Rolling Your Way To Profits

Using vending carts to sell everything from hot dogs to handbags has become big business. Here's how to turn your modular merchandising venture into a moneymaking machine.

moneymaking machine.

First, you have to understand what makes the wheels really turn. Then, with the right marketing plan, an attractive cart, a super location and a great big smile, the profits will start rolling your way.

For years, street vendors have been looked upon as second-class business-people who peddle goods for a quick buck. But the vending industry, which includes pushcarts, kiosks and vending machines, has become a well-respected form of enterprise that currently generates over $27 billion in sales annually. According to a study published by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs in Springfield, street vending sales in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., alone are estimated to total $1.7 billion per year.

“There’s a lot of money to be made in this business and it’s not just in the major metropolitans,” says Bruce Stockberger, president of Stockberger Marketing in North Palm Beach, Florida, a firm specializing in mobile merchandising system marketing and sales development. “I know guys who have made $75,000$85,000 a week selling at the Ohio and Texas State Fairs. They just take 40-ft. trailers, cut the sides out and sell hot dogs, sausages, beverages and pizza.” While those numbers certainly look tasty, it’s more realistic to expect to average $200-$800 in gross sales per day.

Minimal start-up costs (less than $5,000 in some regions), a quick return on investment (most pay off in a matter of months, if not weeks) and flexibility also make vending an attractive start-up venture. And if one spot is unsuccessful, you can always pick up and move to another with little inconvenience.

Before you purchase that brand-new cart, first check the rules and regulations governing mobile units in the area where you want to do business. Most cities and states permit vending carts, but the law may impose limitations on the size and type of cart you may own and who is allowed to vend. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, for example, only war veterans are allowed to operate vending carts. Some jurisdictions ban vending carts altogether. If public vending is not allowed, private vending opportunities usually exist on university campuses or by gas stations. You may also find that only a certain number of licenses are awarded in your area at any given time and are issued on a first-come, first-served basis or through a lottery system.

No matter where you are, you’ll need to secure a business operator’s license from your local licensing department. If you live in a state that enforces sales tax, you’ll need a seller’s permit, and if you sell perishable items (food), you’ll have to obtain a health or food permit from your county, city or state health department.

The cost of a business license and other permits varies according to your location, but can range from $10 to $250. “It just depends on your township,” says Stockberger. “Some townships say that if you’re a war veteran, you pay nothing. Others may charge a yearly fee of $100.”


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