By Cindy Drew, Special to the Democrat, Tallahassee Democrat, Oct. 15, 2012
OCALA — When you run a successful hot dog vending business, you truly relish your work. And, that is certainly the case for nine APD customers who collectively run a hot dog cart just outside Goodwill industries on Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala.
Fred Allen, Charlotte Coach, Anthony Dayton, Becky French, Aisha Issa, Michael Jacobie, Josh Lessor, Kerr Sargood and Amy Thompson run the enterprise. Learning how to operate their own business has changed their lives and the lives of everyone around them.
Amy Thompson, one of the nine workers, enjoys her new entrepreneurial world and her sense of pride is unmistakable. “I have been able to get better at my customer service skills. I have to take orders and run the register. It is definitely more responsibility for me, but I am learning more skills,” Thompson says.
The hot dog business started in mid-May, but before it could even begin, each owner had to become a certified food handler. That means more than just cooking hot dogs. They each had to be able to keep precise temperature logs, use proper sanitation techniques, purchase and maintain inventory, and display outstanding customer service skills.
The hot dog stand is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The start-up entrepreneurs have steady sales in the range of $1,200 a month. Initially, they needed support and help from their adult day skills trainer; however, after four months of operation they are able to run the business almost entirely own their own.
The hard work has paid off. Not only have they learned basic business skills, they also track their progress on a specially designed spreadsheet. The program displays their bottom line on a big, easy-to-read, overhead screen.
After carefully entering all the needed information, the program then calculates profits and losses so each worker can see what works and what doesn’t. If they purchase too much advance inventory, their profits fall. If they have a particularly good sales day, their reward is immediately seen. And, business is booming.
The concept started when Derek Arnold, the supervisor for Goodwill Adult Day Training Program, did research and discovered that Marion County had numerous food-based businesses. Why go elsewhere? Arnold thought a hot dog cart would be a perfect match for hungry, lunchtime shoppers.
After months of planning, fundraising and food handling training, the entrepreneurs are succeeding. “It’s amazing,” Arnold says. “At first they needed a lot of help. Now it has taken off.” He says he actually does very little supervision now. “They are involved in every facet. They can do it, and they are getting paid well,” he added.
Each entrepreneur has had a taste of success and they love it. Sales are soaring but, more importantly, so is everyone’s sense of self esteem.
The group has also become an inspiration to peers, customers, family and friends. People attending the Goodwill Adult Day Training program have seen for themselves how business dreams can come true and many want to follow in their footsteps. Change is in the air. Encouraged by their friend’s success, others are hoping for the same chance and are exploring opportunities to start a business.
APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities. For more about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit APDcares.org or call toll-free 1-866-273-2273.