Evan Jensen, 18, and his brother Justin were looking for work in the oil fields of western North Dakota after high school graduation.
The boom of temporary workers had attracted food carts and other mobile businesses, but the closest shower was a truck stop 60 miles away. The boys were sleeping in a pickup truck and getting pretty rank, by their own account. They didn't find employment in the oil fields, but Evan Jensen headed home with a big idea: mobile showers for filthy oil workers.
He pitched the idea to his parents back at their farm near Lake Preston in eastern South Dakota. His father and other relatives helped him convert a 53-foot semitrailer into a five-stall shower center with an office and laundry facilities.
A 6,000-gallon semi tanker alongside the trailer provides fresh water and collects the greywater.
Jensen paid for the renovation with $15,000 he earned in the past two years trapping muskrats, whose fur is sent to China to be fashioned into coats, slippers and earmuffs. Each pelt fetches about $10.
"That's a pile of muskrats," Jenson said after the construction was done.
Evan headed back to the oil fields in June and started hawking $10 showers to the grimy workers. Soap is included, washcloths are extra. Jensen says he made "several thousand dollars" this summer and recently put up a Craigslist ad offering to sell the business. This fall, he begins school at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul, Minnesota, and he's hoping the $95,000 asking price will cover his tuition.
But the guitar player may not be done with entrepreneurship:
"I brainstorm and think of what's in demand here," Jensen said. "I've got a bunch of ideas. All it takes is guts, really."
Evan Jensen's success story is pretty much the opposite of the sad story of 13-year-old Nathan Duszynski, who wanted to open a hot dog stand to help out his disabled parents. Nathan saved up to buy his hot dog cart—$1,200 in mowed lawns and shoveled snow funded his venture. His parents tried to help him get started, too, taking him to City Hall in Holland, Michigan, to check on the need for permits and licenses.
But 10 minutes after he started setting up on opening day, the city shut him down. Food carts were forbidden in the downtown business district, the mayor explained, because eight nearby restaurants paid extra taxes and were "reluctant to allow mobile vendors into the downtown area."
While the squabble with the city dragged on, Nathan and his mother moved into a shelter. Nathan sold his business, but it was merely an effort to limit his losses, not the opening of an exciting new chapter in his life. Finally, he got a special exception to re-open—the person who bought his cart loaned it back to him for free—but his story ends on a much less optimistic note.
"For then to tell me what to do with my food, my hot dog cart, and my business—I don't think it's right."
The difference between these two boys' stories is government (or the lack thereof): the benign neglect of the authorities in western North Dakota and the lack of existing bricks-and-mortar businesses to gum up the works helped Evan Jensen's entrepreneurial shower venture become an exciting success, while the opposite doomed Nathan Duszynski's hot dog stand to failure.