10-Year-Old Vending Operator Starts With Two Machines And A Dream

Posted On: 3/2/2018

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Ten-year-old Mikey Wren may be the youngest vending operator around, but he has big visions for his business. And with four machines in two locations and a fifth one in the works, he's off to a running start. The Missouri fifth-grade entrepreneur and his mother, Arriel Biggs, credit his vending industry mentors for their guidance setting him on the right path to success and their continued support.
GOOD KARMA: (l. to r.)  Karma Box founder A.J. MacQuarrie surprised Mikey with a free machine after seeing a news clip about his vending startup on a St. Louis TV station and contacting his mother and father, Arriel and James Biggs. MacQuarrie is working with the fifth grader to place the machine. He also helped the young entrepreneur brand his “Mikey’s Munchies” machines (below) and is guiding him on scaling his operation.

In summer 2015, at the tender age of eight, Wren asked his mother if he could buy a snack from the vending machine at his camp. She explained to him that the vending machine was someone's business and that they were making the money that he put into it.  That sparked Mikey's entrepreneurial spirit and he asked his mother if he could buy his own vending machine.

"I wanted to make the money and eat all the snacks," Wren recalled.

"I immediately said 'no,' but Mikey was persistent," Biggs recalled. "So my husband, James, and I told Mikey that if he researched and made a business plan, he could get a vending machine for Christmas and we'd pay for half of it."

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree; Biggs runs a nonprofit called Young Biz Kidz, which encourages youth entrepreneurship. Wren is one of 30 kids currently involved in the organization who own his or her own business.

Wren ran a lemonade stand and raised $1,200 toward the purchase of not only one, but two vending machines that he determined he needed to secure his first location.

"We helped him do research and he typed up a business plan," Biggs said.  "We didn't think he'd be consistent and follow through. He always has a new idea. But he lived up to his end of the deal, and by Christmas, we bought him the machines."

Wren, with the help of his parents, purchased two remanufactured venders -- a cold beverage and a snack machine -- along with a service contract from American Vending Machines, based nearby in St. Louis, MO. By April 2016, the young operator was in business. He placed his equipment at an office location that he secured by talking with a decision maker at networking event he attended with his mother.  

He soon landed his second account, at an apartment complex, where he also operates a snack and a cold drink machine. That lead came from a fellow member of the church Wren and his family attend who worked at an apartment complex and told the budding operator that the location was seeking a new vending service provider. He pitched management and landed the account.
ON LOCATION: Mikey currently operates four vending machines, at the Helix Center office space and a nearby apartment complex in the greater St. Louis area and is laying the groundwork to expand his business.

Wren procures his drinks and snacks from his local Sam's Club and generally services his machines every two weeks.

"I pack my totes on Sunday and go to my locations after school on Tuesday or Wednesday," Wren said.  "My parents drive me. Sometimes we have to make a trip an extra day before two weeks."

Word of mouth from his existing customers and local publicity have sent some leads for new business his way. Wren said he taking care to expand systematically by only targeting locations centralized near his home.

He said getting his machines up and running and maintaining them has been a smooth process, thanks to AVM founder and owner Andy Hayes, who coached him on how to load and merchandise them. Hayes is continuing to mentor the young operator to help him scale his business.

EXPERT GUIDANCE: American Vending Machines’ Andy Hayes (right) sold Mikey his first two remanufactured machines and has taken the budding entrepreneur under his wing by sharing his 30-plus years of industry knowledge and advice.

"When I met Mikey, I couldn't help but root for him and help him," Hayes recalled. "I know things based on my 30- plus years in the vending business like needing a certificate of insurance, a federal ID number and stickers for his machines, and so many other things most people starting out don't know.  But it's not all me – he asks all the right questions grown-ups don't think to ask. He's very intuitive and he's giving it everything he's got."

Another industry professional who has taken Wren under his wing is A.J. MacQuarrie, chief executive of healthy vending biz-op Karma Box, based in San Diego. He saw Wren's story on a St. Louis television station last summer and was so inspired by it that he flew to St. Louis to be the keynote speaker a Young Biz Kidz awards lunch held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which celebrated the young entrepreneurs who spent the past year learning about business.

He surprised Wren by presenting him with a free KarmaBox snack machine and a promise to help him find a location for it. The duo are in discussions with a local police station that they are hopeful will sign on for the machine.

"The beauty of vending is that it's a very simple model, and Mikey is demonstrating that a 10-year-old with the right drive, commitment and personality can do it," MacQuarrie said. "My message to the young kids I spoke to at the Young Biz Kidz event was to be resourceful, not to give up and to know that starting a business can be a roller coaster ride. Mikey is demonstrating at such a young age how entrepreneurship can be a way to financial freedom."

MacQuarrie, who started up KarmaBox in 2010, says his company and its franchisees have 600-plus machines in operation across the U.S. He has found branding to be a key component to success and helped Wren take his business to the next level by branding his "Mikey's Munchies" machines. He's also guiding him on the next steps involved in growing his route.

AVM's Hayes and KarmaBox's MacQuarrie are also helping the young entrepreneur add a new revenue stream by making his business model available to other families who want to invest in replicating it for themselves.  

"People have been coming to us who want to be in business with their own Mikey's Vending machines and now they can, through partnership with us and A.J. and Andy," Biggs said.

Wren now can sell refurbished Mikey's Munchies-branded machines to other start-up entrepreneurs, which AVM will ship directly to them. The young operator also provides them with a "startup" kit and training and support, with the help of his mentors.

To further educate young, budding entrepreneurs interested in following his business model, Mikey worked with Hayes to produce a video that shows the remanufacturing process and the "like-new" equipment that is the end-result.

"A refurbished machine is half the price of a new one. I want to help Mikey and other aspiring vendors do it right and affordably; you don't see enough of that," Hayes said. "I love the whole concept and as much as I can, I want to help him not trip and fall like I did and like many people do."

Wren wrote a book, which features Hayes as his mentor, about how he got into the vending business and is aimed at helping elementary school kids learn about business basics. Titled Mikey Learns About Business, it's been available on Amazon since May, and is a best seller, with more than 1,000 copies sold to date. The young vendor also makes his rounds on the speaking circuit to inspire and educate young people to become entrepreneurs.

READ ALL ABOUT IT!: Mikey wrote a book about starting up his vending business to inspire elementary school children to take a chance at entrepreneurship. Titled Mikey Learns About Business, it’s a best-seller on Amazon where the young author has already sold more than 1,000 copies.

"To be a great vendor, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication," Wren said. "You have to be willing to put in the effort to succeed. It's important to communicate with people and really listen to their needs."