Poor Area Doesn't Stop This Vendor
James has done an excellent job already, transforming a non-working cart into a fully functioning money maker, but sells could be better. Read below.
Thought I would tell you about my first week with my hot dog cart since you want to hear stories. I am operating out of Whitley City Kentucky.
I watched all of your videos. I had a line on a used cart that needed some work. Prior to purchasing it, I met with our local health inspector to obtain information on complying with health department regulations on sanitation, etc. I was advised that I needed some form of triple sanitation system.
The cart that I purchased for $450 was a classic New York Style push cart. It was in bad shape. I wound up having to change the wastewater tank to a fiberglass RV tank, change out all the beverage faucets on hot and cold water tanks, and even get some brazing done on the tanks. I started this process at the end of June. I eventually wound up removing the wheels and mounting it on a 3×5 trailer that I got at Lowes, which I have modified with the help of a welder to add 3 restaurant half pans on the right hand side for sanitation, and on the left hand side the tailgate of the trailer removes to become our serving table.
I had it inspected and approved by the health department on July 16th, and did my first setup on July 18th at our local school board office where I am employed. On July 20th, I setup at our state highway garage and fed the road workers. I needed these two practice vends to get familiar with the cart and the whole operation of serving. As late as last Saturday I was still sorting through some propane issues that stemmed from the valve that screws into the actual cylinder, but we got it fixed and I set up outside of a tavern last Saturday evening and did fairly well, although the girl I had working with me stole what amounted to my profits, and so I have learned that I need to handle the cash.
This past week I have done setups every day. On Tuesday I brought another girl on board with me to train to run the cart because as of Next Weds I need to return to my day job and I still want a visible presence – she will run it 3 days a week in the locations we have found to do well at. She is a good honest worker and all.
On our best day we grossed $140 – that’s doing 2 dogs, chips and soda for $5, and most of that was made between 11 and 1. That’s good in this place.
I really didn’t want to do street vending but I can’t help but feel it’s good for exposure. We have a great topping bar with a large selection of sauces, and I have taken to Facebook to give updates on where we are setting up. I am using the Nathans all beef longer than the bun dog which I get at a cost of 37 cents per unit as my base product. I boil it in beef stock and hold it in a steam tray. I am not allowed to serve chili, but I have a cold chili sauce we can add. I’d love to change out one of my half pans with a couple quarter pans with flip lids so I can do cheese sauce in one and serve it over nacho’s or dogs, I think that would be really cool. We also started carrying the large dill pickles this week, and the chip clips and dogsled I got from you have been helpful in making our operations more smoothly. I find it works better with two, but having her to add the condiments, frees me up to get the sodas, the chips, handle the cash, get the wieners from the pans, and monitor supplies.
My plan is to do birthday parties, car shows, and corporate and business vending. If I had it my way, I would give my dogs away and be paid a lump sum to do vending. I have not approached my first car dealership yet but am heading out with pictures and paper to do that today. I think on weekends we will hit flea markets, marinas, and night spots, or should I say I will be doing that solo. Operating the cart with help this week has allowed me to get over the nervousness of doing it, and also set down some good techniques in operation. We have t shirts with our logo and some sayings on them being made for each of us, and I plan on making this a permanent form of adverstising since I work in schools and am seen by a lot of parents everyday, what a great way to advertise birthday parties……
Just wanted to share this with you, and some pictures. I’ve had two offers to sell my cart already, and if things work out, I hope to buy a NEW cart next year and keep going. Wish me luck J
Hot Dogs –N- More
I wanted to give some friendly advice. I am impressed with what you have done and your ability to take a cart in rough shape and transform it into a little money maker.1: If you are doing long hours and grossing $140, consider doing shorter hours if you are getting the bulk of sells between 11 and 1, then be there only between 11 and 1.
I'm not saying that $140 is bad, I just always want to help vendors reach the maximum potential. Can you imagine how good it would feel to bring home $300 or $400 each day?Now, let me say this, but please don't think I'm beating you up. Remember I asked about whether the cart was in the trailer and you answered back; yes. I know you mentioned it in the letter as well and somehow I missed it when I first read the letter. But… In my opinion, the setup currently makes the business appear a little misfit. The trailer in the back was out of necessity, I understand, but from a customers perspective, (and they don't know the details of how you and why you did that) it may not look as appealing.
This is not the end of the world at all. And obviously you are growing the business, but I feel that if the cart was standing alone, shiny and all, looking like a hot dog cart, that your sales would increase considerably. There is hope; dressing up the trailer could really make a huge difference.
Add signs along the side rails, even if they are only 2′ x 6′ boards with the words “hotdogs” on them, they could be laid out once your on location to block the view of the base trailer.
I just really want you to bring in the most you can during the times your out there. I say it all out of love, I'm not being critical at all. I want to help.My best suggestion though, would be to find an axle and wheels and put the cart on the ground when operating. Even if it were caster type wheels.
James writes back…
Thak you for the constructive input. I will try to answer all of your questions as best I can, and thank you for so many good suggestions.
I am not doing long hours. I have simply discovered my window with the day crowd to be between 11 and 1. Even still, setting up at 9 AM is the norm because you have to get ready, warm water, etc. Like I said I am feeling my way into this and still learning everyday. Even still, considering we live in the 20th poorest county in America, the sales have been good and the comments have all been great, ranging from “this is really cool” to “we don't see hot dog carts out here in the country”. With a population base of 17,000 and a median income that is one of the poorest in the country, I consider it a decent launch. Around the first of the month we may be able to double our gross input and we will find that out this week.
I'd love to make 300 to 400 dollars a day, and I hope to do that on weekends in much better locations outside of our county. I have got to go wher the tourists are at.
I like your idea of sprying the sides of the trailer with aluminum paint. That would give it a neater appearance. Actually I had considered covering the sides of the trailer with a wooden board slightly higher with some skyscraper scenes to make it look like a city, and cut out the tops of the buildings and all so it would be more of a 3D piece, the objective being to make the cart appear to be in the city. But the aluminum paint idea would be just as good, and the wooden boards would be fine for signage as well. Actually have a company that I am working with that could make them as decals and just apply them to some plastic white laminate material that could be fastened to the sides. My umbrella is too small, I need a better suggestion on this too, and you may recognize this umbrella 🙂
One thing I am going to do is make some pictures of my various types of hot dogs to help inspire some creativity in people's hearts. You probably know the feeling of someone coming up, and you have all these fantastic toppings and sauces, and they say “just mustard please”. Of course we don't complain because we are coming away a winner with less toppings, but I am thinking by getting people to try different creations, it will make them more frequent visitors to the cart, and that's what we want.
At first I had left the wheels on the cart and had a caster on it, but there was no way that was going to be stable on that trailer, it simply wobbled far too much. In fact it is still not rigid enough for my liking…..I would not own a push cart unless it was on trailer tires, it's the only way to go.
I don't mind a bit if you post my letter and response, if it helps others, or brings on some creative ideas I am always willing to listen and learn. I can tell you that I am really enjoying running the cart, and it is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Right now, my little hot dog cart is the talk of the town, and I really have to keep the quality of my product high, our service fast and proper, and continue to build. As you know, it is a whole lot better and easier to protect a good reputation than it is to rebuild a bad one. I have really tried to get as much information as I can before going in, even watching a lot of videos on serving and so on, I don't think I can emphasize enough how important that is, and even just sitting down writing a business plan.
Well it's obvious James is already on the right track and I love the idea of the city scape along the sides of the trailer. I think would could attach a 3′ piece of plywood down the sides and then apply vinyl graphics of a city scape on the board. Great idea.
I often get asked about vending in small towns and if it's a viable business. Well look at James. I'm happy to know him and can't wait to watch him grow.
Anyone else? What would you do?