Making Money, Starting a Business

How to Start a Kid’s Gumball Machine Business (Easy!)

kid's gumball machine business

Do you remember what it was like walking into a store and seeing the beloved gumball machine as a kid? Maybe you saved up your allowance or asked your parents to spare some change just so you could put in a coin, turn the knob, and hope that your favorite flavor would pop out. 

Gumball machines are more than just a slice of nostalgia. They can also be a fantastic financial investment! A kid’s gumball machine business can help you bring in some extra cash and connect with people. With so many different sizes, colors, and styles of gumball machines, you will have no problem finding one that will be popular in your area.

In fact, my dad convinced me to buy a gumball machine when I was about 10 years old! I used the money I had saved from holidays and tips that I’d earned working at our family business to buy the machine. Our family business was an ice cream store located across the street from a high school, so a gumball machine was the perfect little addition.

This post will share everything you need to know about starting a kid’s gumball machine business as an investment and tips on how you can get your kids excited too!

Gumballs: A business for kids or a kid’s business?

Gumball machines can be both a business that sells gum to kids as well as a business that can be run by kids! A gumball machine is a perfect introduction to business principles for small kids. At the same time, it is an amazing passive income source for adults! 

How to start a kid’s gumball machine business in 4 easy steps

  1. Buy gumball machine
  2. Place gumball machine in a good location
  3. Fill the gumball machine up with gum (and prizes!)
  4. Visit once a month to refill and collect your profits!

It really is that easy! This is such a great learning experience for kids because they do not have to spend hours concentrating on the business. It also teaches them delayed gratification, as they have to wait about a month before collecting money from the machine. 

I’m not the only person who started a gumball machine business as a kid. Tori Dunlap, a well known personal finance expert who is on a mission to empower women, also started her first business by placing vending machines. She started her vending machine business at the tender age of 9 and used the money to help pay for college!

How do gumball machines work?

Kids gumball machines are simple machines that require little work to obtain your purchase. An individual inserts the appropriate amount of money into the coin slot and turns the crank. Once turned, the crank moves a large metal disk that’s inside the machine that moves the gumballs one by one into the dispenser chute. 

Most gumball machines have a compartment that can be easily accessed for refills and another slot to collect the coins that have been inserted. Usually there are two different keys that can be used to access these parts of the machine.Typically, you will need to service your machine once a month. The best part? Servicing your machine only requires adding more gumballs and counting your earnings!

Gumball machines can vary significantly in type and size. There are some that are statement pieces themselves and others that can fit nicely on the counter of a store. Some gumball machines add to the fun by having a maze that gumballs will go through before being dispensed at the bottom of the machine. 

How much does a gumball machine cost?

Ultimately, gumball machine costs can range from $50 to a couple thousand for more unique types. This is especially true if you buy the machine brand new, but the biggest factor in their price is the size and capabilities of the machine. Carefully consider your target buyers, location, and budget before selecting a machine to buy!

As mentioned before, some gumball machines have created a game out of receiving the gumball. These machines can be very elaborate like a pinball machine or simply more visually appealing by having the gumball travel through pulleys and levers.

You can expect to pay much more for this kind of machine, but you will also be able to charge more as well! It is not uncommon to pay up to 50 cents for a gumball from this kind of machine.

Others are more basic and will directly dispense a gumball once the coin is inserted. No spinning or spirals involved! Typically the more simple the machine, the smaller it is.That means that you will likely pay less for the kinds of machines that can fit on top of a counter or in a corner.

How to save money on your kid’s gumball machine business

Second-hand shops or online marketplaces, like Facebook Marketplace, are great options to find second-hand gumball machines that can be used. These options can help you save money on the initial start-up costs. 

They also give you an opportunity to find a unique antique piece that will really stand out in the room! This can help spark your potential buyer’s interest and convince them to make a purchase. At the end of the day, your kids’ gumball machine success depends on its visibility and how attractive it is!

Once you have obtained the machine, it is time to fill it up. One of the most cost-effective ways to do this is to buy your gumballs in bulk. Check out your local bulk store or this online option to find the best gumball machine for you. When you buy an assortment of gumballs in bulk, you will definitely be saving money!  

How much money does a kid’s gumball machine business make?

The amount of money that a kids’ gumball machine can make varies based on where you place the machine and what you are loading it with. However, there is always an opportunity to make money through gumball machines. 

Think about the location you are hoping to place your gumball machine. Is your location a high-traffic place or is it an area that hardly has people walking by? Another question to ask is if the location of your machine would only have the same people pass by or if there would be new people walking by often. Having a variety of people walking by can help you earn more money as it will allow the novelty of a kids’ gumball machine to last a longer period of time. 

Here is an example of what your earnings could be through a kids’ gumball machine: 

  • Buy 850 assorted gumballs for $41.95 
  • Charge $0.25 per gumball 
  • You will bring in $212.50 as your total earnings 
  • Once your initial expenses are subtracted ($212.50 – $41.95), you will have a net income of $170.55!

I remember adding gumballs to my machine about once a month. Using the math above, this one machine could earn a little over $2,000 a year! And the best part is that it only took an hour of my time each month.

What can I put in a gumball machine?

You can fill a kids’ gumball machine with more than just gumballs. Any type of candy or prizes can go in the machine, just as long as it fits through the dispenser and it is still cost-effective. 

You can purchase hollow plastic balls that are the same size as your gumballs and fill them with whatever prize you’d like. Just make sure you place them somewhere highly visible so that people notice that they could get something extra special!

You want to ensure that you are not losing money on the gumball machine by stocking it with items that are costing you more than you are able to charge. A good way to ensure you are making more than you are spending is to evaluate how much you can charge in the gumball machine (does it charge $0.05, $0.10, $1.00, etc.) and estimate how much you can fit in the gumball machine. 

Other kid’s gumball machine business prizes include: 

  • Toy rings 
  • Removable tattoos
  • Stick on earrings
  • Small bracelets and necklaces (let’s bring back chokers!)
  • Dollar bills (I used these in my machine and they were extremely popular! Just fold so people can see the dollar amount and know it is real!)
  • Small action figures 
  • Other kinds of candy (ie. m&m’s) 

One great way to keep people interested is to switch up what you are putting in your gumball machine every time it comes to restock. Maybe start with gumballs but when it comes time to restock, you switch to removable tattoos. This keeps your audience interested and wanting more! You always want to make sure that the machine looks full because it is the colors of the gumballs that attract buyers the most. 

plastic gumball for prizes
Here is an example of the hollow plastic gumballs you can use to put small prizes in your machine! Considering the profit margins, little $1 prizes are definitely worth the investment to attract your buyers!

I highly recommend having a variety of prizes, including money, because most kids will buy more than one in the hopes of getting the fun prize! You’d be surprised at how much money people will spend on a gumball machine. I’ve seen adults hand over all their spare quarters to their kid because they wanted a particular color from the machine! 

The best part about gumball machines is that almost everyone likes gum! So your potential customers are limitless. Depending on how long your potential buyers stay in the area, there is a good chance they will buy more than one. It’s pretty well known that most gumballs lose their flavor quickly, so many people will end up getting another one if they are still in the area.

What is the best gumball machine?

There are multiple factors to consider when thinking of the type of gumball machine to purchase. Here are a few questions you can ask before purchasing:

  1. Where is my gumball machine going to be located in the store? How much space is there?
  2. Will the machine be visible from the street?
  3. What demographic is my target audience for my gumball machine? 
  4. How often am I able to fill up the gumball machine?
  5. Will I put different kinds of prizes in the machine?

These 5 questions can help you start to think about what type of kids’ gumball machine will serve you best. If you are thinking of placing a gumball machine in a high school, then a larger gumball machine that costs $0.50 per gumball and can hold a large quantity may serve you best. 

Whereas, if you are thinking of placing one at a community center where there are many different families coming and going, having a couple of small tabletop gumball machines where you can fill up with multiple varieties may help you bring in more money. Observe your location and find out who frequents it and make your decision from there. 

Three popular types of gumball machines

There are many different types of gumball machines but in this article will explore three of the most popular types: 

Spiral gumball machines

The spiral gumball machines are typically stand-alone gumball machines that have a base with a spiral where kids can watch their gumball whirl down the spiral into the dispenser shoot. This is a great way to keep children engaged as it taps into their sense of play and makes them want to keep purchasing more so they can keep watching the gumball move fast throughout the spiral.

This is one of the most common types of kid’s gumball machines and is easily recognizable as they tend to be larger in size. My first gumball machine was actually a spiral machine and I loved that it was easy to display prizes in to further incentivize potential buyers!

spiral gumball machine

Gumball machine with stand

Gumball machines with stands are also stand-alone machines that vary in shape and size. Some of the machines can hold large quantities of large candy while others still have a smaller container. 

The great thing about these machines is that they are at an average eye level for children, making them easy to spot and easy to use. These tend to be just as popular with adults who often don’t want to wait around for the more elaborate machines to dispense their treat. 

Antique or vintage gumball machines

These are an ideal purchase for a place where adults may be frequenting more, like a long-term care home, and can help an adult relive their childhood. Many cities also have an “old town” where everything is styled from back when the city was created. These locations would also be perfect for a gumball machine because there are often fewer standard vending machines to compete with because they break the old-timey illusion!

Antique gumball machines are an amazing option to play into the inner child of an adult. It has a nostalgia factor and reminds them of simpler days going to the candy store and getting a treat. 

Where should I put my gumball machine?

Many local stores would be happy to have you place a machine in their business as they attract potential clients (both kids and adults!). The potential locations are limitless! Just think of the kinds of places where adults take their kids and see if there is room. 

You can even speak with the business owners before you purchase a machine. This is great because you will know you have a location before you put money into the business! And if that location is not profitable, for whatever reason, you can easily relocate your machine.

Good places for kid’s gumball machines include:

  • Restaurants near schools
  • Arcades
  • Ice cream stores
  • Pizza restaurants
  • Laundry mats 
  • Grocery stores
  • Malls 
  • Corner stores or convenience stores (like 7-11)
  • Coffee shops

How long does it take to start a kid’s gumball machine business?

It took me less than a month to start my gumball machine business! From the moment my dad explained the concept to me, I knew it was something I wanted to do. It only takes a few hours of research to find a machine that is visually appealing and affordable. 

You may have to wait a few extra weeks to have it shipped to you if you have an online provider. For my machine, we went directly to a wholesale location to pick it up. The same location would provide the gumballs in bulk and even offered a discount if I bought multiple gumball refills at once. Usually, you can get your first bag of gumballs for free with the purchase of your machine!

If you follow the steps in this guide, I’m sure you can have your own gumball machine business up and running in no time! I would love to get back into the gumball machine and vending machine business one day as it is still one of the best passive incomes I’ve ever earned. 

Are you considering starting a kid’s gumball machine business? What kinds of ways did you earn money when you were little? Let me know in the comments!

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