Notice I didn't say … “And Flies”, I said “like” flies.
Recently I was in Florida visiting family and stopped to get gas on a small but busy county road. Just up the street in view were some signs for Boiled Peanuts. I love em, but my Yankee wife thinks they are mush and nasty and so our children are almost equally divided. After filling up with gas, I drove slowly towards the vendor which was out of view from the gas station. I pulled over on the shoulder of the road once I could see the vendor and edged my way towards his set up.
Would you eat here? Beautiful set up!
There he sat in his wife beater shirt with what looked like tobacco spit stains down the front, scruffy beard and dollar store lawn furniture around him. Next to him was a homemade pull trailer with a what looked like a turkey boiler pot mounted to the back. Their road side sign appeared to be a borrowed real estate sign with some cardboard duct taped over with the word P – nuts and below that his slogan: The Best. His “better” half sat next to him petting the family dog which was leashed to a pine tree just behind them. Born and raised in the country his appearance didn't deter my desire for some cajun boiled green peanuts.
Upon exiting the vehicle, my wife locks the doors quickly, as if we were in a some shady neighborhood getting directions back to safety. I walked up to the couple and as I approached he wiped the “whatever” from his hands with great effort on his cut off blue jean shorts. I shook his hand and he offered me either plain or spicy peanuts. His trailer was littered with used paper towels and even the ziplock bags he used to deliver his delicacy to customers where scattered from the summer breeze around the cart and on the ground.
I said, “lets have the spicy”. He said you want the small or large. Not seeing any other size bags, I said, “oh, whatever is fine”. He stepped over the trailer edge causing it to fall from the concrete blocks the tongue had been precariously laid upon. Spicy and regular water from the two boilers sloshed from the pots and ran down the trailer. He exclaims, “oh shit. Damn I'm sorry, baby, baby get ‘oer here and help me” Struggling to get up – the misses gets out of her chair which was now laid back – I assume for a siesta. She gets her flip flops on, the wrong feet and makes her way to the tongue in order to lift it back on to its original foundation. Her toenails hung over the edge of the flip flops and the black as smut dirt lined the creases between her toes. We all lifted the tongue back on to it's perch and the transaction was continued.
Disaster averted I took my zip lock bag of hot boiled peanuts back to the car and then getting my wife's attention to unlock the door for me. No, I didn't eat them. After seeing the mess in which they presented themselves, the less than kept set up, I could only imagine what these peanuts had endured before being boiled and my desire had vanished. I told the kids we would stop down the road and try again.
Now I know I'm not normal and most folks wouldn't have gotten out of the car once seeing the conditions and the filth these vendors worked in and that is my point for sharing the story. As a vendor, your set up, your cleanliness of not only yourself but your immediate surroundings are of utmost importance. More than price, more than food taste; if your appearance is that of a vagabond I can assure you that you are missing customers. They simply won't stop.
The peanut vendors sign was not a deterrent, their makeshift cart didn't deter me, but the overall look certainly did. Had they been clean and up-kept, had their surroundings been free of empty soda cans, paper towels, zip lock bags and trash, I would have been a player certainly of more than just one bag.
I grew up poor. Not mentally poor, financially poor. But no one that saw me or my siblings out would have ever guessed. My mom could transform about any goodwill bargain bin item into a work of art. Our clothes were ironed, our hair clean and combed and we were “neat and tidy” as my mom says.
So even if you don't have the money for fancy signs or the shiniest cart your appearance can and should be clean and tidy. Your appearance personally should be clean. I smoke, but I don't sit back in a lawn chair at my cart toking my way thru the day. I walk off and grab a few puffs and come back. Smoking doesn't give that warm, clean appearance and so I prefer to not smoke at my cart.
The first, the very first thing a potential customer notices is the appearance, appearance of you and your immediate surroundings. Trash blowing around at your feet, scattered cigarette butts, and a disorganized cart will be a turn off. Many vendors use tupperware type plastic bins for their items they bring to the site but I have seen vendors with stuff strewn all over the cart like a tornado had just passed but had unfortunately missed a direct hit.
Dress neatly in clean clothes, a decent shirt. Wife beaters or sleeveless shirts look tacky when you reach for something and your armpit hair is blowing around like wheat in a Dakota field it is sure to disgust. There's a vendor who wears (every day) a pair of nice pants, a white collard shirt and a bow tie. This isn't some old foggie. This is a younger man with a facebook following of over 5000. He knows that first impressions are everything and he makes a great one.
Sandals and flip flops are nice but unless you like hot scalding grease laden water dripped between your toes, I advise shoes. I know, you are your own boss and I certainly don't intend this to “tell you what to do”. My motive is two fold; one so that you dramatically increase your stream of customers and the other is so that the overall perception of vendors is better. We can all help the industry as a whole and help our own business by following a few simple steps:
- Wear clean clothes
- Keep beards and mustaches trimmed and neat. (you too ladies)
- Make sure your hair looks good. A hat or cap is a great idea.
- Wear clothes that are casual such as blue jeans, shorts, nice clean t-shirts (no offensive statements) that reminds me, I was at a small event once over in North Carolina and the vendor next to me had a shirt on that said, and I quote: Tell your boobies to stop staring at me. Needless to say, I was much busier than he.
- Wear an apron of some kind. You will get splashed and it looks much better on an apron than down your shirt. I keep an extra clean one with me just in case.
- Wipe your cart down regularly, keep it free from spills and greasy trails from dripping hot dog water. This includes your lids and tongs.
- Clean the area around your set up. Trash even if it isn't yours looks bad. I once mowed the grass on the road side where I was set up just so that I looked official.
- Keep the top of your cart uncluttered and “tidy” as my mom says.
- Once you can afford it, get professional signage printed. This gives folks the impression that you are here to stay and didn't borrow your kids magic markers and make a sign last night.
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