Hotdog Cart Vendor Uses Twitter, FaceBook, Groupon, and Living Social!
Social media and social networking are equalizers for small businesses engaged in mobile vending. In the photo above, Columbia-based New York’s Famous Hotdogs is featured on DealChicken’s daily deal billboard in Lamar, South Carolina. It’s quite a leap from curbside word-of-mouth marketing to larger-than-life billboard promotions. In the first part of the interview (Hotdog! Street Vending Saves Family Finances), the Whipper-Kloess team highlighted some of what got them here.
Applying Today’s Internet Technologies
In the true spirit of locally-based economic development, Quinton Whipper and his wife Gisela Kloess took the hand dealt them and turned it into a viable, vibrant small business — on wheels. Personally determined and entrepreneurially focused, Whipper and Kloess use every online innovation the way too many small business do not. I was delighted to hear them discuss how they’ve embraced internet technologies for their mobile vending business.
This article will focus on the social and community aspect of their journey. We’ll hear their answers to these questions:
- Why would a hotdog cart or food truck need a website?
- Beyond traditional uses of a website, what’s special about their’s?
- How do Gisela and Quinton apply internet technologies, like social media and social networking, to their mobile vending business?
- Which of the many services do they use?
- Aside from feeding the community, how do they connect their local business with the education system?
The first person to retweet gets a free basket from the menu!- @NYFH
Impact of Social Media and Mobile Marketing
As I performed research for this series of small business vending articles, what really caught my attention about this enterprise — and led me to track them down — was twofold: they had a website and they were using social media. I could immediately see the potential for bottom-line income but I was curious as to how New York’s Famous Hotdogs was applying internet technology to their mobile vending business.
It’s lunchtime . . .
You’re hungry but haven’t made up your mind where to grab a bite. You don’t have time for a leisurely sit-down today. Your smartphone buzzes, your Twitter stream is calling! Glancing at it, you see … an invitation to LUNCH! Those cool guys from around the corner who have that yummy mango topping have just tweeted today’s special, and off you go.
That fictitious scenario is not too far-fetched. If you’re following New York’s Famous Hotdogs on Twitter, you’re likely to get such a tweet from Quinton or Gisela. Remember, they’re out manning their mobile units during lunchtime (and maybe during dinner time, too) so they’re engaging customers using their smartphones. Isn’t this truly “mobile” marketing?
Back in December (2011), those tweets and FaceBook status updates included their Groupon special and a Living Social Deal of the Day. Talking with Quinton a couple of weeks later, I could still hear the excitement in his voice as he described the Groupon/Living Social experience. “Record-breaking” is not one of the terms you hear being applied to pushcarts or mobile vending. Quinton said he got a call from “Headquarters.” The reason? New York’s Famous Hotdogs was the first business ever to have both a Groupon Deal and Living Social offering running on the same day!
No doubt about it: social for small business is HOT! They got ahead of the curve by setting up a New York’s Famous Hotdogs FaceBook page, which is where some of their friends found out about their deals on Groupon, Living Social, and even DealChicken (another social site for daily deals).
Social media and mobile marketing are worth the time, effort, and money a small business spends to incorporate them into daily operations. Quinton says of their foray into daily deal-making:
You don’t make a lot of money; the biggest reward is it raises awareness, website hits increase, you gain media and business exposure.
We can see that NYFH has closed the geographical boundaries a bit more and broadened their reach by incorporating social networking and social media into their mix of business strategies. Let’s take a quick look at how they are using (or plan to use) their website to do more than just house photos and a menu.
Website Adds Credibility to Mobile Vending
Talking about having a website for your small business seems anticlimatic after the excitement of Twitter interactions, FaceBook engagements, and deal-making on sites like DealChicken. But if those social media and networking activities spice it up, a website is the main fare, the baseline.
Gisela and Quinto agree …
If you don’t have a website, people tend to not take you as serious. . . If you don’t have website, business card, FaceBook, Twitter when they Google. They find us on internet!
Mobile vending in many cities is not on par with land-based enterprises. As noted earlier, they face some unique challenges, specific to being on wheels. They’re talking about credibility and separating themselves from fly-by-night operations that roll in today and roll out tomorrow.
For up-to-the-minute info on where customers can find them when “it’s that time,” Twitter and FaceBook work well. But when a customer wants to place an order for the office, the website has a full menu to avoid the redundancy of reciting the combos, toppings, and soda pop flavors. Quinton said they have an ecommerce component to the website so they’re setup to take credit card orders.
A website can do more.
But that’s all standard fare for a food establishment website. The differentiator for Gisella’s and Quinton’s mobile units lies in how they raise the bar for other mobile vendors. A website can do more and they have plans to make their website more of a virtual assistant and information repository.
Like most small business owners, these guys are not web designers or developers so they might require some assistance to get everything setup as they envision. But Gisela is a learner and she will work to acquire the skills needed for what they have in mind.
Two groups in particular search for and visit their website: other business organizations and administrators in the local educational system.
Local Event Coordinators: New York’s Famous Hotdogs participates in numerous local events, often serving the catering needs of local business outings and vending at seasonal events like the Fair.
School Program Administrators: Aside from feeding the community, how do they connect their local business with the education system? Quinton and Gisela give back to the community through their self-funded bullycide and healthy eating program which they present to students in the area schools.
When a business or education customer wants advance information about events or programs, the website is their ready resource. (More information on the NO Bullying / Stay Fit Tour.) Additionally, they plan to use the website to provide contracts, testimonials, program results, and itineraries.
What’s on The Horizon?
Quinton and Gisela are deep wells of information about the vending business, particularly hotdog cart and food truck ownership. The paradigm of creating your own product for replicating success as well as creating additional income streams fits well with their business. I hope they will one day consider creating a physical product similar to the Hotdog Cash System below. Otherwise, some secrets are better left to the sauce!
Before You Go …
Please consider joining me in the Springtime Vending Giveaway: How to Start and Manage a Vending Business. This giveaway will provide an opportunity for 5-7 budding entrepreneurs to learn how to start, acquire, and manage a hotdog vending cart or other vending-related business. Participants will select the resource most useful to them from the choices below. More information about the Giveaway will be in the next article in the series.
One of the items available in the upcoming giveaway
Share Your Thoughts
Have you ever considered operating a mobile vending unit or owning vending machines as an economic development activity to earn income, prime the small business pump for your family, neighborhood or wider community?
Have you ever consider what goes on behind the scenes – business-wise — of a foodtruck or pushcart operation?
Share what’s on your mind in the comments below. Thanks for reading. (Part 1 of this interview is here.) And thanks to Gisela Kloess and Quinton Whipper for talking with me! Drop by the New York’s Famous Hotdogs FaceBook page to say hello. If you’re ever in the Columbia, South Carolina area, tweet a friendly :wave: to @NYFHD.
Credits: Photos courtesy of Gisela Kloess and Quinton Whipper, New York’s Famous Hotdogs, Columbia, SC. Used with permission. NYFH deal on Groupon Daily Deal site (December 22, 2011) courtesy of Groupon web site. All trademarks, service marks, trade names, trade dress, product names and logos appearing on the site are the property of their respective owners, including Sabrett™ and Nathan’s™ Famous Frankfurters, Groupon™, Living Social™ and DealChicken™.
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