Starting an ice vending machine business can be a terrific way to generate passive income and improve your financial future.
All you need to do is buy the right ice vending machines, place them in high-traffic locations, and enjoy the stream of passive income that those machines will generate for you.
Vending machines in general can be great passive income businesses (and I have written an article on how to start a passive vending machine business), but ice vending machines have the added advantage of having just a single inventory item that doesn’t need to be restocked.
That’s awesome and about as passive as it gets. If this sounds interesting to you, let’s get into our guide on how to start an ice vending machine business.
In this guide, we are going to cover three areas:
Part I: Introduction to ice vending machines (what are they, how much money they make, how much they cost, etc.)
Part II: How to Start an Ice Vending Machine Business (including how to make it passive)
That's a lot to cover, so let’s dive into it!
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The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not a recommendation to buy or invest, and it is not financial, investment, legal, or tax advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any investment or other decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
What Is An Ice Vending Machines Business?
An ice vending machine business is a business where you have one or more ice vending machines in various locations and earn money from sales generated by those machines.
How Much Do Ice Vending Machines Make?
Based on typical pricing and average sales volume, you can expect to earn approximately $3,664 per month in net profit from your ice vending machine. Using those same assumptions, the expected gross revenue for the month would be $3,900 and estimated costs would be $236.
This figure is based on assumptions and inputs I used in a profit calculator offered by Everest Ice and Water Systems (a leading provider of water and ice vending machines). It's a useful tool. You can of course, customize the inputs to line up with how much you plan on charging, your expected sales volume, your local utility costs, etc. to get a more accurate profit estimate.
How Much Does it Cost to Buy an Ice Vending Machine?
According to Ice House America, one of the country’s leading suppliers of ice vending machines, the cost to purchase one of their ice vending machines runs from $43,000 to $150,000.
These machines generally come with a one-year manufacturers warranty and are expected to last 20 years.
But the initial costs are not the only ones to consider.
On average, costs to make the ice average $0.50 per 100 pounds of ice and plastic bags run about $0.15 each. So each 20 lbs of ice would cost the owner $0.25 if a bag is used. If the customer chooses to put the ice directly in his ice chest (an option that is available on certain ice vending machine models), the cost could be reduced to $0.10. Other costs include maintenance and repair costs that may arise (like filter replacements, etc.) as well as any rent you will be paying to the location owner. Source
Do Ice Vending Machines Provide Passive Income?
Ice vending machine businesses can provide passive income when structured correctly. To make your ice vending machine business as passive as possible you should do the following:
- Buy high-quality machines that won't need constant repair
- Buy machines that accept noncash payment options
- Use remote management software to monitor your machines
- Outsource periodic maintenance and route running
- Have a machine repair service in place to repair your machines
I think most of the items listed above are self-explanatory, but I want to take a moment to discuss remote management software that can monitor your ice vending machines. This software can be a a huge factor in making your ice vending machines business more passive. For example, you can monitor sales, get maintenance reminders, view the inside and outside of machines via live video fee, and reset, control and correct important issues from your phone or laptop.
In addition, you can find out exactly how much cash was removed from your machine (which is huge if you want to prevent theft from people who you hire to run routes for you).
How Do I Start an Ice Vending Machine Business?
Step 1: Establish Your Ice Vending Machines Business
The first thing you need to do is set up your ice vending machine business.
Name and Logo
This includes selecting a name and logo that you like and creating a website (if you want your business to have an online presence).
Having trouble figuring out a name? Try Shopify’s business name generator. It’s free.
As for a logo, I have zero artistic ability and limited tech skills, so I like a simple and easy to use option.
Looka will provide you a professional looking logo at reasonable prices. You can choose from hundreds of logo designs (based on parameters and preferences you select) before settling on one you like. You can also customize to your heart’s content. Check them out here.
Note: You want to make sure your name and logo are original to you and are not going to infringe someone else's intellectual property. If you are unsure, you can check the USPTO's trademark search tool as a starting point.
Set Up Your Business Website For Free
When it comes to your website, it does not have to be incredibly fancy or cost a lot of money to set up. There are a lot of resources available to help you with this.
In fact, Google allows you to build your first business website for free.
It is also important to get your new vending machine business on Google. You can do this by listing it on Google My Business. This way, people who are searching for vending services in your area can find you (imagine how great it would be if a local shop owner called you to supply a vending machine in their location instead of the other way around?).
If you want to learn more about how to do this, check out this tutorial from Google.
Set Up Your Business Entity
If your business is going to be a corporation, LLC, or some other business entity, you should establish that as well. You can hire a lawyer to help you or you can use many of the online resources that can help you set up your business entity.
I like Incorporate because they can get you up and running quickly and easily. They also have some great resources to educate on what type of entity to choose and which may be the right state to choose for your new entity. If you want to learn more, check them out below.
You should consult with your accountant and lawyer before taking this step, so you understand the tax and legal consequences of setting up this type of organization for your business.
Step 2: Create a Business Plan
A business plan is essentially a roadmap for your business.
It organizes your thoughts relating to your business into an actionable plan. Some things to include in your business plan for your ice vending business are budgeting, identifying your target market and competition, pricing strategy, marketing strategy, operational plans (how you plan to run your ice vending business), and growth projections.
Don’t stress too much about getting it perfect. I would use it more as an organizational tool at this point.
Another benefit of having a business plan is that it can help you raise money from banks and investors. These folks will want to see a professional-looking business plan as part of their lending or investing process.
Don’t know how to get started? The Small Business Administration has a great tool to help you write your business plan.
Step 3: Find the Right Location
Finding a great location for your ice vending machine is critical.
If you choose the wrong location, you won't have enough people coming to your ice vending machine, and of course, that would be disastrous to your bottom line. Good locations for ice vending machines are places where people need ice immediately or where people go when they need to get ice for their coolers in anticipation of a trip.
Here are some of the best locations for your ice vending machines:
- Gas stations
- Strip malls
- Convenience stores
- State and National Parks
- Rest Stations Along Highways
- Other recreational areas
Finding and securing a good location for your ice vending machine is probably the hardest but most important part of getting started.
The quality of your location will be the biggest factor in your profitability.
What are some concrete ways to start finding the best locations?
Explore the most promising locations in your area. Go to the places listed above. See what they say. Even if many of these locations have ice vending machines already (or sell ice directly), you will get an idea of what your competition is doing (i.e., what types of machines are there, whether there are opportunities to offer a better product, etc.).
Offer compelling deals to location owners to persuade them to go with you. Persistence is key.
Step 4 Buy Your Ice Vending Machines
After you have set up your business and found a great location, the next thing you will need to do is get an ice vending machine. Pretty obvious, right?
We already discussed the hefty price tag for buying an ice vending machine, but the good news is that financing is available in many cases. For example, Ice House America offers an SBA financing option.
If you are low on funds and want the most financing possible, Everest offers a 100% financing option with their equipment leasing partner, VLC.
Another option for small business loans is Fundera. They are a trusted name in small business lending and are offered by NerdWallet. Check them out below if you are interested.
So where can you buy ice vending machines? The following are some of the leading companies offering them for sale:
When deciding on the best machine to buy, figure out what would be suitable in your target location. Is it going to be an indoor machine or an outdoor machine. Are there size limitations?
Learn as much as you can about the machines on offer. Then you can figure out what types of machines you want to buy based on your budget and goals.
Step 5: Run Your Routes
Once you have your ice vending machines in the perfect location, you are pretty much set. The great thing about ice vending machines is that it does not require regular restocking of inventory (unlike normal vending machines). But you will need to have periodic maintenance and occasional repairs performed on your ice vending machine.
So you should be prepared to do it yourself or hire someone. Not a huge deal, but something you need to be aware of when planning this business.
So there you have it: 5 simple steps to start an ice vending machine business.
If you are interested in vending machines more generally and want to learn more, check out my beginner’s guide to vending machines.