When I head to the Food Network offices for a meeting, I always pass by the cutest vending machines that dispense a handful of treats for a quarter (or two). Little did I know that the creator of these perfectly-portioned snacks, Matthew Wagner, lives down the street from me—and that I was friends with his charming wife! Over dinner one night I got the inside scoop on how Wagner Vending came to be. This inspirational story is one I had to share.
Q: The idea of Wagner Vending is to provide small portions of snack foods (like chocolate-covered almonds) without going overboard. How did you come up with the idea to create the company?
I’ve always been into fitness and staying in shape. Ever since I saw my older cousin lifting weights, I became hooked. When I was 12 years old, I decided I wanted to strive for a strong, powerful physique, but I’ve also always had a real sweet tooth. By the age of 26, I lived in New York City and was working as a broker for a large commercial real estate company. The compensation was pure commission and the job was high stress. I was full of energy and drive but I wasn’t happy with the direction of my career. My office had one of those large vending machines which I visited daily after lunch. One day, I bought a bag of M&Ms and as I sat there enjoying my snack I began to contemplate how I could get out of this stressful job — what else I could do? Before I knew it, I devoured the bag of M&Ms and calculated an additional ½ hour of cardio to burn those extra calories. I wished I only ate half the bag or a healthier snack instead. But it’s impossible just to eat ½ the bag once you start. I needed portion control!
And that’s the moment when the idea of my business came to me. My vision was the old-time gum ball machines that were in front of the supermarket—for a coin you’d receive a handful of candy. I wanted to purchase attractive machines and fill them with delicious gourmet and healthy upscale snacks (like dark chocolate almonds and trail mix) and place them in office pantries so people could enjoy a portioned-controlled, healthy treat. So I took a risk, scraped some money together and purchased 6 machines.
The first machines were placed in some of the offices where I’d made real estate deals. I’d swing by the offices daily hoping the machines would empty. In the meantime, I was still working at the real estate firm and would carry in a large suitcase with all of the candy to fill my new venture. I would tell co-workers who inquired that I was carrying workout clothes and my own weights. After two weeks of doing this, I returned to the machines to find them empty. Boy was I thrilled! Finally the day arrived when I said goodbye to commercial real estate and focused on my own vending company, Wagner Vending.
When the company began in 1996, I canvased the entire Empire State Building from the top floor to the bottom to secure accounts. Now in 2013, I have 1,500 machines in offices within New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.