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October 16, 2015 Staff

How to Make Money in the Winter with a Concession Business

Gina Spiteri scrapes ice from the windshield of the Doughnut Vault truck on the 1800 block of West Thomas Street Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, in Chicago. Spiteri operates the food truck five days a week but was told by her boss to take the day off because of the snow and cold temperatures.    (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)  B583442339Z.1 ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS,  NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...

As has become so popular to say nowadays, Winter is coming, and for Food Truck owners particularly this shall signal big changes to their work environment, and very important decisions that must be made. We’ve already discussed what needs to be done if choosing to keep your truck in storage to ride out and ignore the poorer winter business Here, but what if you wanted to stay open in the cold season? It’s a difficult road, and even in some of the best cases (and again, this is mainly considering that you’re in a area that actually has cold, snowy winters; Florida trucks can ignore this and go away) you’ll probably still end up in the red for those months, but in a very skimming degree, and it’s always good to keep yourself in the public eye. Besides, there’s always giant winter events, holiday crowds, and the truck could be a part-time gig since you’ll likely not be taking it out nearly as often, thus one can still recover funds from a job on the side.

Whatever reason you choose to take this path, though, there are steps to be taken to prepare; this is no happy bright spring or fall weather, gotta bunker down and make some smart choices. What do you need to do to keep the truck running and operate? How do you stay PROFITABLE? These are the two main questions that need to be asked and planned out well before the cold temperatures and snowy days hit your area.

Winterization

Repair and Maintain

Just like before going into storage, you especially want to make sure any repairs and maintenance that does or could need to be done on the truck happens BEFORE winter hits; for one because it’s going to be much easier doing it when the weather is tolerable in the beginning of winter and easy to travel, not to mention the start of one’s extra free time, for the rest because the winter conditions will only due to exacerbate any small stress exponentially when out driving and parking in it as often as trucks do. We all know it’s hard enough to keep it healthy in good weather, it will only do so faster and with much greater annoyance here, so nip it in the bud.

Much like what was discussed in the Storage article, this of course includes filling up all tanks, fluids, and replacing air filiters (if they’re still only partially used, save for spring or when this set needs changing in a not-so-snowy time of the year). Check and charge the battery often, make sure those hoses and belts aren’t stretching and straining from the cold weather or else it may snap, and keep things like WD-40 and, this one is rather key, De-Icer; besides the random emergency freezes or cleaning a very bad-crusted window faster, this can be an imperative solve for if and when the door lock freezes and you can’t even get in the truck. A simple yet damaging event considering every minute off the streets can cost money, even in winter.

You have to make sure that the truck is able to handle the cold and keep warm on the inside, if anything for employee morale’s sake; though shouldn’t be TOO hard with stoves and ovens constantly on during service. But not all trucks need to stock that equipment, or may be designed in a way that doesn’t insulate too well; in which case, one should look into applying any technique found to increase this, sealing all corns, cracks, and placing rubbers sides on any doors/windows to the outside for starters.

Pump up those Tires

The danger of flat tires is ever prevalent in the winter, as the receding temperatures reduce the air pressure inside, so you’ll need to ensure you check these often, everyday if possible especially when the temperatures start swinging wide (I would swear my own tires would go almost flat pure only the days it got cold really faster even if it wasn’t even that low in temperature). What’s even more helpful is Investing in some decent Snow Tires; not only are these designed to resist the cold-air-pressure-dips due to their softer rubber, but they’ll help you actually drive through that packed car-sticker much easier an with less risk of slidings leading to accidents.

Keep it Shiny and See-through

fw4The winter season can provide some unique challenges for windshield care; obviously, all the extra slush, salt, and other nastiness can make your truck a mess, even the windshields. You’ll want to treat it to help prevent as much of this sticking as possible, but investing in a good quality, heavy-duty windshield cleaner and getting fresh wipers for the season will keep you seeing out the front and your window looking pretty for customers; cleaning the vehicle itself between shifts is up to you though. Just make sure to read the labels, since some contain chemicals which can damage paint.

The shift in temperature, much like with the tires, can change the pressure on the glass itself, increasing it considerable with shifts; normally not an issue, but any minor chips or cracks can, over time and with enough pressure, lead to full-on cracks stretching from one end to the other. And considering the temperature on the outside we’re sure you’d like to keep away, and the costs of replacing that whole window you’d like to avoid, probably best you scope out any potential harmful nicks and get them treated when the procedure is still cheap(er),

Emergency Kit

You should already have an emergency kit on board the truck for any break-down situation, but now is when you double check to make sure it’s fully stocked and equipped to deal with winter-based catastrophe; especially since it’s more likely to actually get stuck or break down now compared to before. Generally speaking, one should make sure to have: a first aid kit, road flares, reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, jumper cables, blanket, radio/spare communications device or phone/battery charger, oil, coolant, non-perishable snacks and water, and a big high-powered flashlight.

For winter purposes, you’ll definitely want to make sure there are also bags of sand/cat litter for tire friction, portable shovel to clear a path through snow, an extra battery and/or gas generator to help keep the truck warm if needed, and tow rope/hitch if possible. Simply put, try to cover all the bases one can think of, an get as much into the truck and emergency kit as possible.

Side Storage

Depending on where you’re storing the truck overnight, you may want to consider having a place to move food if not done already. If it’s, say, in a garage that doesn’t get so too cold overnight, you’re likely fine and don’t have to worry about it. That said, any usually ‘non-perishable’ items often kept in dry storage (canned goods, baked items, bottles of water/soda, sauces, etc) are all going to basically be plunged into the climate of a freezer every single night for at least 1-2 months, and then forced to heat back up to ‘room temp’ or warmer day after day; that is, if the truck is kept outside or in a not-so-insulated storage and the food kept inside. No matter how non-perishable, that’s probably not an ideal climate for anything. One should make sure to set up a separate space that these items can then be moved to between shifts, like a rented commissary or other storage space; just make sure it’s within local laws and health code guidelines.

fw1Sales Strategy

It’s All about the Gig

Being able to land Catering Events/Contracts with businesses and finding Events to attend is important all-year round, but in winter these will basically add up to the majority of sales, so it’s ever more imperative that you put as much time aside to get these scheduled and set up for the truck. People for the most part are not going to want to do much outside travel for a food truck meal… but that fact COULD lead to more actually willing to find vendors to bring their food to the office, thus the opportunities for setting up clients could be even more rife than before, depending. Plenty of people are looking for food truck catering for weddings, birthday parties, and other special occasions nowadays, so definitely don’t count it out and do the necessary networking.

This is also the time when you’ll want to look into cementing a ‘regular spot’ for the truck to park at during the non-event hours. Particularly speaking, if there are any local breweries, cocktail-only bars, etc that enjoy having trucks parked outside on a frequent basis, try to talk with the right people and set yourself there at least one consistent day, or more if possible, every week. If that fails, or to fill the other times, find a decent parking spot where people where see you and go BACK to that specific one every time. Building that pattern can help to engrain to potential customers THAT you’re there, and to help create the expectation of where you’ll be on a consistent basis so that they don’t have to wait for updates and search you out; and people probably won’t like the idea of trying to walk around outside to figure out where the truck is. They’ll know where to go and plan the most efficient travel while figuring out the rest of their schedule with ease. And customers like that.

And remember; you’re not the only one exploring these options, so scout all of it out EARLY and talk to the important people FIRST before other food trucks steal your opportunity.

fwMenu Changes

One of the fantastic parts of down seasons like this, especially for a truck that’s already gotten itself at least somewhat established in the season, is that there’s little to nothing to lose. Thus it’s a perfect time to start experimenting, particularly with the food! Many suggest using the season to add new menu items on, twist/improve old ones, or just simply try out some ideas. Not only can one directly see how well these do for customers directly without the chance of negatively impacting a major business day/event, but the marketing of these ‘NEW Try it Now!’ items can only help intrigue and attract more customers both new and old during a time of year which it’s desperately needed.

In our opinion however, the real profit maker comes not in growing the menu, but REDUCING it. Focus on the items that would be most appealing to customers walking through the cold, something hot, easy to hold in a gloved hand, and with little time to wait in the cold. This can be offering the option for a cup of specialty hot chocolate/horchata, featuring some paper bag-wrapped twisted fries/mini-donuts or crunchy-gooey Panini; heck, a food truck in Minnesota once changed their truck into a ‘pop-up’ operation when not at events and completely scrapped the menu to focus purely on hand-made delicious quality soups. Focus on a few items, or a wide variety of the same kind of item ie soup/pasties, that take advantage of what satisfies our cravings during winter without creating the confusion of figuring out what to exactly get. Besides getting people out there and ordering fast, it also eliminates the annoyance of you trying to cook up multiple different kinds of menu items at the same time, which only makes longer wait periods and an image of a truck that doesn’t understand how to be a food truck.

Use that Down Time

It sucks, but at the end of the day the fact remains that in most situations, you WILL be losing hours that would have made sales in any other time of the year. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing… consider, all the hours you’ve been spending, every day and month filled with food prep, driving, car maintenance, etc. For once, you actually have some time off! Which first and foremost should be used by you and your employees for relaxation and a break; take a vacation, spend time with the family, sleep on the couch or whatever, the most important thing is that you let your mental health recover. It’s very important to ensuring the business stays active and running all year round; truly, do not burn yourself out, it will only hurt things. Besides, employee morale is always a good thing.

With that said and done, the best part is one now has a chance to take advantage of all this free time to do all the business-important things one normally couldn’t. Researching new marketing/advertising strategies, finding better deals on equipment/supplies, networking, recipe experimentation, etc. All these and more one can now better explore to help improve and grow their food truck. If you’re not able to make money directly, find a way to make it indirectly!

Or…

Then again, you could always just take a hint from the birds and drive the business down south for the season!

Helpful Links in this Matter

How to Run a Food Truck: Prepare for the Off-Season + Nine Ways to Winterize your Food Truck – FoodTruckr

6 Way Trucks can Survive the Winter Freeze and Grow – Entrepreneur

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