Lots of people come to this site looking for information about how to start a hot dog business or information about finding a used hot dog cart or used hot dog truck. Not many ask themselves if they have what it takes to be successful. Don’t do that!
Do you have what it takes to be a hot dog man?
You see, a lot of people view the hot dog business with a somewhat romantic lens. They envision working 3-4 hours a day and making a high five/low six figure income. While you can make that kind of money,what it takes is a lot more than 3-4 hours a day. Believe it or not, running a hot dog business actually requires work!
I have always been entrepreneurial. I had a paper route (remember those?) at age 10 and by age 12, I was wholesaling nursery stock that I grew in my back yard to local garden centers and landscapers. I had a landscape construction business with my college room-mate during my years at UMASS. I owned a Duct Cleaning Company in the early 1990’s, was a commissioned salesman for quite some time, and I owned The Hot Dog Truck. Maybe I was born this way, maybe not. The thing is, it has always seemed natural to me to start a business. One thing I always wanted to do, even back when I was delivering papers, was have my own hot dog truck.
Like most people, I had a romantic image of being a hot dog man. They think they have what it takes. Selling hot dogs is only half the job though.
You need to know going in what it takes
In any business, there are questions you need to consider before starting out. The first is an honest projection of how profitable the business can be. In the hot dog business, like most retail based businesses, the three most important things are location, Location, LOCATION. You need to spend some serious time sleuthing out the best location for your business. Without a good spot (or spots), you will fail miserably. Even once you have a location, if it isn’t working out, you need the courage to pack up and find somewhere else to sell your wares. Can you find and secure a good spot? Can you honestly say you’d pack up your cart or truck and find a new spot if it didn’t work out? You must have what it takes to do this.
Do you like people? In this business, it’s a requirement. You must be a people person. Do you have what it takes to constantly deal with people in a friendly way? Nobody wants to buy anything from a grump with no personality.
Can you manage all the other things you need to do associated with running a business? You have to be able to be a bookkeeper, salesperson, marketer, manager (if you hire help), delivery driver, property manager, janitor, and cook. You need to make sure you take care of all the peripheral tasks associated with running a business. If you just want to cook hot dogs, go get a job at a Nathan’s franchise.
Can you make your business a 24/7/365 priority? Your work doesn’t start when you fire up the grill and end when you shut it off. You will spend a considerable amount of time cleaning, stocking, and maintaining your business. I spent many an early morning (almost daily) at my local wholesale club getting chips, soda, buns, ice etc. I spent many a day scrubbing and cleaning my truck. I spent many a night doing the books, scouting events, making home-made toppings and more. You’ll have to work weekends (at least Saturdays) during the busy season too. If you aren’t prepared to do what it takes to constantly work at your business, keep your day job.
Are you prepared for days of poor sales due to bad weather or taking winters off if you live in a northern climate? I once opened in a snowstorm and sold only six hot dogs all day-four to the guys plowing my lot and two to a kindly regular who stopped to see if I was OK. When I closed for the winter, I had to do other things for income. Not making any money sucks. Do you have what it takes to handle it mentally or, more importantly, financially?
Are you mechanically inclined or do you have a good friend or family member who is? Whatever you sell your hot dog from, a cart, trailer, truck or store, stuff will break. Whether you need to change a tire, fix a switch or install new lines for your propane tanks, somebody needs to fix what’s broken. If you rely on a hot dog truck or other vehicle to transport your business, you will need engine repairs and maintenance too. When things break, they need to be fixed. Sometimes, fixing something quickly can be the difference between being open or closed for the day. If you can’t fix things yourself, you need to have a person in place who can fix what breaks quickly and (hopefully) inexpensively.
Can you cook? I know, you’re thinking “how hard is it to cook hot dogs?” Guess what, like anything else, it’s a skill and an art. I am sure most of you have eaten a poorly prepared hot dog at one point or another in your life. You must have a consistent product. You must know how your brand of hot dog “behaves” under different cooking techniques. One dog may be better suited to boiling, another to steaming, another to grilling. Pick the best hot dog for the technique you plan to use. If you are offering other items, make sure you can cook them efficiently and safely. If you are grilling buns, make sure you don’t burn the bread. If you are making home-made toppings or chili, make sure you prepare them in a consistent, “always tastes the same” manner. You’ll need to have what it takes to be cooking for 3-10 hours a day in your hot dog business; make sure you enjoy it and do it well.
Is your family on board? You need the support and encouragement of your family, particularly if you are married. My spouse wholeheartedly supported my venture into the hot dog business. If she hadn’t, I would have thought long and hard about making the leap. Since your business is a 24/7 concern, it will affect your family life. If your business choice is going to create a gap in your familial harmony, reconsider what is important to you. I talk to a lot of hot dog vendors. Many are husband and wife teams, many are not. Those that are not generally have the support of their family. If they don’t, divorce won’t be far behind – I know, I’ve seen it happen. Your family needs to have what it takes, too.
I am not trying to be a downer here. I owned a hot dog truck for six years and it was the best “job” I ever had. I made good money, made friends, and just had a great time running my business. Sure I had tough times and setbacks-everyone does – but it was worth it. I was committed to what it takes to make my business work and I built a loyal following. But the hot dog business is NOT for everyone. Not everyone what it takes to be a doctor either. You have to have a passion that goes beyond the “wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot dog stand” mentality.
So, honestly assess your desire for getting into the hot dog business. What strengths and weaknesses do you personally bring to the table? Be HONEST with yourself. Think about the questions I have asked here and invent your own. If you really think you have what it takes and you want forge ahead to be the “top dog” in your community. GO FOR IT!
Check out the Top Ten Success Tips for the hot dog business.