It’s been a few years since we launched the site, and the food trailer landscape has change dramatically. We’ve seen the tremendous influx of trailers and trucks in late 2010, the spike in 2011 and the somewhat decline and stabilization in 2012. Since then, trailers and their owners have seemed to hit their stride.
Despite this slight feeling of having their roots planted as a staple of Austin cuisine, trailers are still failing as any other business may. Lack of success is not usually one big f*ck up, it’s a combination of multiple variables. Regardless, there are some super basic missteps that are being taken far too often by trailers and trucks in Austin.
1. It’s a business, not a hobby
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about food trailers from a patron perspective is lack of consistency. This not only includes product, but also operations. This is a business just like anything else. Your livelihood is your customer. Much like in other fields, you don’t often get second chances. The biggest pet peeve we have and get contacted about is being OPEN when you say you’ll be OPEN. We get it, it’s hot, it rains, it’s slow, your equipment broke. Some stuff cannot be avoided, but other stuff is not an excuse to close up shop early. This is especially important for new trailers. People know you have recently opened. Trust us. If you say you’re open until 9pm and close at 8:15pm because it’s slow… shame on you. This is crap. Stay open. Give yourself a chance to make it, create relationships and don’t start your business venture by being the flaky owner who may or may not be open.
2. You’re Anti-Social
You don’t need to love Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Hell, you probably don’t even have to know how to really use it. You do however HAVE to be on it. There are a ton of different reasons as to why you should be on social media including but not limited to:
- Building a relationship with customers before they ever go to your trailer
- Notifying people of your location and expected arrival time
- Blasting out menu specials, improvements and key messaging
- Coming up in online searches. Do you know how many people will search on Facebook for a business to “Like” before they look on Google?
- Listening. Social media is your best friend when it comes to market research. If your food rocked or sucked, don’t you want to know about? It’s invaluable to have the chance to say “Thanks for coming, glad you liked it!” or “Dude! We’re so sorry you had a bad experience. Can we give you a call?”
- Meet influencers online. We’ve met more of Austin’s food influencers online than anywhere else. This is THE place to connect with the community.
3. You’re Beautiful on the Inside, but Your Outside is U.G.L.Y.
Trailers are expensive. Trucks are ridiculously expensive. You spend money, drip sweat and sometimes gush blood in getting your rig up and running. Now, why wouldn’t you make the outside as awesome as the inside? I cannot stress this enough, consumers are VISUALLY drawn to your trailer. Sure, a kick ass menu is a strong suit, but if you’re side by side another trailer that is decked out and the customer knows nothing about either, which one do you think they’ll go to? Wrapping a trailer or truck isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. Check out the folks at Yeti Frozen Custard, The Peached Tortilla, Chi’Lantro and The Evil Wiener. They don’t just have a truck, they have a brand. Park their truck next to a white one with a banner and take a guess which one will have the longer line. Despite what you may have heard, looks matter.
4. You’re Missing a Road Map
Why does a business plan matter if you’re up and running? Because it does. You need a roadmap to your goal. When can you hire employees. Based on your business plan, you need to hit $xx,xxx to hire an employee. Anything below that, and you cannot afford it. What is your goal? Do you want investors, exit strategies, brick and mortars? You need a business plan. Remember, this is a business, not a hobby.
5. You’re Not Looking Beyond the Wheels
A food trailer or truck is by no means a massive cash cow unless you have multiple locations or sell such gourmet cuisine that you can rack up a $25 ticket per person which isn’t likely. The biggest mistake we see being made right now is that food trailers and trucks are banking on making all their income with their regular lunch and dinner rounds. This is a sliver of what you can make if you diversify. Your food is likely good (if you’re still in business), and people will pay for it. You have to think beyond the wheels and consider catering. What would you rather do? Work a 12hr shift in the heat OR a 3 hour catering gig which will likely bank you more income. Your trailer and truck are great billboards and samplers, but your bread and butter will come from other sources of revenue. *ahem, business plan*
Okay, so we’ve addressed a few pet peeves, honest truths and somewhat obvious mistakes that are being made. Keeping these 5 keys in mind while launching, keeping afloat or thriving in the industry is a good start. It’s by no means a formula, but hell it’s better than what you may already be doing.
Anything else you think we left off? Give us a shout in the comments.