As we all experienced a crazy year with the pandemic and restaurants only able to do takeout and delivery, some are shutting down, and no one knows what’s coming next. However, have you seen the increase in demand for food trucks and mobile units? Have you thought about adding a food truck or a mobile unit to your operation because of this? Take these simple steps to see if mobile is for you.
Step 1: Find your unit
Determining which mobile unit or food truck is best for you can be a little tricky. The first thing you need to know is what style of concept you want to have. Are you going to focus on vending, catering or both? Do you want a gas or a wood-fired oven? If at any time you think you are going to vend you need to check with your local health department and see what requirements you will need to meet. This will help you determine what style of unit you may want to get, like an open wood-fired trailer or an enclosed trailer.
When choosing a mobile unit vs. a food truck write down the pros and cons and weigh your options. Two major pros and cons to consider are: do you have someone who can drive a trailer, and if the food truck did break down how do you get to an event?
Now comes the fun part, picking the company you want to spend your money with. There are a ton of companies out there building mobile units, but only a handful that do it phenomenally. When looking at units, look for quality of work and reputation. Do they specialize in the pizza industry? Do they have a training class for mobile? When looking at quality of the build, I’m a big fan of looking at the welds of a unit and the steel quality. Yes, that’s a thing! When driving something that is over 10,000 pounds down the road and things are shaking and moving constantly, I want to make sure a weld is going to holdup for the long haul.
Have you ever heard the saying, “don’t marry your oven?” Now that there are so many companies making ovens, don’t get caught up in “that’s a pretty oven so that’s the one for me.” Yes, aesthetics is important to your look, but can that oven handle the demand you are expecting to do? Does it have the right amount of insulation to retain the heat in the stones? Can this oven handle thousands of miles shaking and moving around constantly? Take your time in this process so you don’t waste money and regret your purchase later down the road.
Step 2: Knowing the Numbers
Adding a mobile unit or a food truck sounds simple, but the reality is some can cost more then just opening up another brick and mortar. Before you even think about signing on the dotted line, take your time and really know the numbers. I always start off with a simple P&L and fill in the blanks. What do you expect to do in sales for a week, then for a month, then for the year? What expenses will you have — startup costs, insurance, gas, labor, food cost etc? Now that you have all the numbers it will cost you to run your unit a month, determine the worst-case scenario in sales and plug those numbers into your P&L. Do you still make money? If not, are you willing to go any further? We all have a tendency of over projecting on sales and actually not being real with ourselves. So, don’t be scared to put the worst-case scenario down on paper. Factor in weather in your numbers. Do you live in an area where it rains and snows half the year? This can cost you a ton of sales, so planning for this helps determine your real numbers. Remember you can stay lean with your monthly expenses in the mobile business as you don’t have the overhead of a brick and mortar.
Step 3: Staffing
As we all know staffing can be the death of us and finding the perfect staff that can actually drive a mobile unit and have a clean driving record is even harder to find. Take your time hiring and training your team for your mobile operation. You need to be able to think of everything that can go wrong on the road and train them on how to fix it. Generator won’t start, a flat tire, truck won’t start are just a few things that can go wrong. Write procedures for each one of these things. I remember the first day my manager Chris started and he went to start the truck and the truck battery was dead. I told him I did that on purpose because he needed to know how to change a battery in a diesel truck (which has two batteries, not just one). I would try to have a dedicated staff for the trailer. And if you have a lead manager or even a shift leader, don’t hesitate to do a profit sharing or a ghost ownership program for them. Mobile can be more physical than running a brick and mortar, so understanding the demand you will need will help you plan the amount of staff you will need.
Step 4: Know your Market
Knowing your market is a key part of having a successful mobile operation. Think bigger than just your three-mile radius from your pizzeria. You are mobile now; it’s nothing to drive an hour away for a three-hour gig and make a thousand dollars. Does your market have office parks, breweries and businesses with 300-plus employees, and neighborhoods that have 200 plus homes in them? If the answer is yes then this is a great sign you will do well going mobile. Another key item I look at in the market is how many food trucks are already out there? Everyone is fighting for the same spots, so if the market is saturated you will have to work even harder to get into spots.
There were so many areas we had to concentrate on in order to grow and thrive when we first started out in the mobile business in 2018. And now, today, we have three units that are booked out six days a week for four months straight. Take your time planning and you will do great!
Sign up for my School of Pizzeria Management workshop”Launching a Mobile Pizza Business” on Sunday, August 15. In this deep-dive workshop, I’ll show you, step-by-step, how to get a mobile unit off the ground and running. I’ll cover everything from the original idea, to equipment, to processes that ensure a smooth launch.
Siler Chapman is vice president of the pizza resource website perfectingpizza.com.