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.

to Stockberger, some states will also require that food vendors take and pass a food preparation and handling course before being granted a license. “The course is designed to teach vendors the appropriate way to handle food so that they don’t pass on salmonella, E. coli and other bacteria to their customers,” he says.

Not all jurisdictions require a food handling course. Contact your local health department for details. Some enforce a mandatory two-week course that meets two to three nights per week. Classes are generally held at a local university and cost about $35-$60.

Choosing a good location–typically one with high foot or vehicular traffic–is one of the most important factors in getting your business off the ground.

There are a number of places where you can set up your cart or kiosk. In certain parts of the country, including New York City and Philadelphia, the street is the most popular venue for daily locations. But you can also situate your unit in a shopping mall, train or bus station, airport, hospital, sports arena or even outside a major department store. Many vendors also work special events, festivals and parades.

Guide to Start and Operate Your Own Mobile Cart Vending Business (MCC Publishing Co. see resource box) self-published by Clark, lists over 119 different types of vending cart businesses, individual start-up costs and average profit potentials. Clark’s company, Mobile Merchandising Association, also manufactures carts.

When choosing which type of vending cart business you would like to operate, also decide how you would like your cart designed. Vending carts are custom-built. You cannot purchase them in a hardware store or other retail outlet, so consider every specification, ranging from the size of your cart to the number of shelves to any cosmetic elements, such as mirrors, before soliciting the services of a cart manufacturer.

“Make a simple drawing or sketch showing how you want your unit to be laid out,” says Morris, whose company manufactures pushcarts, trailers, cars, trucks and kiosks. “I can send you 1,000 pictures, but it might be picture 1,001 that you want. But if you tell me ‘I want a cart that is 3 by 6 ft. long with a canopy and a steam table,’ I have something to go on,” he says.

If you’re going to set up in a mall, you may not need to have a unit designed. Some malls provide kiosks for vendors. And most malls and major shopping centers will require that you commission an architect to design your kiosk to the specifications laid out by management, or lease it directly from the mall. Custom designing a typical-size kiosk, say one 8 by 8 ft., could cost an average of $20,000 or more.

Vending carts and kiosks come in a variety of sizes. They start at 2 by 4 ft., and go up. “There are many combinations, including modular buildings, trailers that are up to 40 ft. long, and drive-up buildings with serving windows and walk-up windows,” says Morris.

Depending on the unit, design and manufacturing can

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