Vending Machines and Gyms: The Essentials for Every Owner

A man at a gym makes a purchase from a vending machine.

We might be past the days of putting a quarter in a vending machine and getting a handful of ancient peanuts.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a vending machine as part of the retail strategy at your gym.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

Whenever I ask gym owners about retail sales, I run into two groups—and I was a member of the first one:

  • Group 1: “We’re terrible. Help!”
  • Group 2: “We do exactly this and make exactly this much profit with this exact plan. Retail sales are a nice revenue boost.”

To help you move from Group 1 to Group 2, here are some tips for generating profit with vending machines at your gym.

Gym Vending Machines: Buy or Cut a Deal?

First, gym owners can buy a vending machine outright or partner with a company who will provide one in exchange for a revenue split.

Prices to purchase vary based on the size and features of the unit, but one Two-Brain client found a used machine for US$1,500. Another purchased a new unit for about $5,000.

With no endorsement or recommendation whatsover, I’ll give you some pricing points of reference below to help you start your research:

The benefits of buying: You own the asset and get all the revenue. Once the machine is paid off, you might have a small but reliable cash cow in gym.

The drawbacks of buying: You’re responsible for all maintenance and stocking. One gym owner mentioned buying your machine locally might make it easier to get service when repairs are needed. Another said he fills his machine through wholesale accounts and regular trips to Costco. You’ll have to budget a little time for this, and you might end up with some cash tied up in inventory.

Several gym owners mentioned that it’s now very important to get a machine with a card reader or integrated app that allows online purchases. At one Two-Brain gym, about 90 percent of sales were on mobile devices. No one carries a handful of quarters anymore. Bonus: Modern sales systems also provide precise tracking and inventory numbers.

If you choose to link up with an outside company, you’ll have to split revenue. One gym owner reported a 50-50 deal and suggested the exact split is negotiable. Sample contracts found on the internet usually have blank spaces for revenue splits. In an article aimed at owners of vending machines, suggested commissions of 10-25 percent of gross sales can be paid to acquire a location for a machine.

If you’re contacting a vending-machine supplier, negotiate to get the best rate you can. If you have options in the local market, talk to all of them before signing a contract. You’ll likely have less control over products, pricing and placement in this arrangement, but you might be able to negotiate there, too.

Vending Machine Placement, Products and Pricing

Sales and profit will depend on machine placement, product lineup, and margins.

One owner reported that retail sales actually went down when snacks were placed inside the glass box, so a vending machine isn’t always a slam dunk, even if it’s often a good way to limit shrinkage related to accidentally unprocessed payments, outright theft and the “I’ll pay ya next time” crew.

If you want to maximize sales, it doesn’t take a marketing wizard to figure out that prominent vending machines in high-traffic areas will get more use than those in dusty corners.

Another obvious one: Your clients will buy more if you stock the stuff they want. You must know your avatar and supply products that solve their problems.

Some gym owners might not care what’s in the machine, but others will want to ensure the products they sell reflect the gym’s philosophy. High-sugar sports drinks, for example, might fly out of the machine but confuse clients who hear low-carb messaging from your nutrition coach.

As for pricing, margins vary by item. You’ll have to figure out a pricing plan if you own your machine, and you won’t get the volume discounts available when you buy by the truckload. article linked above reported margins of 43 to 64 percent are common for snacks and beverages. Other items—water is one—have much higher margins. Your profit will be determined by your product lineup—and keep in mind that the mechanical elements of your exact machine will make it physically impossible to sell some products.

As a light snack, here are some real stats to go on:

  • One gym owner who bought a machine sold about $5,000 gross in one year and kept $2,500.
  • Another sold about $10,000 with a 40 percent profit margin.

Neither got a vending machine to print money, but both have covered the costs of machine ownership and now have a small, low-maintenance revenue stream running.

Plan to Profit

As with any aspect of your business, run the numbers and make a plan.

If you’re thinking about buying a vending machine, be sure to factor in time for supplying and filling it, as well as maintenance costs. If you’re partnering with a machine owner, consider costs of electricity and what else you might do with the floor space.

But if you see a clear path to profit and a vacant spot in a high-traffic area of your gym, a vending machine might give your bottom line a small but not irrelevant boost.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.