Deals on Wheels

Set Your Sites

In cart sales, location is everything. First decision: Do you want a permanent location or should you move from event to event?

With a permanent mall location, you don't have to worry about purchasing a cart, moving or battling bad weather (unless it's an outdoor mall). You can build a clientele and predict how business will go and how much product you need.

On the downside, rent may rise. If mall sales slump, you'll suffer. And if your product isn't exclusive, a neighboring store could start offering the same merchandise.

There are many upsides to owning a mobile cart, says Clark, who does most of her business at special events. "You don't have overhead like rent and utilities," she says, "and if sales are poor, you just move."

Research your location thoroughly. "Visit the area at different times over a two-week period to analyze traffic flow and get an idea of potential clientele," says Gonzalez. "Do you see a lot of children and teenagers or middle-aged people and seniors? Each age group has different requirements."

Don Roeder's Carte du Jour Catering has a regular location in front of a law school in downtown Columbus, Ohio, but is especially successful in front of downtown bars on weekends. "I sell a lot of hot dogs and sausages to men coming out of bars," says Roeder, 32, who has doubled sales since starting his cart business in 1997 for $20,000.

Once you've chosen a location, contact the appropriate authorities about setting up shop. For a mall, that's mall management in charge of carts and kiosks. For a public place, contact the city or county to see if a cart is allowed and what permits are required. In a professional office building, contact building management.

"Don't give up," says Morris. "If someone says you can't put a cart in a certain spot, check with someone else. You may find it's possible after all."

You'll need a business license, and if you haul your cart like a trailer, you must get a license from the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you serve food, you'll need a permit from the Department of Health, which requires a specific amount of training in food preparation and handling. Malls often already have the carts permitted and insured.

Once you've opened your cart or kiosk, attract customers with eye-catching displays. You and your employees should be well-dressed and enthusiastic and make eye contact with passersby.

Most important, keep the faith. "Think positive," says Rizza. "Even if business is slow, look at the big picture and know that, in the long run, you're going to make it."

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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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