Hungry for a sale: What SMBs can learn from food vans

Nina Hendy
Smarter Writer

Nina Hendy is an Australian business journalist writing about marketing, entrepreneurs, startups, money and finance

Nina Hendy
Smarter Writer

Nina Hendy is an Australian business journalist writing about marketing, entrepreneurs, startups, money and finance

Pop-up restaurants aren’t just creating heat in these portable kitchens, but in the business world, too.

Food vans are all the rage. Restaurant owners looking for new ways to bolster brand recognition and sales have been taking their culinary talents to the road.

Even big players in the culinary world are making the decision to work from these compact kitchens on wheels in a bid to reach new customers.

Melbourne’s Mr Burger has five food trucks and three permanent stores, selling burgers, chips and drinks. Interestingly the trucks were launched before the stores, with the first truck hitting the road in 2012 and the first store a year later. Growth into other states is on the cards, too.

Mr Burger food van

On the road

Mr Burger founder Maleik Edwards set out to conquer the challenge of making the burgers accessible to a wide audience through locations at a range of sites, putting streamlined processes in place in a mobile environment.

The business has been a whopping success, with 40 staff across nine food trucks and three stores, and 48,000 Facebook fans. He’s planning to extend this reach, too.

“Food vans allow us to go out there and find our customers and head to locations that we know people want to see us. We’ve found that people really want a good honest product, so can easily sell 400 to 500 burgers in a day,” Edwards says.

I think we’ll see a lot more industries embrace the food truck concept in the future.

- Maleik Edwards, Mr Burger

A formula for success

Food vans can be a great concept for other business sectors too. The fashion world has already cottoned on, where approximately 500 trucks carrying fashion operate across all 50 states, according to American Mobile Retail Association figures. They began popping up four years ago, but the trend has exploded in America in the past year as new entrepreneurs enter the market.

It’s a great way to test a business idea and perfect your offering without major overheads, particularly if you can rent or renovate a second-hand van.

The concept also enables small business owners and entrepreneurs to escape the escalating costs associated with running a bricks and mortar business.

Turning to tech

Edwards adds: “Food trucks have been around for 30 years, but that doesn’t mean the formula used back then is the right one for today. It’s about doing it well, and bringing in technology to help you run a mobile business effectively.”

Cloud accounting package Xero helps him keep track of his accounts on the road. Edwards has also built up a mammoth social media following and uses a location app to let people know where he’ll be popping up.

“In theory, fans can see where all our trucks are at all times. It’s about making that information available to people on social media, rather than randomly popping up all over the place. It’s about planning and implementation. That way you know you’re going to make sales when you get there.”

The concept could well work for other industry sectors brave enough to think outside the square. Just be aware that there could be headaches along the way. Loss of gas connection and poor weather has caused dramas, Edwards admits.

“I do think we’ll see more industries embrace the food truck concept in the future. My advice would be to do it well, and just don’t forget that you will need to adhere to your local council regulations.”

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