U-Turn Vending | www.uturnvending.com | A “Sweet” Opportunity |
Published in the March/April 2010 issue of print Search & Employ® |
How much money do you think goes into vending machines each minute in the United States? If you guessed $64,000, then give yourself a gold star. While that figure is large, there is room for growth, according to Randy Francis, the general manager for U-Turn Vending.
The company, located in Idaho Falls, Idaho, specializes in making candy vending machines whose colorful names such as The Eliminator, The Terminator and The Goliath capture the eye-catching look of the machines.
U-Turn Vending does not operate like a regular franchise, but many of the benefits are still the same. Instead of paying a franchise fee, anyone interested in working with U-Turn buys a number of their machines, finds places to locate the machines, fills them up with candy and then becomes the captain of their own vending ship. U-Turn provides support in the beginning to show buyers how machines work, and how they are assembled. The company also provides guidelines about how to maintain the machines. U-Turn brings buyers into their Idaho facility to learn how to succeed in the vending business, but support doesn’t end there. The company wants each buyer to become successful, and in turn, buy more machines.
Francis has been with the company for more than 20 years. Initially, he was just an investor, but got more deeply involved a few years later. The company was eventually sold, but the buyers asked Francis to stay on to maintain U-Turn’s success.
Though he never served in the military, Francis acknowledged that it has been a big part of his life.
“My dad was in World War II as an Army Ranger, and had three or four Purple Hearts,” Francis said. “One of my brothers was a Marine, so the military has been part of my family. That’s one reason I always look forward to working with our veterans.”
Though there are plenty of other vending companies in the market, Francis believes that U-Turn stands out from the rest of the pack.
“We don’t just let people buy machines and then never talk to them again,” he said. “We’re geared to help people get started in business. The training program at our facility teaches people everything they need to know about running a vending business.”
He believes there is a fantastic opportunity to make money in vending, which grows along with the number of machines owned. It is also a business than almost anyone can run, as long as they stick to a plan.
“I like to tell people this is a simple business, but not an easy business,” Francis said.
Francis noted that veterans are especially suited for success in the vending business, and pointed out that U-Turn offers veterans a 10 percent discount.
“Vending takes discipline, and that’s something service members have a lot of,” Francis said. “They are hard workers, and have already developed the habits to succeed in any business once they leave the military. I’ve seen a lot of people let their vending business go to pot, but that’s only because they didn’t follow a plan like military folks do.”
He said he has seen thousands of small business owners succeed and thousands fail, which is one reason that U-Turn works hard to keep its customers.
“Most people know that 90 percent of new businesses fail within two years. We want our buyers to come back and get more machines, so we support them both before and after they purchase from us,” Francis said.
Francis also indicated that the number of machines a person owns makes a big difference.
“It’s a numbers game,” he said. “The more machines you have, the more money you will clear at the end of the month as long as you are servicing those machines.”
The initial investment is up to the buyer, but Francis estimates that entry-level buyers spend at least $10,000. However, some dole out up to $100,000 to get started. Buyers can may use a locator service to scout prime locations, but Francis believes that most vending machine owners can find good places on their own. Each machine requires about $10 a month in candy, but can return between $30 and $50 to the owner.
“The key to the vending business is perseverance, something that veterans don’t lack,” Francis said.
Jose Sanchez knows something about that. He joined the Air Force straight out of high school in 1999, serving as an aircraft mechanic and then a flight engineer in places as diverse as Iceland and Little Rock, Ark. He joined the Air Force Reserve in 2008, but did not have full-time employment.
“When it finally sank in that I no longer had a full-time job, I knew I had to do something since I had no regular paycheck coming in,” Sanchez said. “Whatever it was, I knew I wanted it to be flexible. One night I was up late on the computer and somehow ended up on U-Turn’s web site. I already knew a little bit about the vending business, and the testimonials on the web site rang true. I knew this was a realistic opportunity. They didn’t make unrealistic promises, and I knew it was hard work.”
Sanchez said he knew he could make a decent income from vending machines, so he contacted U-Turn and was quickly connected with a regional representative. They had a two-hour phone call in which the U-Turn rep determined if vending was right for him.
“They figured I was a good match and I was still interested, so I thought about purchasing 12 machines for about $10,000,” Sanchez said. “But since it’s a numbers game, I knew that the more machines I had, the better chance of success there would be. So instead, I purchased 30 machines. I applied for a Patriot Express loan through the V.A. and borrowed the rest.”
The next step was an all-expenses paid trip to Idaho Falls. There Sanchez learned the vending trade and met the people who work on the machines. One of the things he found promising was the large number of U-Turn workers who own machines themselves.
After returning from Idaho, he used a locator service to find places for his machines, and has been clearing a nice profit ever since.
“I work about three days out of the month and put about $300 worth of candy in the machines,” Sanchez said. “But I get about $1,500 back.”
He said his military experience was extremely helpful in terms of teaching him to follow a plan and giving him some technical experience. Sanchez encourages any vet who is on the fence to give U-Turn a call to find out more.