Starting a food truck business is like driving up a dirt road. There are bound to be a few big potholes along the road that could cause you to get stuck or lose a tire. You need to be prepared for the challenges ahead before you embark on your uphill journey.
Getting stuck in the food truck business means going out of business. To keep moving forward and make your food truck dream a reality, you will need to equip your business with an adequate budget, a brand, and a memorable customer experience. With these three attributes, you can steer clear of the major potholes and thrive in the food truck industry.
Let’s take a look at what to avoid when starting out on the road as a fledgling food truck business.
1. Underestimating Expenses
82% of businesses fail because of poor cash flow management, according to a study by U.S. Bank. Failing to budget is like driving a bumpy road without appropriate clearance. You need to know you’ll be able to fund all the different aspects of the business with a safety margin to avoid being left high and dry.
Amy is an entrepreneur who sets out to start a donut food truck business. She adds up the cost of the truck, the ingredients for donuts, the permit for food vending in her area, and a few other things that come to mind. Amy doesn’t take the time to go into detail about weekly costs since they seem too small to make a difference. She doesn’t know how many customers she’ll have in the first month, so she gives up trying to guess and hopes that the income will cover the expenses by the time she runs out of her savings. Amy is a classic example of poor cash flow management in the food truck industry.
Even though food trucking is a small business, you will undoubtedly run into costs you might not have planned for initially. Some of these include:
- Napkins and containers to serve the food in
- Renewing vending permits
- Truck maintenance (like any car, food trucks need to be taken to the mechanic sometimes)
- Staff uniforms
- A website
It can be frustrating and time-consuming to get a budget started. However, after completing the initial paperwork, you’ll wonder how any businesses manage without a budget.
It’s vital to keep track of how closely you are following the budget as you get underway. Overall, mobile kitchens are one of the most affordable small businesses out there. However, don’t take low costs for granted. Little expenses can add up more than you might guess, causing financial problems down the road.
2. A Lack of Branding
Some food trucks are simply a mobile version of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. If that is your situation, make the food truck appear as similar as possible to the restaurant. This replication will attract restaurant fans to the food truck and make your brand more recognizable.
Here are some common branding strategies:
- Custom vinyl wrap - A full truck wrap or a partial wrap both work. These look great even when the truck isn’t operating.
- 3-Dimensional signage - This can be as simple as the name of your business in 3D block letters on the roof. The more prominent and recognizable the design, the better.
- Staff uniforms - These help a food truck brand appear professional and clean. Dirty cooking conditions are a common food truck complaint.
- Signature dishes - Sell something different. How it tastes is important, but if it isn’t novel, it won’t be as popular.
An example of exceptional food truck branding comes from SPAM. The canned pork company created a food truck with the same shape and colors as a can of SPAM product.
3. Underwhelming Customer Experience
Once you have sorted the budget and branding, your food truck business is well on its way to avoiding the main sources of business collapse. However, the customer experience still needs to be considered to further boost your chances of success.
Customer experience includes the entire time a customer interacts with your food truck. It starts when the customer approaches the truck and views the menu. Then, there is the ordering and prompt delivery of food. Finally, the customer consumes the food and disposes of any associated garbage. These steps, even carried out expertly, are just the basics. Some simple ways to improve customer experience include:
- Music - This draws customers to your truck and can boost the mood of people while ordering and eating
- Friendly staff - Food trucks are known for their eclectic food and customers often choose food trucks because they offer a unique experience. Positive interactions with your food truck staff can make customers feel welcomed and appreciated.
- Tables and seating - Depending on where your food truck is situated, tables and chairs for eating can make the experience much more pleasant for customers.
- Accessible trash can - If your meal comes in a paper bowl, with disposal utensils, or you sell drinks, providing a place to put these items after they have been used makes the experience more smooth and enjoyable for customers.
When managing the customer’s experience, a final consideration is to provide an online website that allows customers to give feedback on your business. This outlet helps customers know they have been heard when they have a complaint, enables them to share positive reviews, and helps you improve as a business.
Now, having avoided the three major potholes that force many food truckers out, you're set for success. Enjoy the ride!