Running a Vending Machine Business – Part 2

Categories: Life Skills

My Classroom Business Has Never Been Better!

If you missed it, I started a vending machine business within my classroom this year! I’m so proud of my students and how they have taken ownership of this project. Learn how we got started here. It’s been a great learning experience, and today I’m going to tackle the details of the project, what my students are learning, and how we keep track of everything.


My goals for starting a classroom business as follows:

  • Give the general education teachers more opportunities to interact with my students
  • Give my students real-world problems to solve
  • Give my students real-world skills such as stocking shelves and counting money
  • Solve a ‘problem’ within my school by finding a better way to offer drinks and snacks to staff

Let’s start with the first goal.

I’m a huge proponent of being the PR rep for your classroom. You create the narrative of your classroom, and if you do it right, it’s a powerful thing. Do it wrong, and your students suffer. I want my students to be known for what they CAN do, not behavior, not meltdowns, not deficits. Rather, when community members look at the students in my classroom I want them to see valuable members of the community. And that starts with the narrative within the schools. I regularly find time to talk to students in my school about how to be a good friend to someone with Autism, but I felt like I was missing an opportunity with fellow staff. This business allows for regular opportunities for staff to interact with the students in my classroom. Not only that, but I’ve created something for staff members to talk to my students about. So often, our fellow staff members just need a little nudge on what to talk to students about. In our break room, where the vending machine is located, I put up a poster of the child who is helping for the month. I include things like who’s general education classroom they are in, their favorite candy/drink, favorite show or toy and what they like to do at recess. I also send out one email a month with a photo, showing our ‘drink of the month’ that our students stocked in the vending machine. It’s just one more way to get our students in front of staff members.

Goal Two – Solve Real World Problems

Nothing is perfect, so I knew there would be hiccups with any business we started. A vending machine is no different. When something goes wrong, a customer gets the wrong change, a dollar is eaten by the machine or there is an item out of stock, I want my students to have the opportunity to learn how to fix it. They are learning customer service skills (we pull in our SLP here to help!) and are learning how to see a problem and find a solution. We put my extension on the machine and if something goes wrong, we ask people call right away. Myself or another staff member will go to fix it ASAP. This could mean returning money, helping restock items, or delivering an out-of-stock item to our customers.

Goal Three – Learn Real World Skills

Well, if customer service and problem solving isn’t enough skills, let me break down some of the skills my kids are working on:

  • Counting money (Some of my students are just now counting to 10 with 1:1 correspondence. This is a great way to build this skill with real world application – see this in action in the photo)
  • Delivering a deposit (our lovely school secretaries take our deposit and it’s one more way to build interaction!)
  • Filling out a deposit sheet
  • Counting inventory
  • Counting how many items were sold
  • Counting how many items we need to restock
  • Matching products to restock shelves (see photo of Coke restock!)

The Details of the Operation

Here’s how we handled the details outside of student participation:

  • To determine what product was sold, a survey was given to staff. We picked the top items.
  • It took roughly $400 to stock the vending machine with product (tip – watch expiration dates!) My school graciously offered to cover this and be reimbursed as product was sold. I was prepared to take this money out of my school fundraising spending money if necessary to get the business up and going. Donations were another thought.
  • I started a spreadsheet with inventory and deposit information and shared it with staff such as my principals and secretaries who handle the deposits.
  • Each student in my room is in charge of the vending machine for one month. I wanted students to have the opportunity to really learn the job well, and to do that we needed time. You could easily rotate jobs if you’d prefer

Overall, it’s been a fun project for myself and my students to do. Plus, who doesn’t need emergency chocolate on hand? My assistant principal was so thrilled she sent this awesome note to my students! I love finding creative ways to bring our school community closer, and I think this project does just that.

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
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