What a ballpark hot dog vendor can teach us about sales

baseball hot dogs sales success

NPR’s Planet Money once followed the top vendor at Fenway Park as he plied the stands and introduced listeners to a slice of life that’s a microcosm for sales everywhere.

But before we get into the habits that make Jose Magrass the highest-earning vendor at Fenway Park, there’s another lesson here that management needs to hear.

Decentralize decision making

Today, the way vendor assignments are determined at Fenway Park goes like this: By seniority, vendors name what product they want to sell and which area of the ballpark they want to sell it – a kind of crowdsourcing of products and territories. Selling a popular brand of beer, like Bud, behind home plate is always the first choice. On a cold day, selling iced lemonade anywhere would be one of the last choices, and one that a newbie gets stuck with.

However, this is not the way it used to be done. In an earlier time at Fenway Park, a management guy in an office somewhere would decide what would get sold and where it would be offered. When they decided to let the people closest to the action – the vendors – make those decisions, guess what happened? Sales skyrocketed!

Surprised? Probably not. But it’s hard for upper-level management and owners to let go of their decision-making powers. Take some time and see if there are decisions being made in your business that could be improved if they were made by the individuals closest to the situation.

Why Jose sells the most

The perennial sales champ, Jose, does not have the most seniority. In this episode of Planet Money, some 20 other vendors were able to choose what they sold and where they sold it before Jose stepped up to the plate and took his swings. He grabbed hot dogs and ended up earning some $400 in just a few hours of work that evening.

Here’s how he excelled:

  • He was completely focused on selling hot dogs,
  • He was always scanning the seats for prospects,
  • He always moved fast and efficiently while prospecting and between sales,
  • He delivered the hot dogs and customers’ change quickly, and
  • He worked the longest hours.

Jose is an example that if you can squeeze in a few more sales on a regular basis, you can dramatically increase your income. At the end of the game, while other vendors were hanging up their shirts, Jose was working the exiting crowd for a few more sales.

His was the last shirt back on the rack.

Because Jose had developed a two-handed system for assembling the hot dog and dealing with money, he was able to complete the transaction faster than other vendors and move on to his next sale. Other vendors failed to understand that a series of small efficiencies, when applied over time, can yield tremendous results.

But perhaps Jose’s most important trait is the first item on my list above: He was completely focused on selling his hot dogs. Let me tell you exactly how focused he was: Even though Jose is a baseball fan, at the end of the game he had no idea who the Red Sox were playing that evening.

Consider that and then consider how much time you, or others on your team, are distracted by social media.

Enough said.

If you’d like to listen to this Planet Money episode yourself, you’ll find it here.