Let me give you painful truths about "Hot Dogs Saved My Life" by Ben "insert some narcissistic middle name" Wilson. (as he tends to sign his automated spam emails) As well as some thoughts on his hyper sales-y website pretending to be a information resource.
The book was written 9 years ago near the beginning of a street food resurgence by a failed furniture store owner. (This is by his own admission) He was an active vendor for less than three years before writing his book (and getting out of vending) as an attempt to position himself as an "expert" to sell carts, books, courses and private group memberships. This means good ole Ben has zero practical experience in food service beyond his very limited exposure in rural Tennessee. Take note of that location. Rural and city vending are massively different. The guest expectations are, again, massively different. In rural Tennessee, when he started selling hot dogs, he had ZERO street vendor competition. So, he has no experience with competitive intrusion in the food business. However, he does have significantly more experience as the face of a cart manufacturer than as a guy selling hot dogs on the street.
The book is a phoenix story (or underdog if you prefer), filled with self-depreciating country humor and copies the chapter organization of the 1971 classic "See You at the Top" by Zig Ziglar (Ben's second chapter is titled "The Final Chapter" and the book continues for another 20 chapters, Zig's second chapter is titled "The End" and then continues for another 29 chapters) Even with dated references like the Cold War, USSR and the Wall of Berlin, Ziglar's book is a better inspirational read with useful life lessons, as are his other 30 books.
Ben hasn't even updated his book, let alone written a new one, even though the business is significantly more competitive than 2011. For example, the FDA food codes have been updated two times (2013 & 2017) with over half the states (27 of 50) updating their codes to match. Unfortunately, Ben couldn't be troubled to update his "course book" effectively rendering his information as useful as researching an encyclopedia from 1950 expecting to find information on the moon landing. (which was in 1969 if you don't know)
Ben makes light of health department rules because he lacks the experience, education and expertise to understand them. He even suggests ignoring rules with this gem in chapter 19 - "I am not allowed to serve cream cheese so, every now and then, and PURELY ACCIDENTAL, a small chunk of cream cheese will fall into my batch of finished onions and ..." in other words he has zero regard for health department codes and believes himself to be above them. Think about the guest ordering grilled onions without the warning of those onions including cream cheese. Hmmm. Dairy allergy? Lactose intolerance? My question is this: “concerning his cart manufacturing business: what rules does he decide to ignore because they are inconvenient? How would ignoring those rules impact the end user?”
His base cart, called the "Cash Cow", does not even include a sink! If you want to be sanitary that will cost you an additional $500! (If you price the components, he uses for sinks that is $125 to $150 in retail cost parts and the rest is labor.) Hand washing is basic sanitation, but Ben “I’m an expert” Wilson does not believe it is a necessity otherwise his cheapest cart would include them. Don’t tell me “some states don’t require them” while this is true would you purchase food from someone that could not wash their hands? The current coronavirus panic has put hand washing to the front of everyone’s mind. Real food service professionals have been handwashing forever.
Food service at the street level is all about quality, speed and efficiency. Yet a visit to his website is anything but efficient. Popups hawking “free” reports or videos in exchange for an email (which leads to dozens of spam emails from Ben “Let me interrupt your day with useless, very wordy emails” Wilson.) hit the visitor on every link clicked. The pages run ad on ad for courses, reports, videos, forms and other things to sell. Try to find answers to any real question a vendor may have. It can’t be done quickly. A popup stalls your search. His site tries to pass itself off as an expert resource of helpful vending information, when in reality the site is an annoying sales funnel and nothing more.
Don't get me started on his paid group. I can assure you there are NO SECRETS to running a successful food business that you can't find for free on the internet. The "discounts" he offers to bribe someone into joining are not real discounts. Just comparison shop carts of similar design or any other product under his mafia discount nonsense.
Back to the book and his useless marketing tips. I am talking about Chapter 19's impossible to implement "free water" scam. His explanation is buy water with labels advertising some other local business and get THAT business to purchase advertising on your water bottles covering the cost of the water. Effectively making your cost zero. Then every sale of water is 100% profit. Except he fails to mention you have to buy water in bulk for a massive price. One place I found online the price is $848.16 for 1488 bottles (Ben claims to have been selling 1500 bottles a month in rural Tennessee). Does that make sense for a potential advertiser to pay $1148.16 (Ben recommends tossing an additional $300 for your time and trouble) for 1488 instances of advertising on a bottle of water that they don't even put in the hands of their own customers? Have you ever looked at a bottle of water to see what it was advertising? Have you tried to see the advertising on a bottle of water a stranger was holding? Would you run out and buy something from someone that was advertising on a bottle of water? Ben claims he got a furniture store owner to use this advertising method. (looks like that town had two failing furniture store owners.) You would have to find a business owner dumb as rocks to hand you $1148.16 for that little advertising exposure. Ads in weekly newspapers cost less with more exposure. Ads on the radio cost less, so exactly what is the benefit to the business you are trying to sell on your water bottle ads? Ben does say to seek a local bottler and getting pricing from them. What he leaves out is they will want you to purchase a pallet to even consider private labeling.
Since the book was written in 2011 it makes ZERO mention of how to use social media for marketing, in fact the only mention of Facebook is for his own page so obviously he knew the benefits of Facebook to his business but not enough to recommend it to the reader. Ben has graciously added this "secret" Facebook course information as a on his website. Of course, for a price, you too can learn the secrets to hot dog business ads on Facebook. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is not already available for FREE from several hundred blogs on how to use Facebook for business. Any free information used for a restaurant is easy to modify for a street cart.
How about his “expert” take on sanitation? Ben describes his glove use, in chapter 13 as, "I use one glove on one hand and then I don’t have to change gloves constantly. I am careful to use my bare hand for money and the condiment bottles; however, to hold the buns, I use my gloved hand. I still change it frequently to avoid using a glove with chili or mustard on it." Notice there is no mention of hand washing BEFORE changing gloves. Had Ben taken the food manager certification (or if he did take it, paid attention to the information) he would understand that his "procedure" is unsanitary as germs can live on money then be passed to the ungloved hand and then to his condiment bottle. Or perhaps he leans on the hot dog cart with the ungloved hand and transfers the germs directly to the cart where they can attach themselves to a hot dog boat, wrapper or hot dog bun when placed on what appears to be a clean surface. This is a point I have been making for years about the amateur nature of his "course book". The corona virus panic has suddenly thrust sanitation into the limelight, with carts, trucks and trailers posting what they are doing to maintain sanitation and protect their guests. Somehow, I bet no one will create a post about using a single glove trying to pass that off as sanitary.
Let's talk about his "free" training? Since he wrote a book that gives him "expert" status to the general public. (Compared to a real expert working in the field for 40 years and training 100's folks to successfully run million dollar businesses) His "free" videos are a mixed bag of good information without encouraging dubious activity, while other videos are chock full dumb or flat out wrong information. The problem is a newbie can't tell which is which. One video he recommended buying at FULL RETAIL and paying SHIPPING just to test a product he thought was cool. (Amazingly it was not a product he was directly selling) Purchasing that product would have produced a slider sized sandwich (made of small diameter bologna) that would have to be sold at over $7 EACH to be profitable. Since sliders are traditionally sold in three's that is a $21.00 menu price. Again, failed furniture salesman mentality.
There are other videos where he casually answers questions about hot holding with a different temperature. One video it is 140, another 143, another 145. In truth hot holding varies from state to state and has NEVER been 143. The temperature is always ended on zero or five. (Currently many states have adopted 135)
All in all if you are looking for a light read and don't take the information as true or useful the book is a way to waste a few hours on a cold winter's night. Then when you are done with it throw it in the fireplace and get some real benefit out of it.
If you want to learn there are plenty free resources and Facebook groups. Consider joining my Facebook Group. It is a highly moderated social learning* group (I don't allow immoral, illegal or unethical advice, general rudeness or non food vending related posts.), of like minded business folks focused on learning, teaching and helping vendors be successful. Just click on the logo below read the rules and answer the questions. You will find more accurate information on this free group than all the other private, secret and paid groups combined.
*A social learning Facebook group is set up with a section called “units”, as well as the normal discussion posts.
My group’s “Units” posts are set up as mini courses on different aspects of starting a street vending business. Each Unit has assignments to help you focus on learning the information and achieving the success you deserve in food vending. The group is also set up for free business mentoring for folks already up and running wanting to improve their business results.
I have had a passion for helping people since an early age back in rural Kentucky. That passion grew into teaching and training managers and owners how to grow sales, increase profits, and retain guests. You’ll find a ton of information here about improving restaurant and food cart/trailer operations and profits. Got questions? Email me at Bill_Moore@live.com