The Hot Dog Story: Why You Should Stay Proactive When the Economy Declines

July 23, 2019

While we were planning our year-long coverage of our 100th anniversary, there was one thing Publisher Greg Smith insisted we run at some time: the hot dog story.

Never heard of the hot dog story? It tells the tale of a businessman who foregoes his marketing instincts in times of economic uncertainly. Instead of going on the offensive when faced with a downturn in the economy, he listens to naysayers and goes on the defensive. His overreaction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How important do we think the hot dog story is? This is the fifth time we have run it since March 1961 — when we ran it on our cover! “Too many of us today, like the man who sold hot dogs, are lending an attentive ear to the forecasters of gloom and, worse yet, accepting their predictions as inevitable,” wrote MTD’s editor at the time, Ernie Zielasko. The economy was mired in a recession, and Zielasko saw the story as highly instructive.

So did Publisher Bernie Kovach in August 1974 (“Boom or bust: Where are we really headed?”) and again in April 1980 (“Hard times? It all depends…”). Smith took his turn in our September 2006 issue.

“Economic uncertainty, unimaginable energy costs, political finger-pointing and constant cable television images of war can make even the most optimistic among us scratch our heads,” wrote Smith. “Many times, this uncertainty can cause companies to arbitrarily slash marketing budgets.”

Sound familiar?

Now it’s my turn to run it. We traced the story’s origins back to 1954, but have not been able to find the identity of the person who first told it. That doesn’t make its message any less powerful.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at [email protected].

A man lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs. 

He was hard of hearing so he had no radio.

He had trouble with his eyes so he read no newspapers.

But he sold good hot dogs.

He put up a sign on the highway telling how good they were.

He stood by the side of the road and cried, “Buy a hot dog, Mister.”

And people bought.

He increased his meat and roll orders.

He bought a bigger stove to take care of his trade.

He got his son home from college to help him.

But then something happened…

His son said, “Father, haven’t you been listening to the radio?

If money stays ‘tight,’ we are bound to have bad business.

There may be a big depression coming on.

You had better prepare for poor trade.”

Whereupon the father thought, “Well, my son has been to college.

He reads the papers and he listens to the radio, and he ought to know.”

So the father cut down on his meat and roll orders.

Took down his advertising signs.

And no longer bothered to stand on the highway to sell hot dogs.

And his hot dog sales fell almost overnight.

“You’re right, son,” the father said to the boy.

“We’re certainly headed for a depression.”

Author Unknown

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.