This 32-year-old was making $17/hour—now his side hustle brings in $500,000 a year. His top 5 business lessons

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Five years ago, I was living at home with my mom in Rochester, New York and making $17 an hour a managerial position.

But in 2018, a friend inspired me to move to Philadelphia and start a vending machine business. I used $10,000 of my savings to pay for a snack machine, a beverage machine, two credit card readers, food and drink products, and any delivery fees. 

During my first year, it started as a side hustle that brought in just $5,000. But in 2022, my company, Joyner Vending, hit $500,000 in sales — up from $300,000 in 2021. I now have machines in six states.

Here are the top lessons I learned in my milestone year about building a lucrative side hustle:

1. Make your business easy to find online.

One of the smartest things I did was spend $2,000 to update my website. This included changing the layout and investing more in our search engine optimization.

Last year, we saw an uptick in the businesses that were interested in working with us. We heard from roughly five new businesses each month, many of whom weren’t not happy with their current vendor and wanted to replace them.

They met with me and saw that we were serious about what we promised: being flexible and fulfilling their stock as needed, responding to maintenance issues within 24 hours, and including QR codes on the machines so that people could get refunds quickly if they lost money.

This has been a big expansion year for us, and we now have machines in six states.

Photo: Marcus Gram

2. Don’t be afraid to bring on new types of clients.

In the past, we mostly worked a lot with schools and office buildings. But this year, we started providing services to manufacturing companies. It had a major effect on our bottom line because those companies offer subsidized pricing.

That means the vending machine items are discounted for employees, who each receive a prepaid card with a spending limit. At the end of the month, we deliver a sales report and an invoice, and the location pays us the difference.

Subsidized pricing has guaranteed thousands of dollars in monthly sales.

3. The more you expand, the more people you’ll need to hire.

In 2022, we placed machines in offices that are open 24/7, with anywhere from 400 to 700 employees there every day. Some of these locations have produced up to five-figure months for us. 

Some offices are in different states, so the challenge was hiring enough staff to handle restocking demands. We have a few that need stocking seven days a week, with one account that needs it twice a day. There have been times where I’ve had to fly out to stock machines myself.

But after about three months, we were able to establish a more stable staffing system. I currently have 10 employees, and all but one are part-time.

4. Mistakes are only failures if you don’t learn from them.

This year, we had one misstep: We placed a ton of machines in two colleges in Pennsylvania that we thought would be a great opportunity.

After spending about $90,000 on 20 new machines, card readers, product and staffing, the colleges turned out to be a bad investment. We removed them five months later.

Had we stuck with them, it would have taken roughly five years to break even. My best advice is to not be afraid to admit you were wrong, and move quickly once it’s clear your investment could be used for better options.

5. Pay it forward.

This year, one of my top priorities is obtaining vending locations for each one of my employees. I want to help them start their own vending machine business.

I also want to help my mother’s vending machine. I recently gifted her one in her hometown of Rochester, New York. We’re excited to see where things go.

My goal in 2023 is to reach $1 million in sales. It may be a long shot, but I think you should always aim high.

Marcus Gram is the founder and owner of Joyner Vending.

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