SBJ/July 17 - 23, 2006/SBJ In Depth

Get your hot dogs! A few tricks of the trade can make a vendor’s sales sizzle

Steve Sullivan was 14 years old when he started selling food and drinks in the stands at Fenway Park on weekends, the only days state law allowed him to work there. Once he turned 16, he started logging more games.

Pro sports vendors, such as this one at Shea
Stadium, keep 10 to 20 percent of their sales.
Twenty-nine years later, you will find Sullivan down the left-field line at Fenway most nights, navigating the tight aisles between vast sections, a 30-pound metal box of hot dogs, buns and scalding water balanced atop his head.

“When you start off … you’re selling iced-cold Coke in April and September and hot chocolate in July,” said Sullivan, a software consultant who has accumulated the second-most seniority of any Fenway vendor. “You work your way up to hot dogs and the better sections.”

A choice location and popular product can make the difference between pocket change for a high school or college kid and a nice side gig, or even a primary source of income for someone who works at both stadiums and arenas.

When he started, Sullivan took home about $50 a game. Now, he works 60-75 Sox games per season and, while he wouldn’t reveal his earnings, he said a good vendor walks away with $150 to $250 per night.

Typically, pro sports vendors work on commission, with payouts ranging from 10 to 20 percent of sales, depending upon the park and varying on occasion for special circumstances. When Miller Park offered $1 hot dogs on July 4, it upped its vendors commissions to make up for the $1.75 cut in price.

Fenway’s tight confines both help and hurt Sullivan’s vendor business. Large sections make it harder for fans to get in and out, so they’re more likely to wait for Sullivan to come by with his box. But the narrow aisles also leave him less room to walk, squat and serve without blocking fans’ views.

Over the years, Sullivan has developed a sense of timing that he says boosts sales. He knows that some regular customers will look for dogs as soon as they settle into their seats, some will always eat at precisely 7:30 and others will buy during a certain inning. He makes sure to show up when they’re ready. When the game gets tense and the Sox faithful are riveted to the action, Sullivan uses that time to find a clear path through the stands to refill his box. Next time there’s a lull, he’s back in the stands.

“You don’t go back [to fill up] when you’re empty, you go back based on who’s up, how many are out, and are there men on base,” Sullivan said. “There’s a science to it. It certainly isn’t rocket science, but there’s a science.”

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