How to Run a Food Truck 26: Consider an Expansion

Today is an exciting day here at FoodTruckr—we’re wrapping up the “How to Run a Food Truck” series with a final lesson on one of the biggest undertakings a food truck owner can embark upon!

Before we get started though, we just want to take a minute to thank all of you for following along with this series and with the FoodTruckr blog. You’ve all worked so hard, and we’re incredibly proud of everything you guys have accomplished—from all of the work you did when you were first learning how to start a food truck to the place you’re at today. Over the past few months alone, you’ve continued onward as we went over how to train your employees, how to handle customer disputes, and what to do when you don’t have enough customers. We’ve helped you prepare for health inspections, improve your social media outreach, and set goals for your truck’s future. And today, we’re going to take everything you’ve learned and put it together as we evaluate whether or not you’re ready for your next big challenge.

We’ve focused a lot on growth and goals around here lately, and for many FoodTruckrs, the ultimate business goal is to expand their empire by opening another truck or a brick and mortar location. Taking on another truck or a physical location is a huge decision, and it’s one that requires a lot of research, number-crunching, and soul-searching. In today’s all-new lesson, we’ll lead you through that process and help you determine whether or not an expansion is right for you.

Research: What Would It Take to Get Started?

First things first—before you can seriously consider opening another food truck or a brick and mortar location, you need to know everything it will take to get started. And when we say everything, we really mean everything.

Starting a Food Truck: For those of you who are considering another truck, you might feel like you already know everything that’s involved—after all, you already opened one food truck successfully! However, you still need to take the time to research and write down what it would take to get another truck on the road.

That includes things like:

  • A new truck
  • Additional equipment
  • More supplies and ingredients each month
  • Additional licenses and permits
  • Extra insurance
  • More employees

Of course, beyond things like extra supplies and manpower, you also need to consider things like your time and your current service schedule. How will you balance all of your regular stops, your catering clients, and the time you spend managing your truck’s finances with the time you’ll need to find a new truck and new equipment? Once the new truck is open, how much time will you spend on each truck and with each set of employees? Will the trucks have equally balanced schedules, or will one truck focus primarily on street service while the other is designated for catering and events?

Furthermore, you may also need to research an entirely new set of local laws and requirements if you’re thinking about basing your truck out of another nearby city, county, or state. The same goes for new parking requirements, insurance restrictions, and licenses.

Opening another food truck is possible, and may absolutely be the right choice for your business. But before you embark upon this path, you do need to take a hard look at what it’s going to entail. It won’t necessarily be easier this time around just because you’ve done it before.

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Starting a Restaurant: Thinking of evolving your food truck business by opening your very own brick and mortar location? Restaurant life is an awesome choice, but you need to know before you get started that it’s an entirely new game.

In addition to some of the challenges you would also face if you were opening another truck (like getting things going while still maintaining your current food truck!), you’ll also need to consider factors like:

  • Procuring additional financing
  • Hiring a much, much larger staff
  • Obtaining all kinds of new licenses and permits
  • Finding the right location (remember—your restaurant won’t be on wheels, so you have to get the location right the first time!)
  • Ordering new supplies that your truck has never needed (like furniture, table linens, and everything you’ll need to operate restrooms for customers)
  • Maintaining more supplies and ingredients to handle larger volume
  • Keeping up with cleaning a much larger kitchen area as well an entire dining area

Though you’ll find some similarities between opening a food truck and opening a restaurant, you’ll generally find that everything you had to do the first time around now needs to be done on a much larger scale. Every decision has even more riding on it, and every unfortunate choice made can have a larger impact on your bottom line. Along the way, you’ll also encounter all sorts of new, unexpected challenges that you never had to face as a food truck owner—such as worrying about parking for your customers and handling patrons who have had too much to drink.

You also need to understand that the restaurant industry is a very volatile place. Many restaurateurs fail within their first years of business, even when they’ve done everything the “right” way. Though the potential rewards of opening a restaurant are huge, the risks are also very high—so you need to enter the process with a clear mind and a well-versed understanding of what you’re getting yourself into.

Finally, while it’s very possible to open a successful physical location while still operating your mobile business, you should be prepared for even longer hours and an even crazier schedule for quite awhile while you get things started. There’s a lot involved in getting a restaurant off the ground, and you’re going to need to pour yourself into it just as you did when you first opened your truck. That also means you’ll need to be willing to accept help from your team and from those around you—both in managing your truck and in getting the restaurant going. If you’re the kind of person who has a hard time relinquishing control and delegating, you’re going to have a tough time getting a new business venture off the ground.

Number-Crunching: Is Now the Right Time?

Once you’ve done the research and decided whether or not you want to pursue opening a new food truck or a restaurant location, it’s time to evaluate how viable this venture is by doing some number-crunching. Opening a new food truck and opening a new restaurant are both expensive prospects—so as you work out the financial aspects of your choice, be sure to consider both A.) whether or not you can really afford this path and B.) whether or not you can afford this path at this time.

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Whether or not you can afford a new venture at this time is an incredibly important distinction to make. For FoodTruckrs who go over their books and decide that they really can’t afford the risks right now, qualifying that it isn’t the right decision at this time helps them see that they don’t have to give up on their goals—they just need to keep working a little longer before they can actively pursue them. Framing the situation in this manner and establishing whether it’s the right fit right now also enables you to see when the right time could be so that you can start slowly working toward it and setting milestone goals to hit along the way.

Ready to start crunching the numbers? Go ahead and sit down with all your financial records, and begin by figuring out the answers to the following questions:

  • What are your current monthly expenses?
  • What are your current monthly profits?
  • How much has your business made to date?
  • Do you have any debts (both personal and business-related)?
  • How much do you have in savings (both personal and business-related)?
  • How much would it cost to expand (for now, just a ballpark figure)?
  • How much extra would you need to spend each month to run the new location once it was up and running (again, a ballpark figure)?
  • How much more do you stand to make from an expansion?
  • What other risks are involved in expanding?
  • Are there any other costs to expanding your business now—or to not expanding it now?

The answers to these preliminary questions should help you figure out whether or not a new business venture should even be on the table for you right now—and if not, they should give you an indication as to what you need to do before you can start seriously considering opening another truck or a brick and mortar location.

Soul-Searching: How Does an Expansion Support Your Dreams?

If you’ve done your research and crunched the numbers and it still looks like a new truck or a restaurant location could be a great decision for your business, congratulations! You’re ready to move on to the third and final step in the initial decision-making process—soul-searching.

Here’s why this step is so important: Though you’ve already spent a lot of time thinking about this decision and figuring out whether or not it’s financially viable, it’s all too easy to get caught up in looking at what a great business decision this could be without thinking about the kind of effect a new venture will have on your personal life and your overall business goals. If you haven’t already done so, we recommend completing the exercise in Lesson 23 on goal-setting to get some clarity on what you want both personally and professionally.

The single-most important question you need to ask yourself is this: What do I ultimately want?

Do you want to spend more time with customers or more time working behind the scenes? Do you like the mobility your truck offers or would you rather have a regular, physical location where you and your work family could grow and flourish for years to come? Do you enjoy the food truck lifestyle—or are you ready for the serious change of pace that a restaurant location could offer?

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Opening another food truck or opening a restaurant are both huge decisions that will have a big impact on your daily schedule, your professional experience, and your potential to reach new customers. While both options are great choices for many FoodTruckrs, it’s important to really think seriously about how your decision will affect your personal life and your professional life—as well as if there are any other options that would better serve you.

If you’re interested in hearing about the experiences that other food truck owners have had with opening additional trucks or brick and mortar locations, check out our podcasts with Brett of BC Tacos, Jim of Bacon Bacon, and Yvonne of Brown Shuga Soul Food (who went from a brick and mortar business to a food truck!). Stay tuned also for next week’s episode where we’ll talk to a FoodTruckr who’s currently in the process of opening a new truck—Josh of Pizza Wagon!

Growing Your Business and Making Dreams Come True

Choosing to expand by opening another food truck or a brick and mortar location is a great way to take your business to the next level—from a single income stream to the makings of your very own empire. If you think this could be the right time to expand your food truck, we recommend filling out a business plan to get your ideas on paper and to help you work out the logistics that will be involved. Use our introductory article on business plans and our “How to Start a Food Truck” lesson on writing a business plan to get started.

If you’re ready to continue growing your business and developing a successful food truck empire, be sure to check out The Food Truck Growth Kit when it arrives next week! We’re so excited to share this incredible resource with you—it’s got even more in-depth information and fantastic tools you can use to really take your truck to the next level. Be sure to sign up for our special interest list to receive an exclusive discount and notifications when the kit is released.

Until then, we’d love to hear all about your biggest food truck goals and aspirations! Are you considering another truck? A brick and mortar restaurant? Still working on expanding to catering or events? Share your stories with us in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter!

Once again, thank you for reading the “How to Run a Food Truck” series! We wish you much continued success in the future and thank you for all that you’ve contributed to the food truck community.

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About the Author

FoodTruckr is the #1 online destination for current and aspiring food truck owners looking to succeed in the mobile food industry. Self described “food truck devotees,” the FoodTruckr team enjoys reading about successful entrepreneurs, salivating over photos of burritos on Twitter, and long walks through food truck parks. Chat with FoodTruckr on Facebook or check out the FoodTruckr School podcast for more awesome tips to level up your business.

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