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 Is mobile hot dog vending really viable?

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Whistle Pig

  • Total Posts: 2
  • Joined: 8/25/2012
  • Location: Nashville, TN
Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Sat, 08/25/12 10:32 AM (permalink)
Hey all,
I'm transitioning careers and part of me has always wanted to get into mobile food vending.  That being said, I've got bills to pay, kids to feed and very little money for startup (and I am NOT going into debt to start up).  Recently I've been reading a few websites and even a book or two talk about how the humble hot dog cart can be a great start-up business.  
But we live in a cynical age and in an age of the infomercial (which probably made us cynical to being with).  It sounds like it could work but I want to know it works.  So I'm asking the pros... can you honestly make a living running a hot dog cart?  
I'm not talking about a six figure salary.  I'm not talking about working a half hour a week.  I'm not afraid of growing pains.  I'm not afraid of hard work (though I am afraid of wasting time and not making money).  If someone is willing to put in the time, the work, to study up, be creative, etc... could they pretty safely make between $20,000 - $50,000 a year (in Tennessee)?
Thanks all!  

    • Total Posts: 439
    • Joined: 10/1/2011
    • Location: Seattle, WA
    Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Sat, 08/25/12 2:54 PM (permalink)
    Well I'm about to open for business in about 2 weeks here and I'm making the jump.  I was scared too but wanted something different.  I've been working nights and weekends for almost 20 yrs and have found a lunch spot location.  (although many work the weekends at fairs, etc)  I know the person that had the location before me averaged 75-100 dogs a dogs will average $4 a piece so doing the math, yeah it should work out well.  All of my kids are grown so it's just me...a little bit of a different situation than what you're in.
    A lot of it depends on how much income you need to make it worthwhile....what do you NEED to pay your bills, feed your kids, etc?  I started by doing my homework...I studied the crap out of everything...built my own cart, found out how much every single fee was going to be (HD fee, city permit, etc) checked out the competition and what they were charging, how much my dogs and other things were going to cost me, etc.  I don't know Tennessee at all but I would think that 20k-50k would be a safe bet.....I'm sure others will chime in here.... 

      • Total Posts: 436
      • Joined: 6/16/2012
      • Location: Las Vegas, NV
      Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Sat, 08/25/12 3:40 PM (permalink)
      Make Money?
      I thought this was a hobby.
        Whistle Pig

        • Total Posts: 2
        • Joined: 8/25/2012
        • Location: Nashville, TN
        Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Sat, 08/25/12 4:23 PM (permalink)
        Make Money?  I thought this was a hobby.

        Yeah, I realize my question is a bit of a DUH question.  Obviously there are plenty of people on this board, whom I am asking, who make a good living slinging dogs.  There's also people who make a good living flipping houses and running brick and mortar restaurants... but in my mind those are pretty risky enterprises and require large upfront investments.  
        I know in every venture there is some element of risk.  I'm good with a little risk, especially if you can help even the odds with a little sweat equity.  I'm wondering how risky is it to expect to make a living doing it?

          • Total Posts: 436
          • Joined: 6/16/2012
          • Location: Las Vegas, NV
          Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Sat, 08/25/12 5:12 PM (permalink)
          It's like any other business. you need good locations and good products. most get into it because they want to work for themselfs. no more bosses and work when you want to. you can also add catering to your business. do partys and events until you get a great location. and it's a good business because even in the worse of times, people still have to eat. so we are there. it is still not a get rich quick business. it is hard work. but you will be your own boss and 100% free. business getting slow? hitch up your cart and find another spot.
          <message edited by BpCBlake on Sat, 08/25/12 5:16 PM>

            • Total Posts: 738
            • Joined: 3/5/2011
            • Location: Fieldale, VA
            Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Sat, 08/25/12 6:22 PM (permalink)
            Depending on what kind of deal you can get on a cart, you should be able to be in business for about $3000. Even a weak location should net you $100 a day. Five days a week is $26000 a year. A good location should double that. If it's not for you, you should be able to sell the cart for close to what you paid for it.
            It's one of those things where the variable is YOU.

              • Total Posts: 9526
              • Joined: 9/1/2006
              • Location: Gilbert, AZ
              Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Sat, 08/25/12 7:56 PM (permalink)
              I know Nashville pretty well. Lived in Brentwood. My Daughter lives in Franklin & works in N'ville. Some of the Metro areas are not "Cart Friendly".
              Here are the steps I suggest:
              1. Research locations and pick several of them. Count cars and pedestrians. Check for all food competitors. # of offices, homes & apartments nearby. Accessability - You need a concentration of people with easy access to the location. Find some that might work.
              2. Go to the Government agencies and Health Depts that govern those locations and learn EVERYTHING from them that would apply to those locations. See if it's even permissable to operate a cart in those locations. If not permitted or too restrictive, repeat steps 1 & 2.
              3. Keep doing that until you find a location that will work before you spend a dime on anything else.
              Here's some advice I gave another Roadfood'er with similar circumstances:
              "As a Small Business Consultant, I can tell you the #1 issue in small business failures is the lack of proper preparation and adequate start-up and working capital.
              Regardless of the type of business, whether is selling shoes or BBQ skewers, most entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking they're in the business of selling their products.
              They're in the business of managing their financial resources.
              Positive Cash flow is King!
              As good as your products may be and as good as your sales and marketing plan may be, unless you have the financial resources to start, maintain and build your business, you will die a slow and painful death known as Negative Cash Flow.
              My point is---while you're scheming and dreaming about your business, you need to be building a financial savings base because in today's world, there are very few outside resources to finance a business. As the saying goes, "Figure out how much you need---then double it!"
              There are different levels of risk. Based on your family profile, you should be looking at yourself as a low risk investor. So focus your time and efforts on "crunching the numbers", get outside help from a experienced business accountant if you can afford it, or save up enough money to afford one.
              Do adequate Due Diligence into every aspect of the business and when you think you have it figured out, do it again.
              The less capital you have, the higher the risk. You need to determine what your level of personal risk is. What are you willing to loose if it doesn't work?This may not be what you want to hear but it's the real world.
              Remember---Happiness is a Positive Cash Flow.
              How do I know all of this?
              In my case, it took a personal and business bankruptcy to figure this out.
              I bought a 25 year old established business with good products and I had a good sales & marketing plan. I did not do good Due Diligence and had numerous "Surprises" after buying the business that drained my capital.  What I didn't have was adequate capital to pay for my mistakes, maintain and build the business. I died the slow, painful Negative Cash Flow Death!" 
              <message edited by Foodbme on Sat, 08/25/12 7:58 PM>

                • Total Posts: 3
                • Joined: 9/14/2012
                • Location: San Diego, CA
                Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 2:58 PM (permalink)
                Hi All, I'm new to the forum though  and this thread caught my attention..
                Just a little insight about mobile vending, I think because of the nature of the business it would be a good opportunity to take advantage of a remote working area as such, you can place it anywhere (depends on the permit of course).
                Every thing stated are very helpful for me as well most especially the positive cash flow...
                For me marketing research would be the best way to know what and where to place your venture.Its been stated already all needed to research and the due diligence of the company to purchase your materials.
                Right marketing to create more awareness of your existence would also help  your effort.With a plan B actions and exit strategy..
                Thank you for all great advice.

                  • Total Posts: 330
                  • Joined: 8/17/2012
                  • Location: Fruita, CO
                  Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 7:28 PM (permalink)
                  My son and I are newbies. I searched for three months and bought a cart and picked out what I thought was one of the busiest spots in town. I decided on the busiest Discount Tires store in town. People there all day, everyday. I also counted 200 cars that passed in 6 to 6 1/2 minutes on this very busy street we were on. I counted the cars passing again later with the same results. That adds up to 1800 to 2000 cars passing every hour. In 4 hours that's approximately 8000 cars. Do you believe with a big sidewalk sign that read $5 - 2 Dogs - Chips - Soda that we sold $12 in 4 days. Remember the Discount Tire store with 15 to 20 people there every minute all day long also. Two customers of DT and one employee bought something from us. I can't believe 32,000 cars passing us in 4 days and not one stopping even out of curiosity to buy one dog. It seems impossible, but this is true.
                  We were ready to give up. Then a friend of mine who has 19 carts between here where I live in Western Colorado, and the Denver area, asked us to give him a hand because he was over loaded. He has several "Home Depot" locations in Denver and has the one store here where I live.
                  Where we helped him out at a local club on a Thursday night we did $40. Then Saturday night we did $187. Sometimes looks are deceiving even when looking for prospective sites. I thought sure I found a home 40 feet or so from the Discount Tires store's main entrance fully visible from the whole store, even from the tire mounting area.
                  I sincerely recommend not expecting too much when starting a hot dog vending business, even if on the "White House" lawn. You could come away very disappointed. Just be ready for anything, and expect that you may have to move and try quite a few different locations at the beginning. If you start on a shoestring and have to make $100  from the very first day every day to survive, you may wind up worse off then when you started.
                  This is truly how it looks to me. Don't let some video of the guys making $2000 a weekend on some New York or Chicago street mislead you. You'll never do that in "Small Town USA" or even in some "Larger Town USA" either. New York and Chicago are different animals, very different animals. They may have 5 to 10 times as many people in those cities then your whole State has.
                  So far, in my opinion, any street location in my town will never compare to a Nightclub. I'm not crazy about the Nightclub gig other than the money. The language annoys and bores me to death.  I'm sorry if this sounds negative to some, but in my case it is the truth so far for now.  I think desperate folks getting ready to spend their last $4000 need to know this. They are the ones that I'm thinking of by making these comments. All of us here also know that it is not just all fun. I'm sure it is for those making a good living at this, but it is time consuming and hard work too.
                  The Denver area on Craigslist seems to have 15 to 30 vending type vehicles listed most of the time. Quite a few of them are like new, and have been on Craigslist for several months now. The one I bought had only been used once. If you have the money and the time and do not mind putting in the time, go for it!!! If you're desperate, need immediately results, and do not have someone who can help you through the beginning, think about it.
                  An example of how weird the business is: I can't understand how someone can eat a Hotdog without Chili, Mustard and onions. Here in Western Colorado I can't give a Chili Dog or a Chili Cheese dog away. Really!!! The ones I sold at the nightclub just wanted the dog on a bun of course and proceeded to load it with mustard and ketchup. I think they learned to eat them this way at the Go-Fer and  other convenience stores that sell the $1 hot dogs. 
                  <message edited by brickboo on Tue, 10/16/12 5:06 PM>

                    • Total Posts: 738
                    • Joined: 3/5/2011
                    • Location: Fieldale, VA
                    Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 7:56 PM (permalink)
                    So, I guess the point is only do the Bar Crowd?
                    Happy to hear you found something.
                    My town has no bar's. Plus it's freakin' cold at night.

                      • Total Posts: 330
                      • Joined: 8/17/2012
                      • Location: Fruita, CO
                      Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 8:16 PM (permalink)
                      WOW!! I thought someone would comment about 32,000 cars passing in 4 days and not one stopping to buy a Hot Dog. Get a commissary first and see if there are other successful Hot Dog vendors in your town before you get ready to spend your last $ on a hot dog cart.
                      If they are selling Tacos and Burritos on their carts, make sure you can do these things on the cart you are looking at. If there are not any vendors selling hot dogs successfully you probably can't sell hot dogs either.
                      If  my post just helps one person make a wise decision, I'll consider it successful. Again if you have the money and the time, jump in. 
                      <message edited by brickboo on Tue, 10/16/12 5:15 PM>

                        • Total Posts: 436
                        • Joined: 6/16/2012
                        • Location: Las Vegas, NV
                        Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 8:55 PM (permalink)
                        yep, it's not all beer and skittles.
                        the dog bites and it has sharp teeth.

                          • Total Posts: 330
                          • Joined: 8/17/2012
                          • Location: Fruita, CO
                          Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 9:14 PM (permalink)
                          I appreciate your honest comment. 

                            • Total Posts: 8
                            • Joined: 9/15/2012
                            • Location: Charlotte, NC
                            Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 9:29 PM (permalink)
                            As my father used to say..lighten's just life..with that attitude toward a friendly response, I can imagine why you didn't do so happy and outgoing and people will enjoy being around you..
                            personally, even though you had a lot of educational things to comment toward, your response to an obviosly light hearted addition to the thread was really harsh..

                              • Total Posts: 330
                              • Joined: 8/17/2012
                              • Location: Fruita, CO
                              Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 9:40 PM (permalink)
                              Read my post again. Did you not read 32,000 cars passed not one stopped. No red light. 35 MPH two pull off drive-ins onto the parking lot. What does this have to do with my personally. Where are you coming from? 

                                • Total Posts: 400
                                • Joined: 9/21/2011
                                • Location: Winston Salem, NC
                                Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 10:11 PM (permalink)
                                Even in "small town USA" you can make decent on a hot dog cart. Keep in mind that "decent" IMO is around $200 a day average in sales.
                                90% of hot dog cart purchases are spontaneous in nature. You will slowly build a following (if you have a good product and fair pricing) that help sustain the higher end of your average.
                                It also depends on what you carry and offer on yoru cart that can help raise revenue. I do a huge business in lemonade sales (fresh squeezed) that help my numbers.
                                So yes, you can make decent money on a cart without working the bar scene. I work the bar scene along with regular day time spots and the money can be about the same. I have done as little as $50 in a day to just over $400 at a "regular" spot. I just did a little league tournament this past Saturday and did just over $1200 in 6 hours. It would have been a 3k day but it got rained out at about 2:00.
                                Keep in mind that a lot can determine your success. If you are not neat, clean, great products, friendly with customers, fair (but profitable) pricing, right product offerings, etc you may not succeed. It isn’t just buying a cart and going for it, their is quite a bit of attention to detail that helps build success.
                                 I know people that do $100 to $150 a day and are happy as a lark but if that is all I was making I just assumed work for "the man" and let them have all the headache of running a business.
                                Good Luck!!!

                                  • Total Posts: 436
                                  • Joined: 6/16/2012
                                  • Location: Las Vegas, NV
                                  Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Wed, 10/3/12 10:37 PM (permalink)
                                  stand 2 young girls on the sidewalk in hot dog costumes.
                                    THE WILD DOG

                                    • Total Posts: 1465
                                    • Joined: 1/12/2010
                                    • Location: Hunt Valley, MD
                                    Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Thu, 10/4/12 12:05 AM (permalink)
                                    ahhh so many newbies in this thread. So the input & insight from someone who has been doing this for almost 3 years. My first year I did around 30ish, my second I posted 45k + 55k in write offs as my second year funded my food truck build. Going into my third year in June. The winters can be brutal, and the summers will be HOT. You will find out soon enough if you can withstand either one for long periods of time. Patience is key, routine must be solid and you must be 100% consistent. If not, then you will NOT make it in this business

                                      • Total Posts: 330
                                      • Joined: 8/17/2012
                                      • Location: Fruita, CO
                                      Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Thu, 10/4/12 12:19 AM (permalink)
                                      Great comment. Patience! Along with time, endurance and enough money to sustain you to the point where you can make it is very good advice. Quitting the man because you want to work for yourself may not be enough. And spending your life savings of $3000 out of desperation because of all the hype about the hot dog vending business wouldn't be wise either.

                                        • Total Posts: 350
                                        • Joined: 11/14/2009
                                        • Location: MI
                                        Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Thu, 10/4/12 12:33 AM (permalink)
                                        Great post Brick that everyone considering this should read with an open mind. I find it amazing at times that so many cars can drive by without stopping. Believe it or not some people don't consider hot dogs lunch. And it is probably worse in areas saturated with other (sit down) places selling dogs. So be prepared to stick with it and find creative methods/locations, cheesesteaks, tacos, lemonade (not sure sales will stay strong in the winter without an octane booster). Some get lucky with a location right away, others have to continue the search. I'm in the later group but I figured from the start this could take a couple years. If it wasn't for my income cleaning windows a couple days a week I would be hurting.    

                                          • Total Posts: 7742
                                          • Joined: 7/24/2008
                                          • Location: Bayonne, NJ
                                          Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Thu, 10/4/12 12:34 AM (permalink)
                                          Fortune Cookie says...

                                          Never buy dreams from those that have something to sell.

                                            • Total Posts: 330
                                            • Joined: 8/17/2012
                                            • Location: Fruita, CO
                                            Re:Is mobile hot dog vending really viable? Thu, 10/4/12 11:02 AM (permalink)
                                            Honesty is the best policy. I appreciate that. Your example of subsidizing your income with window cleaning is a welcomed statement. And I admire that. The killer claims are the ones that come from the one's who hit it big right  at the get go and tell everyone how everything falls into place. For 90% of the folks who try the hot dog vending business this will never happen. Have a back up plan. 
                                            That proverb along with many others should be taught to school children at least once a week, and to college folks twice a week. There would be a lot less grief in the world. I wish I had the money I spent trying Vinyl repair, seal coating and painting parking lot stripes, buying shoes wholesale to sell out of a friend's shoe repair shop, and I wound up selling them in the parking lot for 1/2 of what they cost me 6 months later,  not to mention purchasing postage stamp vending machine to place in pharmacies etc. Some of the pharmacies wound up purchasing their own postage vending machines and made me take mine out.
                                            Just take it easy and have a back up plan. The commissary and the Health Dept cost my son and I almost $500 to get started. Then you need city state license so that they can get their cut of the taxes.
                                            If you can meet these obligations, plan ahead for the winter etc and go for it.
                                            In New Orleans I struggled with trying to lay brick for a living with a wife and three children and was competing against two people with a house full of children getting everything they could from welfare for rent and groceries because they wouldn't get married. The bricklaying money some of my competitors made was just for keeping up with the liquor purchases. Try making a living this way. Yes this is also true and very prevalent in many parts of the country, and no one has a clue of what to do about it. 
                                            Then have you ever heard of illegal aliens. Boy can they kill your business working cheap and sending the money back to the old country. What a nightmare.
                                            <message edited by brickboo on Tue, 10/16/12 5:31 PM>
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