Retailers looking for a safe and creative way to draw customers to their sites can generate community excitement, provide unique menus, and create profit opportunities by hosting one or more food trucks. Using available real estate and learning a few lessons from the food truck experts, will increase the convenience store retailer chances for a successful food truck experience. Here is what you need to know before hosting food trucks.
Food Trucks Offer Retailers Sales, Profit Opportunity
Food trucks can add great value to a convenience retailer’s business. The investment of time and money, whether it is owning, leasing or hosting a food truck, comes with several advantages that the store, by itself, can’t offer. Whatever option retailers choose, Matt Geller believes retailers need to have a well thought out plan about how to use food trucks – before the truck arrives – if they want to be successful.
We know that retailers understand the ins-and-outs of their business inside the store. However, having a food truck is the same thing as getting into another business. Geller, president of the National Food Trucks Association (NFTA), declares: “Many convenience retailers believe that if they have the space to either own or host a food truck in their parking lots then that’s all they need to do to succeed— they believe that the food automatically sells. Our experience has shown that this is not the case, you have to have a plan and be organized to make a food truck work. Everything from social media promotion, [such as Facebook] to menu selection is important to the success of the truck.”
In Geller’s experience, past c-store food truck programs have “not been really organized or consistent”.
By using this StrasGlobal’s Resources for Retailers “How to” guide, convenience store retailers can improve their chances to have a successful food truck operation. Some of the important areas to consider include:
- Menus. Your food truck menu needs to be different from what is offered in the store to avoid losing inside store sales—plus you are giving the customer more choice. (If you own the truck, or can convince the truck owner to do so, there might be a specific successful item you want to promote outside the store as well as inside).
- Communication. To make sure that customers know what you are doing, get the word out. Create Facebook and Instagram posts on your accounts and on the food truck’s account,; go door to door where you can hand out flyers to local businesses and neighbors; (this is also known as “guerilla” marketing); and put up signs at the store and at the fuel pumps, especially if the truck is only going to be on the property on certain days or for only a few hours each day;
- Consistency. The food truck needs to operate on a regular schedule, such as from 10 am to 3 pm on Saturdays;
- Special events. Have a food truck for store grand openings, fund-raisers, and other special events. Make it a destination stop for the employees at local hospitals, offices and schools;
- Workforce. If you own the truck, you can use store employees to run it during slow times. If you host the truck then you may be able to use the truck employees to help out in the store, such as doing curbside takeout or stocking products inside during the truck’s slow times;
- Sales opportunities. Set up a system where customers can order items from the store that can be delivered to them at the truck or curbside while they are ordering and eating at the food truck;
- Security. A well-lit food truck at night can attract people who have concerns about security and safety;
- Add excitement. You can create a buzz for your business by hosting different pop-up food trucks, holding fund-raisers for local groups, or having live music if allowed by local laws;
- Outdoor seating. Attract customers with comfortable seating options and tables with colorful tents or umbrellas. This is especially appealing to those customers uncertain about entering stores during the Covid-19 times.
There are other areas that need to be considered, and StrasGlobal’s expertise can provide counsel, including:
- Store promotions. Get permission from the food truck owner to advertise promotions that you are doing in your store. As long as it doesn’t compete with what the truck is selling, the truck owner should not mind.
- Appearance. Remember that the look of the food truck is going to represent your store. Make sure that it is presenting the image that you want seen by your customers. You need to think about pictures, images or logos on the truck, the truck’s colors, how old the truck looks, does it need to be washed, food and grease smells that come from the truck area, paper signs on the truck, its windows, and more.
- Visibility. Decide the best place to put the truck so your customers notice it. Is it in front of the store or to the side? Think about whether you are blocking important signage or items (such as a door) from view. If you have the space, try out different locations until you find one that works best.
- Cleanliness. Food trucks create additional parking lot trash. Who is going to be responsible for cleaning it up? Items to consider: picking up trash in the parking lot (including any trash that blows over onto a neighbor’s lot), emptying trash cans, dumpster use, power washing the parking lot around the truck, recycling, food and grease smells, how to remove old grease and oil at your property, and pest issues (including dogs and cats) as food is often left on the ground.
Matt Geller isn’t alone in the opinion that c-store owners can identify the right food truck opportunity—be it owning it, leasing or working with a third-party operator on providing them space– with the right approach, planning and assistance. Gary Gabriel, a district manager for StrasGlobal who oversees a successful food truck program at a StrasGlobal location, says one mistake retailers make is featuring “the same menu at the truck that’s available in their store. This takes sales away from the in-store menu, which is a lose-lose situation.” Gabriel says retailers who are considering buying, leasing, or giving space to a food truck should consult with experts like StrasGlobal. “Why start from scratch?” Gabriel asks.
One of the suggestions Gabriel provides is to “be consistent with the hours that the truck is open. If you make it available every day from 10 am to 3 pm, keep the same hours every day. It’s a mistake if a customer drives to your store because they think the food truck is open and they find that it is closed. With this, there is the chance that you will lose both a food truck customer and a store customer,” he says.
To experts like Geller and Gabriel, other areas that need to be considered are:
- Locating the best place at your c-store to park a food truck to obtain the best sales;
- Creating a menu that local customers will want to buy;
- Owning a food truck, rather than partnering with someone else who owns it, will be more expensive as you will have to handle the costs of the truck, the employees, inventory, permits and be responsible for all other operating costs and losses. However, when you own it, you have more control and can choose which products it sells, use employees for other roles, promote your store at events away from your location, and can sell and highlight food items that are special to your store, such as a sign stating: “We offer the best gumbo in town”;
- Putting together a great communication and marketing plan to let potential customers know that the truck exists and what its hours are; and
- Understanding what permits you need from local municipalities to legally operate the truck.
One other thing to keep in mind: A food truck does not have to operate all day. Know your market and when your customers want to buy food: Are there factories that have early shifts? If there are, offer a food truck with easy grab-and-go fresh breakfast tacos in the morning and food that is ready when the shift ends. Are hospitals, offices and schools nearby? If so, sell fresh cookies and doughnuts by the dozen so employees can take them to co-workers. How about including fresh-brewed coffee?
It may also help you attract popular food trucks if you can offer them a time slot that is different from their normal busy time. For example, if a truck currently has a good nighttime business in the city’s club/bar area, they may want to earn more money by adding time at a breakfast or lunch-oriented location.
Food trucks can work very well for c-store retailers if they receive the proper advice from the experts. While many retailers know how to successfully operate c-stores, they have to understand that a food truck has its own problems and opportunities to consider, says Gabriel.
StrasGlobal’s Resources for Retailers (RfR) is a growing collection of best practices providing solutions for problems that are common to small and mid-sized convenience store operators. Because we operate as a “small operator in many locations” and we have a thorough understanding of the industry, RfR will be a resource of reference materials, ‘how-to’ best practices, templates, and guidelines written for the independent and independent-minded retailer. RfR will provide problem-solving strategies written by experts and will deliver real-world solutions.
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