This morning, I finally got rid of the last vending machine I had–shutting down my business for better or for worse. It’s one of those time that you know is coming, but didn’t quite see it happening so quickly. Kinda like college graduation or buying a Prius (pronounced PRY-us).
I’ve had Clarus Vending active for four years now, and in that time I learned a few lessons about running your own business and about self-motivation that have been indispensable.
Cranking it up
About two months into my Freshman year, I took a look at my budget and saw a large amount of cash that I wasn’t really going to be needing. The possibilities of what that money could buy were endless! I felt like Scrooge McDuck–on top of the world.
But here’s the thing: as a kid I grew up with my dad encouraging me to start my own business. I read Rich Dad Poor Dad and played Tycoon games and knew what I had to do.
What I did
is the first ever vending machine I bought. I got two of them for $80 (a real steal for them. But they were pretty crappy machines, to be honest). They were Silent Salesforce machines. I partnered with the National Children’s Cancer Society and soon had my first placement in Village Draft House in Raleigh, NC.
One thing led to another and soon I had more machines–these brand new–in circulation. I’ve had many ups and downs, and in that time I’ve learned so much that you just can’t learn in a classroom.
- Getting your foot in the door is difficult: Here’s the hard part about bulk candy vending: finding a location. I used a location service to find them for me and even then had a time harder than the ancient Egyptians moving the stones needed to build the pyramids.
- The unexpected will happen at the most inconvenient of times: for me, namely, was the summer. Literally the only time of the year I wasn’t in the Raleigh area. Two summers ago one of my machines jammed when I was in Greensboro for an internship and without a car. Luckily my dad was able to swing by and take me over to fix it. Last summer someone broke into a machine (and by broke into I mean failed to break into)–and I had to pull it out for a few weeks until I could get a replacement in. Again, this time a friend of mine was able to stop by and pull it out.
- Even for dinky little vending machines, you cannot CANNOT go it alone: When I first started, my Freshman year roommate looked at me like I was out of my mind. But eventually he came to accept the two (then one) vending machines in our dorm room. My friends and family help take poor, car-less me to the locations. They helped by acting on my behalf when I wasn’t present. Had it not been for them, the business would have failed. That support is indispensable; from now on, I’ll make sure to build that support structure first.
- Giving back matters: In the world of Bulk vending, no one will give you a space unless you partner with a charity. A cynic might see that as a cost of doing business. And, if you think of it in base definitional terms, yeah. But there’s more to it. Giving back helps make a difference in someone else’s life. It becomes a driver in and of itself, inspiring me to strive higher.
- Rejection never gets fun: but it does get constructive. Even with that placement service–for every ten potential locations I got, I would get one yes–MAYBE. But had I stopped at that first no, I never would have gotten those silver, delicious, quarter dollars. Kinda helps to put things into perspective.
- Building a strong visual identity can go a long way: I designed my company’s logo myself–something which is usually a bad idea. But I built it with regards to solid design principles. More importantly, I didn’t stop at a logo. Along with the logo came business cards, letterhead, a website, and a Facebook account. In at least one memorable case, a business owner told me he chose my business because my logo and entire look made me look professional. He never expected it to be run by a college student.
- You have to power through the inconvenient times: It didn’t matter that I was tired or just didn’t feel like servicing my machines or that I had just had a bad round of exams. The machines needed servicing. My work showed up around the city and I could not let people see an empty, dirty, or tired-looking machine. I had to go and service them to keep that image up.
- Bookkeeping, forecasting, and other assorted business activities: I was my own business; which meant that I was in charge of any aspect of that business–everything from counting and accounting for the money, ordering candy and paying the NCCS membership to providing customer support. Me. So, naturally, I gained a small glimpse into various worlds of business roles in a real-world environment.
Now I’m done. The machines are sold, the little remaining candy has been given away, and I’m left with some old logos, some resale value, and a whole lot of memories. I’ve still got one more year at University–one semester in North Carolina and another in Lille, France.
Running Clarus Vending has been a whirlwind of numbers, candy, and quarters (SO MANY QUARTERS). And I’m not slowing down.