My name is Lynn.
And while the business is officially known as Negron Enterprise (that’s right, no “s” at the end) dba Weenie Lynn’s, and my husband, Michael, is the sole proprietor of the business. He is the brawn behind Weenie Lynn’s, my cash man, my financial guy. Me, I’m the sales and marketing person, learning on the job each and every day; I’m a perpetual ‘schmoozer’ and LOVE LOVE LOVE to talk to people about anything and everything… but especially about the hot-dog cart business! (WeenieLynns.com, Facebook.com/WeenieLynns, Twitter @WeenieLynns)
Positive perseverance begets positive results!
I am born and raised in southwestern Connecticut, roughly 60 miles north of Manhattan, my husband lived in the city for many years, and we have always enjoyed and sought out a NY City dirty-water dog each time we are there! Growing up in Danbury, we had one amazing hot dog vendor in town, Big Ed’s. His dogs were delicious and topped with a NY-style onion sauce that no one could match and he ran a highly successful cart business for many, many years. He was an acquaintance of my mother, the uncle of her best friend, and a well-respected ‘dogger’ in town!
In October 2009 the publishing company I worked at for nearly 26 years closed. Unemployment had some benefits like spending more time with my husband and our five children… all of whom enjoy a good hot dog every now and then as well! But 18 months into it, I realized I needed to do something once again outside the home. My mother suggested that I would be great at running a hot dog cart and that since Ed was able to put his kids through college just by selling dogs, I should be able to, as well.
In my mind I thought “how fun!” but yet I was skeptical whether I had the skills and tools to make it work. I was doing Passion Parties and that point-of-sale business allowed me to hone my one-on-one interactive skills so why not give the hot dog business a try?! Michael agreed; and he became the research guy (and the set-up guy, the money man, and the bouncer!). We searched for carts on line, visiting three manufacturers here in CT; and we visited one great guy selling a barely used 10’ amazing trailer. I now had ‘dog’ fever, and I wanted that trailer; but it was a $22,000 investment and what if I didn’t like the business or it wasn’t successful. So we searched on line for other cart makers and found Ben. His price, with shipping, was far more realistic and less expensive than had we bought from within our own state!
Our community is small by city standards; 80,000 in city proper and about 125,00 when you include neighboring towns. And each town requires permits, etc.; we don’t have County permits or state permits. It can get costly to get permits for each neighboring town and our goal was to get out of the red during the first year. #1. So while it’s ok to have high expectations, I needed to accept those expectations would be met in steps.
Michael handled the licensing, permits, health department, fire marshal, insurance and I handled the food safety certification and shopping. It took some time and there were some “right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing” between the various City departments, but he persevered and got it done. He even set it up that he could work on his laptop from any location for his “real” job and made our cart a wi-fi hot spot for our customers! #2. Stay on course, stay focused and keep it simple! Don’t let paperwork mentally bog you down and keep your menu simple to start! Remember, you are your own boss; move at your own pace; nothing has to be done or accomplished all in one day or even in one month or year!
First day we set up on what is considered a prime (and once a dogger) location…in front of a car wash, a liquor store and a heavy equipment rental business. I was shaking and was nervous…but not exactly sure why! 20 minutes later what we deemed as our first customer pulls up! I check my hair, my lipstick (got to have a great smile!) and straighten my customized apron and greet him, “Hello, welcome to Weenie Lynn’s!” He’s wearing an I.D. badge and he’s with the Zoning Department, ugh! We have to shut down; the road we are on is no longer zoned for fast food, which is what a hot dog cart is! What the heck?! There is a McDonald’s on the road, a Duchess, and a Subway, too (who called Zoning on us!); but they are not fast food as they have sit-down eating and bathrooms available! And that’s when the first (and only) thought of ‘what have we done?’ hit us. #3. Believe in your goals and in yourself. My mantra: Anything is possible because I believe in me!
Back home we had to reconfigure our game plan; what next? Where do we set up for a good lunch crowd and make our fortune? And we began searching on line for activities, festivals, upcoming events in our city, we put the word out to all our friends and family that Weenie Lynn’s was in business and we hitched the cart to the car and headed to the baseball fields. Gorgeous day and we sold $500 worth of drink and food that day and generated interest in Weenie Lynn’s and began building our customer base. I was hooked on the business! #4. Positive perseverance begets positive results! Try not to be negative towards others or yourself, it’s tiring and nothing good comes of it. You grimace, they grimace, you smile, they smile… which would you rather be a part of?!
We tried nights at the men’s softball fields and got mixed results; and after a week opted out of week night selling. Still not having a secured day-time lunch location, we opted for Saturday and Sundays at the local men’s and co-ed softball fields. Bingo! We found a permanent home for those 2 days and at their request have done special tournaments and events they’ve hosted Many of the men that play there, I knew back in high school; or I knew their parents and that personal connection has proved invaluable.
I provide quality product with enthusiastic and personalized service. I took the time to get to know each of the guys and gals that visited my stand (although the guys were much more congenial and talkative) and established a “got your back” rapport with them; so that when another vendor tried to move in, they stood by me and bought only from me and thus the other vendor left with only one French fry sale. #5. Get to know your customer; make him/her feel important, not just to your business but to you. They’ll appreciate the personal attention and it makes the hot dog all the more tastier to them and they will support you through thick and thin! #6. And remember, the customer is always right… no matter what the argument is!
In addition to knowing our customer, we have supported charitable events, giving back 10% or more of our proceeds to the charity. We have also been the sole hot dog vendor at the summer’s outdoor concert venue and we made our first appearance at the city-wide Taste of Greater Danbury event where over 20,000 people attended; and we were asked back for next year by both event directors! We ‘schmoozed’, networked and even ‘ass kissed’ a few times, and we were successful in making Weenie Lynn’s a familiar site in town. And I talk to people in line at Costco, the paper goods distributor, the food distributor, the local supermarket, in line at the movies, everywhere! #7. Network, network, network! Every person you meet is a potential customer and/or contact to your next new venue in which you can bring your awesome product and personality to!
In addition to networking, #8. Advertise with creativity making your business unforgettable and sought after! The name Weenie Lynn’s has proven to be a real smile maker…and those that know me think it’s perfect for me and my personality! We have advertised the cheapest way possible, including bartering: word of mouth, handing out wee-peater cards (loyalty cards) to everyone we meet (already stamped with a first purchase regardless if they made one or not), postcard handouts, banners, sandwich boards, yard signs that promote the business, our availability for private events of all kinds, our specials (5 dogs/$10 with condiments and 1 topping each!), and through the local Chamber of Commerce and FREE on line local sites. We connected with a sign company, allowed them to advertise on our cart and he gives us a fabulous deal on artwork for the biz (my logo, the sandwich board, banners, etc.).
#8. Know your products! For example: are your dogs all beef? Do the dogs, sausage, etc. contain any chicken or pork, etc.? What’s the difference between a Bratwurst and Kielbasa? (or whatever you are serving) Are there beans in the chili? Is there gluten in the rolls or the chili, etc.? Could the rolls have been made by a bakery that uses peanuts and thus the rolls potentially containing peanut product? Or do you use latex gloves? Post it, as there are people with latex allergies and their food! The more knowledge you have of your product line, the more prepared you are for that one-in-a-hundred question!
“Get to know your customer; make him/her feel important”
#9. Keep your cart neat and clean! I am always wiping down the cart and organizing it while I’m out selling. I never want a customer to look at the cart and think “what a mess!” And the same can be said of us, the hot dogger. First impressions are critical to our business. A clean work environment and a clean personal image represent and present a caring, top-notch, quality product. I have had many customers compliment the appearance of my cart and state that it looks good enough to eat off of!
We’ve had a remarkable summer. Not only did we meet some amazing people and make dozens of new friends and business contacts, we met our goal of being in the black and banked some cash! We are now working on our goals and calendar for 2012! But there is so much more to learn and every day brings new ideas and plans. Without a doubt it’s hard work both physically and mentally, but being a hot dogger is by far the most enjoyable and satisfying job I have ever had. Thus, #10. Work hard, yet know when to relax; and when you no longer enjoy what you are doing, it is time to stop what you are doing!
I’m not a hot dog vendor expert but I welcome each and every day as an opportunity to learn something new from this site (you) and from my customers. Each time out with the cart, it gets easier: the routine of setting up, taking down and cleaning. And each time out, I am thankful for the possibilities the day or night has in store for me! Good luck, and keep posting so I can continue learning from you and improving my overall business, as well!
Note: Big Ed's is now closed, the picture above is an actual photo from his rig. His signage just pops! LOL He inspired others in the Danbury area and even was listed in a book; 500 Things To Eat Before You Die (FREE E-book)
Michael and Lynn just started back in April and wanted to help grow the knowledge. If you would like to share your story, please email me here: Ben@benscarts.com