They’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat

Like many other franchisees, Zach Dirks runs his business from home. But for him, “home” isn’t a house, an apartment or a condo–it’s a boat.

In fact, working on the water has become key to the profitability of his HUMAN Healthy Vending venture.

Dirks and his business partner, Trevor Hawley, were attracted to the HUMAN franchise opportunity because of its low overhead. “With vending machines, we don’t pay rent; we pay a commission,” Hawley explains. “So there’s a lot of risk that’s mitigated.”

There was just one catch. Both men agreed the Bay Area was the ideal place to start a healthful-food vending business but neither of them lived there at the time. Relocating to one of the most expensive areas in the country meant that rent would be an issue–not for their machines, but for them.

“We knew we really had to live below our means at first, at least until we got an idea of what our income was like,” Hawley says. That meant living and working out of a one-bedroom apartment when they started in October 2012. But sharing the small space not only with each other but with piles of product quickly proved untenable. Upgrading to a house gave them some much-needed space–and significant extra costs.

Dirks, who had taken up sailing as a hobby, stumbled upon an unlikely solution. Seizing on the cheap rental rates in a marina, he and Hawley bought a 36-foot sailboat dubbed Q (short for Quintessence). The boat became an office space and home for Dirks, who now runs the business full time, while Hawley visits monthly from Las Vegas.

Dirks’ typical workday consists of taking the train from Oakland to Fremont, where the company truck and products are kept in a storage unit. From there, he is able to restock the machines, located in five high schools in the Fremont school district, for which they are the exclusive vending providers–a deal negotiated by HUMAN Healthy Vending.

But restocking and maintaining machines is only half of running a successful vending business. The other half involves office work–bookkeeping, banking, ordering product–and that’s where Q comes in. The boat offers an escape from work as well. Dirks tries to take it out to open water at least once a week.

“One thing we did learn,” Hawley points out, “is that when you have a workstation in your boat, you need to secure your papers and your laptop before you go sailing.”

For the most part, it’s been pretty smooth sailing for the pair. They racked up $214,000 in nickels, dimes, quarters and dollar bills during the 2013 school year and are already in talks to expand into a neighboring school district.

They were even nominated for the International Franchise Association’s 2013 Franchisee of the Year award.

“We’ve really been successful by thinking outside the box and having an open mind,” Hawley says. “Now we’re starting to reap the fruits of our labor. And honestly, it’s probably just going to help us get a bigger boat.” Adds Dirks, “There’s always going to be a bigger boat.”

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