The Story of David Sanger Founder of Rollover Hot Dogs

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It took David Sanger several attempts to discover his true
calling in life. After leaving university he initially tried his
hand at careers in accountancy and advertising. He also
considered a career in law and even horticulture before real-
ising that starting up his own business was what he really
wanted to do with his life.
Born and brought up in South Africa where his father was
an expatriate banker, Sanger moved to England at the age of
10. After boarding school and university he joined a large
accountancy firm to train as an accountant but after three
years narrowly failed his exams and left without qualifying.
He says: ‘I hated it. I couldn’t stand working with all these
notions, concepts and figures. I wanted something more
tangible. The whole experience knocked my confidence and
led to a lot of soul-searching.’
He enrolled at horticultural college and also got a place at
law school. But in the end he followed neither direction and
took a job with an advertising agency instead. After two years,
however, he realised that did not suit him either. He says:

‘I got fed up with the endless meetings. The final straw came
when six people spent several days trying to decide the
background colour for a poster.’
Sanger finally decided the solution was to start his own
business. He had no idea what his business would actually
do though, so he started looking around for ideas. Initially
he thought about opening his own advertising agency. Then
became interested in the idea of opening a shoe shop. He
says: ‘My idea was to sell only the main sizes of shoes, in
basic colours, because I read in a book from Harvard
Business School that 80 per cent of men have feet sized
between 7 and 10. But then I thought actually no, I really
don’t want to sell shoes.’ Eventually he hit upon the idea of
opening a chain of sandwich bars so in 2001 at the age of 25
he left his job in advertising.
Using savings of £50,000 and £50,000 borrowed from the
bank he opened his first shop in West London and called it
Rollover, partly because it was an accounting term and made

him laugh. His unique selling point was freshly baked
baguettes filled straight from the oven.
But with no experience of the food industry Sanger soon
found himself struggling. He was working from 5am to 9pm
six days a week but the shop was losing money and after
just three months he hit crisis point. He says: ‘I was working
like a slave, unable to pay myself any salary, with a gloomy
future and a 15-year lease. I knew I had to either throw in
the towel and go back to being an employee – or find a way
of making it work.’
In desperation he decided the answer was to find some
wholesale customers. So he hired a manager to run the shop
while he went out to secure bulk orders from local hotels
and hospitals. Within two months sales had tripled and the
business had turned the corner. By 1995 Sanger had managed
to grow the business to eight Rollover sandwich bars. But it
was clear that they were never going to make him his
fortune.
Then one day he was in Copenhagen for the weekend with
his Danish girlfriend when he bought a hot dog from a street
stall and realised that everyone around him was doing the
same. It was at that point he had his big idea. He says: ‘They
were delicious and I wondered why I would never eat one

in the UK. I realised it was because at home there was a
perception that hot dogs were a poor quality product and
something that only children ate. But in Denmark everyone
was eating them. So I decided this was the thing for me.’
Even better, unlike those he had eaten in England, these
hot dogs were made using a special machine that inserted
the sausage right inside the bread roll so that it was
completely enclosed, making the hot dog easy to hold and
far less messy to eat than conventional ones.
Sanger spent the rest of his weekend in Copenhagen quiz-
zing the street sellers about their hot dogs. He says: ‘I drove
them all mad asking them questions about how they do it,
where they get the hot dogs from, how many they sell.’
By the end of the weekend he had bought a hot dog
machine from one of them for £500. When he got it home he
asked a British manufacturer to modify the machine so that
his customers could see what was going on inside. He says:
‘It was a stainless steel box with a spike at one end. All the
Danes knew what was inside but I needed to make it under-
standable for the British consumer who was not used to
buying hot dogs. So we changed the stainless steel box to a
glass drum so people could see the sausages standing up.’’

Then he installed it in one of his sandwich shops, importing
high quality sausages from Germany and putting them inside
baguettes instead of bread rolls. Soon sales were going so well
from that one machine that he asked the manufacturer to
make seven more identical ones to put in all his shops.
The name came about by accident. He says: ‘We used to
wrap our hot dogs in our Rollover sandwich bar napkins
and customers would come in and ask for a rollover with
ketchup. We hadn’t intended that to happen but the name
stuck.’
One day the landlady of his local pub asked Sanger if she
could borrow a machine to make hot dogs for customers
watching the rugby international match. He said yes and
lent her the machine for the day. She sold out of hot dogs

before the match had even started. Two weeks later the pub’s
area manager called to see if he could hire six machines to
install in other pubs and Sanger’s wholesale hot dog busi-
ness was born.
He started selling hot dog machines to pubs and clubs and
supplying them with the bread and sausages. It went so well
that in 1997 Sanger sold his original sandwich bars for a total
of £350,000 to concentrate on growing the hot dog business.
It did not all go according to plan, however. Flushed by the
success of his hot dog machines, he decided to open hot dog
retail outlets in shopping centres. The first three did well so he
went on a high-speed opening spree with £750,000 he
borrowed from the bank. He admits: ‘I got caught up in it. I
opened 18 outlets in 18 months. But it was an absolute disas-
ter. There were staff irregularities and theft and they were
losing money. But being an optimist I kept focusing on the
good ones instead of the ones that were doing disastrously.’

Fortunately, after 18 months Sanger finally came to his
senses and called a halt. Then he spent the next 18 months
closing the worst outlets and franchising the rest, losing a
great deal of money in the process. He says: ‘It was a huge
learning curve. I learnt that you have to focus on the whole
picture not just on the bit of the picture that you want to see.
The failure was not in trying retail, the failure was in doing
it too quickly and not stopping and analysing whether it
was the right course of action.’ Happily, the wholesaling
operation remained strong and enabled Rollover to survive
its turbulent retail period.
Rollover now sells 25 million hot dogs a year and supplies
most premiership football clubs, theme parks and concert
halls in the country. It makes eight different varieties of hot
dog including chicken and vegetarian and had sales of
around £10 million in 2006. In the same year Sanger sold the
business for a substantial undisclosed sum to Piper Equity,
retaining a 21 per cent stake in the business and staying on
as a non-executive director.

In 2008 he bought the UK rights to ScentAir, which
supplies air scenting equipment and cartridges to hotels and
restaurants.
Sanger, 44, went on to marry the girlfriend he went to
Copenhagen with and still can’t believe that going on that
weekend trip with her provided the inspiration for his
success.
He says: ‘I am enormously proud of what I’ve achieved. It
has definitely been worth it. It is not making money that has
inspired me, it is wanting to be the biggest and best.’
He thinks that finding a good business idea is just a matter
of keeping your eyes open. He says: ‘Very few of us wake up
and invent a mobile phone or a new car engine. Most of us
just tweak something that has been around and improve it.
Entrepreneurs aren’t generally born with a vocation, they
tend to look at lots of ideas and jump on the train of oppor-
tunity as it races past.’

Another motivational story is at:

Life of Deirdre Bounds, Founder of i to i

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