Know Your Buyers: Sales Lessons from a Beachside Hot Dog Stand

Hot Dog

We laughed when we first saw the hot dog stand across from our condo in Clearwater Beach last week. We’d traveled 1,200 miles to get away and landed right across from the only Detroit Coney restaurant in the state of Florida. (Or so the owner told us.)

But that laughter quickly turned into a need to try those coneys. (For those of you outside of Detroit, that means a hot dog topped with onions, mustard and a perfect chili sauce.) Within that first 24 hours, we visited the stand twice. We walked away with a lesson in sales.


For background, here’s how those visits went down:

  • Visit 1: My brother-in-law and I leave the beach to grab sandwiches for the rest of the family’s lunch, our first of the vacation. He suggests the two of us skip the turkey on wheat and take some hot dogs back to the beach. How could we be across from the only coney stand in Florida and not test it out?
  • Visit 2: I tell my grandpa (wintertime Florida resident / summertime Michigan resident) about the place. He suggests meeting the next night for a beach sunset and hot dogs. That next night, I say: “Thanks for driving out here.” He says: “I did it for the coneys.”

And we weren’t the only ones.

Within those 24 hours, we chatted with a server who moved from a Detroit suburb to Florida. When the restaurant opened, he “had to apply.” We heard other patrons talking about different Michigan cities. We laughed, as we walked by and heard one middle-aged tourist announce before leaving: “My wife and I will be back one more time before we head home to Michigan.”

Why were he, his wife and all of these other Michiganders skipping fresh seafood for something they could get back home? Why were we doing it?

Because that owner has his sales strategy down.

Sales lesson learned:

At first I wondered how the whole “Floridians meet coney dog” introduction was going for the owner. Then I realized that’s not where he aims his business. His “prospects” are Michigan folks in Florida. It clearly works.

The owner, also from Michigan, understands his customers and knows how to speak to them. He makes this clear by hanging a huge Faygo graphic on the back wall and selling Better Made potato chips — both brands Detroiters take pride in, but not many outside of Detroit discuss. He also hires staff that can maintain the same sort of relaxed Midwestern atmosphere you’d find at a coney up here. And he not only sees packed houses each day as a result, but creates customer advocates. (“My wife and I will be back one more time before we head home to Michigan!”)


So here’s some advice:

When you’re selling, speak to someone — not everyone.

  • You’ll understand your customers better.
  • You’ll be better able to meet their needs.
  • You’ll be able to turn them into customer advocates.

Start by defining your buyer persona and making sure your team gets to know it well, so you can serve your customers well.

  • Those of you selling to a broad audience: Define a few key personas from within it and develop campaigns for your team to go straight after those people, speaking directly to them.
  • Those of you already selling to a niche audience: Start understanding your prospects even better. Make them feel at home when they buy from you.

Maybe I read too much into this. Maybe I should’ve spent more time on the beach. But the fact that I came home and wrote an entire blog post on the sales lessons that came from this coney stand shows that little place can create some big advocates. When you’re able to do this, you create a community around your organization — a tribe. You establish the kind of trust that drives sales and keeps them coming.

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1 Response
  1. Amber Sharrow

    great article! Who knew that a coney dog on vacation would inspire your whole article! I love it! You forgot about the 3rd coney though, the staff were walking down the street handing out free ones, even though no one was hungry, we still couldn’t pass up the free coney taste!

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