Deals on Wheels

Decisions, Decisions

Options for starting a cart or kiosk business include opening a permanent location in a mall and leasing a cart; buying a cart to use for outdoor events or on street corners; or renting a cart short-term.

"The least expensive option is to rent [a cart] for a short time and see how it goes," advises Stockberger, who says you'll spend at least $600 per week for rent.

Whether you lease or buy a cart depends on your product and location. In malls, you generally lease a cart from mall management. The cost of leasing depends on the season and mall traffic volume but is usually at least $800 per month for space and a cart, and can get very high in a good location. Some malls charge a percentage of your sales in addition to monthly rent. Rizza pays more than $2,000 per month for rent on each of his five carts.

You can buy a new cart for $3,000 to $5,000, says Denise Clark, who started a hot dog cart business in 1988 in Los Angeles for $2,500 and made more than $3,000 her first two days in business at the Rose Bowl. Today, Clark has six carts grossing a total of $200,000 to $300,000 per year.

"Kiosks start higher than carts, usually $9,000 or $10,000," says Clark, author of From Dogs . . . To Riches: A Step-by-Step Guide to Start & Operate Your Own Mobile Cart Vending Business (MCC Publishing Co., $39.95, 310-323-5557).

Additional start-up costs depend on your merchandise. Items such as jewelry and crystal require a greater investment than, say, hot dogs, as Suzette Lindsey, 35, discovered two years ago, when she started a second cart business in the Kennesaw, Georgia, Town Center Mall.

Lindsey and her mother, Betty Lou, 57, had been selling crafts at a cart for 10 years. "Our start-up costs were low--probably between $15,000 and $20,000--because we made all our merchandise," Lindsey says.

Then the two decided to switch to pre-made items. Their new company, Top Dogs & Cool Critters, carries pet-related figurines, key chains, T-shirts and mugs. "[It cost] $75,000 to get a good inventory," Lindsey says. Since start-up two years ago, sales have increased 25 percent annually.

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This article was originally published in the August 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Deals on Wheels.

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