Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hot dog! The 21st century's apples and pencils

I've been seeing all sorts of stories about folks who've lost their jobs and are saying 'to hell with it', and pursuing the sorts of work they've wanted to do all along: carpenter, graphics designer, DJ.

Why not? If you've got severance and/or unemployment benefits and/or savings and/or can live on air or off of your spouse, why not take some time off to learn to juggle flaming batons, carve duck decoys, or bake dog cookies. Especially if you're in a career/industry that's imploded - finance, auto-making - it does seem to make some sense to spend a bit of time doing what you damned well please.

Sure, only about 0.0001% of the would-be whatevers will actually make any money pursuing the objection of their affection, but at least they'll have tried. And the recession will no doubt last long enough to allow everyone ample opportunity to train-up for a job-of-the-future in green technology and elder care, the only things that seem like anything near to a sure bet (especially the latter: too bad it's so ill-paid and depressing).

Not all of the 'why-not' jobs that folks are pursuing are as unlikely to pan out as, say, DJ-ing.  The WSJ, in fact, is a bit bullish on the hot dog cart business. (Note: access to this article may require a subscription.) Those who are newly unemployed, fearful of becoming unemployed, or just trying to grab their piece of the American Dream are snapping up hot dog carts:

Sales of carts, which start at about $2,000 new, have heated up in the past year. "Every model is...taking off," says Joel Goetz, owner of American Dream Hot Dog Carts Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla. Since January, he has sold about 25 carts a week, 15 more than usual.

From American Dream's site, we learn that:

Hot Dog Carts offer more opportunities than just about any other new business venture today...Hotdog Carts present one of the greatest opportunities to start your own business. It can easily grow as fast as you want and be as large or small as you need it to be. You can start your business with a brand new hot dog cart (with a big yellow "Sabrett Hot Dogs" umbrella), or with one of our quality inspected used hot dog carts (with a big red "Hebrew National" umbrella) (availability varies).

Well, I've always liked the Sabrett's Hot Dog carts, so that's where I'd head, although I have no idea what a Sabrett Hot Dog is. So maybe I'd be safer with a kosher, all-beef Hebrew National that wouldn't contain awful offal.

American Dream's not the only hot dog cart vendor that's seen an uptick in business.

For Nation's Leasing Services, "'business is really off the charts,'" and the company's revenues (most of which come from those little hot dog carts) have grown threefold over last year. Willy Dog, Ltd.'s sales have increased by 30% over the past two-years. So life is good, if you're a hot dog cart maker.

Not all the hot dog vendors are setting up (rolling up?) shop in big cities or tourist areas.

The Guajardo family from Bandera, Texas (pop. 957) was interviewed for the WSJ article. My first reaction was, 'just how many hot dogs can you sell each week in a town of 957?' Well, the answer, apparently, is plenty, if you've got a few honky-tonks where you can go vending on a Saturday night. The  Guajardos are taking home over $1,000 each weekend.

So far, both Guajardos still have their day jobs. For them, the cart is both their backup plan and the financing source for the college education of their four kids, all of whom help out with the cart.

One caution for prospective hot dog carters: with so many folks getting into the business, competition is heating up, and there are only so many desirable locations out there. No fun setting up shop in the abandoned warehouse district.

Still, it's not a bad little business - if you don't dwell that much on the provenance of the product you're selling.

Nobody seems to be selling pencils or apples, those Depression-era down-and-out staples. This is understandable. While the upfront costs of setting up a hot dog cart business are clearly higher than putting out a card table with a can of pencils or a bushel of apples on it, the returns are greater. After all, a hot dog with mustard-relish-onions, plus chips and a soda, is a bigger ticket item than a lone apple, let alone a lone pencil. (Other than Sudoku players and sketch artists, who uses a pencil anymore?) And stopping at a hot dog stand is a cheap, recession-y way to eat out. Not to mention that, anything purchased and consumed in the great out doors seems so much more healthful, natural, and organic than fast food grabbed and gulped in an overlit chain outlet.

The WSJ cited a statistic from the American Meat Institute's National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. During the summer months, American's ingest seven billion hot dogs. If I've got my 000's and US population estimate down right, that's about 2 dozen hot dogs per person.

While I like hot dogs as much as the next guy, I'm not doing my share here. I probably have anywhere from 3-6 hot dogs each year, depending on home many baseball games I get to. (I don't know about apple pie and Chevrolet, but baseball and hot dogs really do go together in the good old USA.) I may also get one from the permanent, not rolling, hot dog stand down by the Hatch Shell.

Personally, I'd generally rather have a disgusting, fatty, oily sausage with pepper and onions, but I only allow myself one of those suckers every other year. (Fortunately, I think that this is an on-year.) Mostly when I'm eating something shaped like a cylinder and sitting on a bun, it's a hot dog.

And now that I've read about what a good little business it is, I may be more inclined to stop at one of the vendors that I pass at the entrance to the Boston Common, or over on Washington Street. (No, wait, the guy I'm thinking of on Washington Street sells sausage and peppers. My mouth is watering. I must away....)

1 comment:

katrog said...

I am always amazed by those per capita consumption numbers, things like 200 pounds of sugar, 42 gallons of ice cream, 700 bags of chips. Since I have a good idea what my friends and family eat, I guess there must be folks out there subsisting on a diet of pure sugar and Crisco, with a packet of hot dogs for dessert. :)