Chasing Passive Income, Americans Turn to Vending Machines - Kanebridge News
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Chasing Passive Income, Americans Turn to Vending Machines

How candy and soda machines became an unlikely trending investment idea of the 2020s

By JOE PINSKER
Mon, Mar 11, 2024 9:08amGrey Clock 5 min

With a brick of cash in his hand and a grin on his face, Jaime Ibanez shows his half-million YouTube subscribers a path to earning money without burning many calories: Vending machines.

In videos with titles such as “This Is HOW MUCH My Vending Machines Made IN 7 DAYS!!” the swoopy-haired 23-year-old Texan makes the rounds to his 51 machines, stocking them and taking the profits.

His channel promotes the idea that with diligence and luck, anyone can go from snacks to riches.

Vending machines might seem an unlikely candidate for trending investment of the 2020s, but the idea has captured the imagination of Americans dreaming of easier money. Some pursue chips and soda as a side hustle because their regular paychecks aren’t enough for them to get by. Others bet on vending machines as a ticket to upward mobility, to quitting their jobs and becoming their own boss.

The startup cost is low and the formula simple. Buy a used machine for $1,500, load it up with products from Costco , charge a 100% markup and let the crinkled dollars roll in. But turning a profit takes real work, and the machines can be a losing proposition when stuck in locations without enough hungry foot traffic.

There is a fair amount of competition, too. America has three million vending machines, an $18.2 billion industry, with the average machine generating about $525 in monthly revenue, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association.

More than half of operators bring in less than $1 million a year, according to trade publication Automatic Merchandiser. Many are individuals who have other jobs.

Social media has fuelled the notion of finding financial freedom in vending machines. Between 2019 and 2023, the number of posts or comments mentioning passive income and vending machines more than tripled on X and increased by a factor of six on Instagram, according to Sprinklr, a social-media management platform. Google search interest in passive income increased some 75% during that same period.

“There’s a real sense that doing things the so-called right way won’t necessarily land you in the middle class,” said Lana Swartz, a media-studies professor at the University of Virginia who researches financial technologies. “If the old rules no longer apply, then there’s a searching for new rules to get ahead or to get by.”

Some vending-machine newbies say they are on their way to building an automated empire. Others’ dreams get snagged like a bag of Funyuns on a faulty coil.

Making sales while you sleep

Last spring Rob Smith, a 30-year-old truck driver in Orlando, Fla., spent $4,000 on his first machine, a credit-card reader and a load of snacks and drinks.

He recently acquired his fourth machine, which is at an industrial bakery. His first three machines take up three to five hours of his week and bring in about $1,500 a month in revenue, which works out to roughly $750 in profit.

“I’ve made sales at four o’clock in the morning, when I was sleeping,” he said. “That machine is still working whether I’m there or not.”

He hopes to scale up to 30 machines and quit his job.

Smith started looking for extra income because his goal of buying a house felt out of reach with only his day job’s pay. He chose vending specifically after he witnessed a colleague complain about a malfunctioning machine at work and then use it anyway.

“He still put his $2 in,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘I need to get a vending machine as soon as possible.’ ”

Some budding vendors pay $300 or more for online courses to learn the trade. Smith relied on YouTube, Instagram and Reddit to get going.

At one point, he stocked a machine with orange soda against the advice he got in an online forum. When it didn’t sell, he and his family had to drink three dozen cans themselves.

Empty calories

Tom and Missi Hakes of Midway, Ala., started vending after Missi, 40, saw videos on YouTube about the business. The idea seemed more appealing than their stints driving for Uber, shopping for Instacart and trying to make it as YouTubers.

The Hakes, who both have full-time jobs in health insurance, scouted out locations in Atlanta, the closest big city and two hours away. After their best lead fell through, they paid a woman they found on Facebook Marketplace $500 to find a location for them.

She sent them to two spots that didn’t work out, including a cheerleading gym. The manager there was on board until she learned that the Hakes hadn’t operated a vending machine before.

Tom, 48, posted on a forum wondering how to address questions about their industry experience. At their next meeting, with the owner of a gym, they reluctantly followed some of the forum’s advice: They lied and said they had a few machines.

“We didn’t want to get another no,” said Tom.

He then spent a month repairing a used machine they bought for $1,400, staying up on some nights until 2 a.m.

When it was ready, Tom and Missi struggled to wrangle it into the 15-foot U-Haul truck they rented.

“Two people is not enough to move an 800-pound machine,” she said.

The Hakes spent about $2,500 on their vending business, as well as 20 to 30 hours a week for much of last fall.

They pay $50 a month to park it in the gym and it costs about $330 to fill up. It is currently grossing about $30 a week.

If anything, the income has been too passive, Tom said, “because it’s not really doing a lot of sales.”

If the machine isn’t selling more by summer, the Hakes will consider leaving the location, or perhaps vending machines overall.

Hit Facebook Marketplace, then Costco

Used vending machines of questionable quality sell online for as little as $500. More reliable ones cost in the range of $1,000 to $2,000, according to veteran vendors. A new machine with a touch screen and a robotic arm could cost upward of $7,000.

Many used machines have a maintenance issue about once a year, and they need to be cleaned. Cash is dirty, said Ben Gaskill of Everest Ice and Water Systems, a vending-machine maker. “Somebody digs around for coins in the bottom of their purse and it’s got grape jelly on it.”

Vendors shop warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club to stock up. One machine’s worth of snacks or drinks can cost $200 to $300 a month. Owners then charge about twice what they paid for each product, or more. Prices of food from vending machines were up 10.6% year over year in January, according to Labor Department data.

The top-selling items in vending machines are cold drinks, snacks and candy, according to the latest data from Automatic Merchandiser magazine.

“No matter how healthy you try to make the machines, people are going to buy that Snickers bar,” said Lory Strickland, who sells courses and one-on-one coaching with her husband, Barry, under the name The Vending Mentors.

A never-vending story

Selling online classes and coaching can sometimes be more lucrative than a given moneymaking idea itself, said Swartz, the University of Virginia professor.

In online forums, she said, “there’s the joke that if there are people making courses about it, then it’s already oversaturated as a side hustle.”

To capitalise on interest in vending, some experienced operators started selling their expertise to supplement the income coming in from their machines. Some transitioned primarily to training.

Hyping the vending-machine dream predates the internet, though. The first machines in the U.S. sold gum and appeared on train platforms in 1888.

In the 1940s, media outlets cautioned about “get-rich-quick schemes” promoted by “unscrupulous agents involving vending machines.” In 1960, the magazine now known as Kiplinger Personal Finance warned of “vultures in the business” who promised “that an $800 investment may produce $200 a month, and that only a few hours of work a week are required to enjoy such rich pickings.”



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These stocks are getting hit for a reason. Instead, focus on stocks that show ‘relative strength.’ Here’s how.

By KEN SHREVE
Wed, Jun 12, 2024 4 min

A lot of investors get stock-picking wrong before they even get started: Instead of targeting the top-performing stocks in the market, they focus on the laggards—widely known companies that look as if they are on sale after a period of stock-price weakness.

But these weak performers usually are going down for good reasons, such as for deteriorating sales and earnings, market-share losses or mutual-fund managers who are unwinding positions.

Decades of Investor’s Business Daily research shows these aren’t the stocks that tend to become stock-market leaders. The stocks that reward investors with handsome gains for months or years are more often  already  the strongest price performers, usually because of outstanding earnings and sales growth and increasing fund ownership.

Of course, many investors already chase performance and pour money into winning stocks. So how can a discerning investor find the winning stocks that have more room to run?

Enter “relative strength”—the notion that strength begets more strength. Relative strength measures stocks’ recent performance relative to the overall market. Investing in stocks with high relative strength means going with the winners, rather than picking stocks in hopes of a rebound. Why bet on a last-place team when you can wager on the leader?

One of the easiest ways to identify the strongest price performers is with IBD’s Relative Strength Rating. Ranked on a scale of 1-99, a stock with an RS rating of 99 has outperformed 99% of all stocks based on 12-month price performance.

How to use the metric

To capitalise on relative strength, an investor’s search should be focused on stocks with RS ratings of at least 80.

But beware: While the goal is to buy stocks that are performing better than the overall market, stocks with the highest RS ratings aren’t  always  the best to buy. No doubt, some stocks extend rallies for years. But others will be too far into their price run-up and ready to start a longer-term price decline.

Thus, there is a limit to chasing performance. To avoid this pitfall, investors should focus on stocks that have strong relative strength but have seen a moderate price decline and are just coming out of weeks or months of trading within a limited range. This range will vary by stock, but IBD research shows that most good trading patterns can show declines of up to one-third.

Here, a relative strength line on a chart may be helpful for confirming an RS rating’s buy signal. Offered on some stock-charting tools, including IBD’s, the line is a way to visualise relative strength by comparing a stock’s price performance relative to the movement of the S&P 500 or other benchmark.

When the line is sloping upward, it means the stock is outperforming the benchmark. When it is sloping downward, the stock is lagging behind the benchmark. One reason the RS line is helpful is that the line can rise even when a stock price is falling, meaning its value is falling at a slower pace than the benchmark.

A case study

The value of relative strength could be seen in Google parent Alphabet in January 2020, when its RS rating was 89 before it started a 10-month run when the stock rose 64%. Meta Platforms ’ RS rating was 96 before the Facebook parent hit new highs in March 2023 and ran up 65% in four months. Abercrombie & Fitch , one of 2023’s best-performing stocks, had a 94 rating before it soared 342% in nine months starting in June 2023.

Those stocks weren’t flukes. In a study of the biggest stock-market winners from the early 1950s through 2008, the average RS rating of the best performers before they began their major price runs was 87.

To see relative strength in action, consider Nvidia . The chip stock was an established leader, having shot up 365% from its October 2022 low to its high of $504.48 in late August 2023.

But then it spent the next four months rangebound—giving up some ground, then gaining some back. Through this period, shares held between $392.30 and the August peak, declining no more than 22% from top to bottom.

On Jan. 8, Nvidia broke out of its trading range to new highs. The previous session, Nvidia’s RS rating was 97. And that week, the stock’s relative strength line hit new highs. The catalyst: Investors cheered the company’s update on its latest advancements in artificial intelligence.

Nvidia then rose 16% on Feb. 22 after the company said earnings for the January-ended quarter soared 486% year over year to $5.16 a share. Revenue more than tripled to $22.1 billion. It also significantly raised its earnings and revenue guidance for the quarter that was to end in April. In all, Nvidia climbed 89% from Jan. 5 to its March 7 close.

And the stock has continued to run up, surging past $1,000 a share in late May after the company exceeded that guidance for the April-ended quarter and delivered record revenue of $26 billion and record net profit of $14.88 billion.

Ken Shreve  is a senior markets writer at Investor’s Business Daily. Follow him on X  @IBD_KShreve  for more stock-market analysis and insights, or contact him at  ken.shreve@investors.com .