Types of Ice Cream Vending Machines

1- Pre-Packaged Ice Cream Vending Machines

The most basic option is a pre-packed ice cream vending machine that offers pre-packed sweet treats to customers. People can easily get their ice creams by simply inserting a coin. Some machines also offer debit or credit card payments and variation options so that customers can select their favourite ice cream on the go.


  • You can stock different pre-packaged ice cream flavors in these machines.
  • Accepts coins or cards for transactions.
  • The simple interface allows that even a 7-year-old can use this machine.

Price Range


2- Self-Service Ice Cream Vending Machines

Self-service vending machines are more advanced than pre-packed ice cream machines offering customers to interactively choose their ice cream size, flavors, and toppings through a touchscreen. The Customers can customize their ice creams by choosing different options given by the machine and the vending machine prepares their customized ice cream based on the options selected.


  • Offers options to choose flavors, sizes, and toppings.
  • Quick and Efficient process for personalized ice cream orders.

Price Range


3- Robotic Vending Machines

These are the most advanced and the most interesting ones. Robotic Ice cream vending machines have a robot that is embedded inside the machine and assembles the customized ice cream for the customers, providing a unique and entertaining experience. Such machines are quite new in the market and need heavy investments if you want to install them. But, interestingly, if you have a budget, then this machine will attract more customers especially the children who love robots. It will be a great treat for them to see a robot preparing an ice cream for them.


  • Customers can choose specific ingredients for a personalized ice cream treat.
  • Touchscreen display for a modern and engaging user experience.

Price Range

These are the most advanced ice cream vending machines with a higher price tag starting from $12,500.

Investment required to start an ice cream vending machine business

investment plan

Starting an ice cream vending business doesn’t require a hefty investment. The primary expenses revolve around the vending machine itself and stocking up on ice cream. For a basic setup, you can kick off your business with as little as $3,000, securing a simple vending machine to get things rolling.

The price of vending machines varies depending on the variant that you buy. A basic machine selling a few pre-packed ice creams can be as affordable as a few hundred dollars. However, a more advanced robotic-type model that also accepts credit and debit cards ranges between $12,500 and $14,000.

Used or refurbished machines can also be considered if your budget is low. These machines range between $1200 to $3,000. If you’re handy or can find affordable repair services, this can be a smart move.

Alternatively, some suppliers offer free machines if you commit to buying all your ice cream supplies from them. It’s a sort of win-win arrangement – they provide and maintain the machine, and you ensure a steady stream of business.

Moreover, stocking up on vending machine supplies won’t break the bank, as they’re usually purchased wholesale. Be prepared for a nominal fee when setting up your business, varying by state. You can find specific details on your state government website or consult with a legal professional for accurate information.

Another way of doing it is buying the ice cream vending machine and stocking the ice creams out of own pocket. While this may be costly upfront, the returns are way more lucrative. Calculate how much you would need to buy the ice cream vending machine, the ice cream stock and annual rent to get a dollar figure for getting into and running this business. Once you have the dollar figure, you can start saving for this business month by month until you reach the target dollar figure.

How to start an Ice Cream Vending Machine business?

Step 1: Select The Vending Machine

When it comes to finding your ice cream vending machine, the process is simpler than you might think. Start with an online search to explore various options both locally and from national suppliers. Here are three types of sellers to consider:

Manufacturers or Wholesale Vending Suppliers:

  • Widest selection and latest technology.
  • Comprehensive services, including delivery, repairs, and training.
  • Keep in mind, this is the pricier option, especially if you go through vending franchises.

Secondary Market Sellers or Specialty Online Retailers

  • Browse multiple brands and models.
  • Often provide helpful resources for business owners.

Consumer-to-Consumer Platforms (Craigslist, eBay)

  • Thousands of vending machines are for sale.
  • Filter by location to save on shipping costs.
  • Ideal for first-time entrepreneurs on a budget.

As you explore, vending machines offer various features such as flavor combos, credit card functionality, touch or voice accessibility, and more. While tempting, be mindful of additional features’ costs. Choose a machine that suits your product offerings and fits your budget. Remember, simplicity can be just as effective as fancy features.

Step 2: Find the Ideal Sweet Spot for your Vending Machine

location symbol

Choosing the ideal spot for your vending machine is key to generating more revenue. Consider where people usually buy snacks through vending machines—like when they’re in a hurry, at the airport, or waiting at places such as the DMV.

Potential locations include schools, hospitals, grocery stores, airports, laundromats, apartment complexes, and manufacturing plants. Once you’ve got some ideas, it’s time to secure your spot. You can reach out to property owners directly or visit your local Chamber of Commerce for info on businesses in your area.

If cold-calling isn’t your thing, consider talking to owners face-to-face, especially if you’re already a regular customer. Aim for places with at least 100 employees or lots of foot traffic, such as busy office parks. Discussing your plans with potential partners helps you understand local demand, guiding your choice of vending machine and products.

Step 3: Make the Right Investments

With a machine purchased, location selected, and placement terms taken care of, you’re good to start a vending machine business—now it’s time to put focus on making the business profitable.

Invest in a vending management system (VMS)

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

But most basic machines require you to manually handle your inventory, which might be possible if you own just a few vending machines. But,once you have five to 8 separate vending machines, then, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a VMS to help you stay on top of your inventory. Vending management software allows you to remotely manage your vending machines. Most VMS systems also provide real-time reporting tools and inventory updates.

Invest in Customer Service

Customer service matters, even with just a couple of machines. Strengthen relationships by engaging with business owners, joining local networking groups, or connecting with your state’s vending association. Keep your machines stocked and working consistently. Providing a customer complaint-number for service requests and feedback ensures you stay connected with your customers.

Invest Your Time

Running a vending machine business isn’t just about money; it requires your time and attention. Weekly collections for a full-size machine are part of the routine. Factor in time for purchasing inventory, visiting locations, and staying informed about sales trends, new flavors, and talking to peers. Your investment goes beyond capital—it includes the time and effort you put into keeping your business thriving.

Tips for a Successful Ice Cream Vending Business

Unorganised and unplanned business ventures result in the majority of business failures. Some entrepreneurs believe that they can make more money by selling demanding items—only to discover that business success entails many strategies, steps, victories, and losses then just selling demanding items.

Here are some pointers that will help you get your ice cream vending business running with a good revenue:

Tip #1: Invest with Passion

It takes a lot of effort to start a business so it will be best if you are passionate enough to fulfill your business obligations, from vending maintenance to inventory checking.

Tip #2: Study Your Competition

Research how other ice cream vending owners operate. Contrast strategies, focusing on what benefits your business. Avoid blindly imitating; tailor strategies to your strengths, like prioritizing product quality over pricing.

Tip #3: Set Goals

goal setting

Defining your goals gives you a direction for your next step. This allows you to devote your energy and time to achieving your main objectives—save your sweat on things that will not help you.

Here are some sample goals that you may consider:

  • I will cover the cost of the vending machine within 12 months.
  • I will increase my revenue by 20% within the period of 6 months.
  • I will slowly increase my profit margins keeping the quality the same.

Tip # 4: Monitor your finances regularly

To avoid a shortage in revenue, always monitor your finances and income. Collect your earnings regularly and keep a solid track of your money. In this way, you will know what needs to be changed and how to improve your business approach.

Tip # 5: Ensure Regular Machine Maintenance

electrician toolbox

Regular machine maintenance is a must to avoid interruptions. You can escape from operation break-offs by implementing a periodic vending machine check-up. This way, you’ll face no issue with your business venture, especially if you are a newbie in the industry.

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly business idea that you can manage along with your other businesses or that you can easily manage along with your job then an ice cream vending machine is a great pick. But, as is true for any other business, running a successful vending business requires consistency and careful planning. With less than $4,000, thorough market research, smart decisions, and a dose of entrepreneurial spirit, you can tap into this billion-dollar industry. Take a step-by-step approach, carefully observing demand patterns, and gradually increase your investment and purchase more vending machines.


Where is the best place to put an ice cream vending machine for increased revenue?

Any place where a lot of people especially children are going is a good idea. Apartment complexes, schools, parks, and airports are all great places for vending machines.

Can you buy an ice cream vending machine and put it anywhere?

While you can purchase any ice cream vending machine, it’s essential to secure permission from a business owner to place it. Approach them and discuss the opportunity; getting a contract in place is crucial.

Are ice cream vending machines profitable?

Yes, they can be. On average, vending machines earn $35 per week, but strategically placing well-stocked machines in safe, busy locations can yield over $400 per month.

Do vending machine owners pay rent?

Certainly. Vending machine owners typically pay rent or a commission (ranging from 5% to 20%) to the building or property owner where their machine is installed.

Are vending machines taxed?

Yes, vending machines are subject to sales tax based on the revenue they generate. The specific amount varies depending on your state’s regulations.