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Getting Rich Via Vending

By John Accola
Rocky Mountain News, 7/13/2002

This article is reprinted without permission from the Rocky Mountain News under the fair use doctrine. 2002 Original url: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/business/article/0,1299,DRMN_4_1263330,00.html

A California company peddling vending machines as a money-making opportunity was not what Joe Williams expected Friday when he followed up on an invitation to "make more money than you've ever dreamed of."

"You can have it all . . . be my guest," said the letter that brought Williams to the Embassy Suites Hotel, where Natural Choice-USA is holding the first of three Denver seminars through Sunday.

Williams figured it was all about real estate - until he spotted three "refreshment centers" prominently displayed in the hotel meeting room for 60 other guests.

The minimum investment to get started: about $19,000 for three snack and drink coin machines - custom designed for 5,000 Natural Choice distributors, and sold by the company's parent, Antares Corp.

At Friday's three-hour session, Antares representatives said only 15 distributors within a 200-mile radius of Denver would be selected by the end of the week to join the company's vending machine network.

The Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau promptly issued a consumer alert.

"This is a textbook case of precisely the kind of get-rich quick opportunity we warn against," said BBB spokeswoman Susan Liehe.

Based on customer complaints filed against the Culver City, Calif., company and the industry in general, Liehe said it's "extremely rare that anyone becomes wealthy in this kind of venture . . . and that it is highly possible that you will lose your money altogether."

Julie Taylor, an Antares representative, said the company also cautions would-be distributors of vending pitfalls. "We want to paint a realistic picture," she said.

In 1996, the Federal Trade Commission accused Antares of misrepresenting potential profits, alleging the company used "shills as references." Antares paid a $1 million settlement, without denying or admitting wrongdoing.

Several people who attended the Denver seminar said they thought it was worthwhile, including Williams, who works as a suite attendant at the Pepsi Center.

Williams, 38, was especially impressed with Antares' suggestion that the annual "gross profit" for a distributor is $1,700 per machine, or more than 50 percent of a machine's total sales.

But Antares' $6,000-plus price per machine sounded a bit steep, he said.

"Twenty-thousand for three machines? Come on, now," he said. "I think I've seen these kind of machines at Sam's Club for $2,000."


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