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Australia’s food scene is booming, and not just in fine dining restaurants and casual brunch spots. Along with the abundance of new farmers markets popping up in our metro and regional centres, the consumer appetite for mobile food is transforming Australia’s food truck community.
If you’re thinking of starting your own business, a food truck could be a flexible, easy entry point before you move on to a brick-and-mortar restaurant or cafe. But food trucks are not always as easy as they look. We’ve outlined five key questions to ask yourself before you drive your food truck out of the garage.
How do I choose a location?
“We seek out fun, unique environments to work in … or they find us,” says Mary Horwill, owner and operator of Pookie May Coffee. “There is never a dull moment. We travel to weddings, fundraisers, markets, food truck events — anything goes.” Where you park your truck depends largely on your specialty, and the needs of the local market. If you’re selling coffee, basing yourself in a corporate district (office workers love getting outside) or in a location where good coffee isn’t readily available (for example, a Saturday morning football game) are both great examples of targeting your product to a market that has a defined need. And if you find that your first location is ultra-competitive, you can shift to a new one quickly before your sales are literally eaten away.
How should I specialise?
Combining a killer trading name with a strong specialty focus is critical. Square sellers Jason Sydenham and Donna Kenny from Jaffle Shmaffle built their truck around a delicious product with strong links to Australia’s casual foodie culture, the jaffle, and picked a memorable name to go with it. “We have a nostalgic product with a twist” says Jason. Finding a food niche that you can make your own will help build a strong brand, and it will also help you create efficiency in your operations and workplace. Operating out of a micro space means that every inch of space needs to contribute towards delivering revenue. Selecting a specialty product means you can hone your craft while creating a menu consisting of multiple variations on a theme.
How do I make my brand stand out?
Specialisation and design are key when you’re putting together a modern food truck. Visit any popular local market such as the Queen Victoria Night Market or South Melbourne Night Market and you’ll see many contemporary food trucks that have amped up their operation with colour, graphic elements and highly refined signage to ensure that their brands stand out in a crowded marketplace. But it’s not just about bold branding and strong signage — encouraging customers to visit the window of your food truck is an important art: “It’s about trying to tap into something that not everyone else is doing, but still having something that is fun, approachable and recognisable,” says Jason from Jaffle Shmaffle.
How do I find the crowds?
Thankfully, the rise of the modern food truck has resulted in food truck parks and events to help bring these businesses to the masses. Examples include the Yarraville Gardens Food Truck Park, the Chadstone Food Truck Park or Melbourne’s famous Welcome to Thornbury in the northern suburbs. While operating out of a smaller area with increased competition may see you vying for the attention of customers with a range of other trucks, a captive audience of food truck enthusiasts is nothing to turn up your nose at. Plus, the event managers who host these pop-ups often help look after logistics such as waste disposal, liquor licensing and customer marketing.
Driving out to large-scale pop-up events and food truck parks is not everyone’s cup of tea, however. When you’re not pushing your brand, why not implement a pull strategy and let customers know where you’re going to be. Melbourne startup Where The Truck At provides an online map of Australia’s finest food trucks. You can create an online account and start promoting your location via its online map and iPhone app, allowing hungry customers to find you easily. It’s a popular service, and worth considering as a free marketing opportunity — over 10,000 followers across Twitter and Facebook check out what’s cooking on Where The Truck At.
How do I finance my food truck?
The investment you’ll make in a food truck extends beyond the cost of the vehicle. You have to fit a kitchen, cleaning facility and waste disposal site all within a very small space, with room to spare for staff and materials. Consider looking at financing options from a different range of providers including banks or credit unions, but make sure you pay attention to the smaller details and fine print.