So, you want to peddle hot dogs? A hot dog vending business can be a very profitable venture if you have the right plan, equipment and a steady flow of customers.
Write a strong business plan. Your business plan should include a report on how you will market your business, capital needs, list of equipment, location and financials. Financial information should include a start-up and operational budget and list of your assets. Writing a business plan can be done yourself if you are familiar and comfortable with the process. If not, hire an accountant or marketing company. Or, representatives at SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) are also extremely helpful in helping new companies write business plans (see Resources).
Form an official business. Contact your Secretary of State's office and obtain the proper forms to incorporate your business. To start, form an LLC (Limited Liability Company). This will make your business an official entity and allow you to purchase inventory and equipment in the name of your company (see Resources). If you plan to operate under a name different from your own, you will likely be required to file an Assumed Name Certificate with your county clerk's office. An Assumed Name Certificate can cost as much as a couple of hundred dollars, depending on your county.
Choose a business model. A hot dog vending business can operate in a variety of places. You may buy a mobile cart, complete with a stove, cooler, umbrella and sign that you move from place to place. Or, you may rent space at a permanent location with high traffic such as a ball park, golf course, public park or shopping mall. Depending on your market, you may do both. Research your area for hot dog vendors. This will give you an idea of what may be your best location and business model. It will also help you avoid trying to compete where there isn't room. Contact your local Chamber of Commerce or Economic Development Council. These organizations will help you do market research and give you suggestions.
Find equipment. Look for used or basic equipment to start. There are many wholesalers and discounters of hot dog vending equipment out there. Contact local restaurant supply companies in your area or search online for sources (see Resources). If you plan to set up shop at a ball park or shopping mall, you may build equipment into the cost of your lease if it's not already there. Consult with an experienced real estate agent to help you.
Depending on your needs, you will likely need a capital investment to get started. This may include buying cooking equipment, a vehicle, cash register, inventory and money to rent a space--whatever your business plan indicates. Start by asking your friends, relatives and associates if they would be willing to invest in your venture. Chances are, your contacts will be impressed with your plan and invest as the hot dog vending business can be fun for families and friends to enjoy together. You may also apply for grants and low-interest loans from the local, state and federal governments (see Resources). If you must, apply for a business loan from a local bank.
Make a menu. You will be most successful if you sell more than plain hot dogs served on plain buns. Offer a variety. Chili dogs, Chicago-style dogs, turkey dogs, bratwursts, sausages----the list can be endless. Research similar restaurants and vendors to determine which types of dogs are popular in your area. To complete your menu, offer simple side items such as soda, chips and popcorn. This will allow you to make add-on sales and give your customers more to choose from.
Get permits and licenses. Depending on your plan and your city and state requirements, you will likely need a retail food license or other permits. Contact your local health department. You may need to complete a basic class pertaining to health codes and food preparation before to obtain a license. Doing so is inexpensive (about $75 depending on your city) and simple. You will also need to register your business with your local tax office.
Promote your hot dog business. Because hot dogs appeal to a broad spectrum of people, promoting a business selling them is quite simple. Pass out fliers, run classified ads, place leaflets on cars near your location, send out press releases and dress up like a giant hot dog and run through town----anything to attract the attention of passers-by and future customers. Be creative.
Start with the basics at first. Expanding too quickly could eat up capital. Buy only choice meat from reputable wholesalers. Offer at least one health-conscious menu item. This will increase sales and strengthen your reputation.
Find a safe place to store mobile equipment. If you don't have space at your home, rent a storage unit or ask a friend or relative to donate space.
Always carry enough insurance in case of fire, sickness or other accidents (see Resources). Never operate without the proper permit or business license.