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.

take anywhere from one to six weeks. As for cost, prices range from $2,000-$60,000, depending on the size of the cart or kiosk and where you live. “There is no standardization in the vending cart industry,” says Clark. “Each region sets its own prices, so a hot dog cart in California may cost you $2,500, but in New York City the same cart might start at $4,500.”

Total start-up costs for a vending cart business depend on the type and size of cart you choose and your location, but can run from as low as a couple thousand dollars to as high as $50,000. This includes the cart, your license and/or permits, inventory and other operating expenses such as rent.

To locate your perfect mobile merchandising unit, search the Internet. Using such search engines as Yahoo (, America Online ( or Web Crawler (www., type in the words “vending carts” to access a laundry list of cart manufacturers. You can also check the Yellow Pages under “vending” or “carts” or the Thomas Food Industry Register, a directory that lists over 150,000 companies, including equipment manufacturers.

Don’t go it alone when building your unit. Food carts, in particular, must meet certain health and fire codes before they are licensed and approved for sale, so seek professional help.

As for mall vendors, the requirements for operation are much stricter. For starters, you must operate your cart during the mall’s normal business hours. This can include all weekends and all holidays except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Most major malls charge rent based on cost per sq. ft. The amount varies depending on region, but can start at $20 per sq. ft., with rents increasing during such peak months as November and December.

Malls require that vendors pay them a percentage of their sales, anywhere from 4%-8%, again depending on the mall and its location. And most require that you lease your cart or kiosk directly from them in order to ensure a consistent look among vendors. Most also must approve the layout of your cart and how your merchandise is displayed.

To gain entry, you must first fill out an application at the management office. But this does not grant you immediate access to the floor. As opposed to street vendors, who can set up virtually anywhere and at any time as long as it’s permitted, mall vendors are granted access on a first-come, first-served basis, so it may take several months to years after you file the initial application before you actually set up your cart.

“When you’re trying to get into a major mall, you don’t have a choice where to set up. You have to go where they put you,” says Moore.

But although there’s a level of control that you give up when deciding to set up in a mall, there are advantages as well, she says. “By being in a mall, you have a captive audience,” she says. “There are always people in the mall when it rains, when it snows and when it’s

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