Nearly two years ago I mentioned I was in the process of building a small concession trailer for selling a simple menu at small events. Well, I am happy to report that the trailer turned out great and I am completely happy with it. More on that in a minute.
This past year has been a year of transition for me. As it turns out; the older I get the harder it is to operate a high capacity tent operation at large events. The process of loading in stock, setting up the tent and equipment at each event, selling at high capacity, then tearing down to head home where I start the process over again for the following event has all become a bit too much. So last spring I made the decision to ground my tent/deep fry operation and instead spend the season doing small local events with the new custom built trailer and a new menu. Unlike the tent/deep fry operation that took many hours to set-up this little trailer is easy to tow and can be ready to serve in less than an hour. The question was: will it make enough money?
The 2017 concession season was a “throw away” year for me economically. I considered it the cost of my education on how to make money with a completely different menu at much smaller events. In fact, I needed to find out if it was even possible. The summer was not wasted! Here are some things I have learned:
- My season was scheduled with a variety of events in an effort to learn what sales market is the best for my new menu. I did the weekly 4pm to 8pm local farmers market plus many community events – each of which attracted a slightly different demographic. Some of these events were two or three days long, but all were close enough to home that I could easily commute each day and stock up from home if needed. This was an important trial for this new menu. Next season when I schedule my events I now know the type of events to target and which events to avoid.
- There is money to be made with a simple menu at small events providing you are willing to go to a lot of events. It’s just gets down to numbers. For example; where a simple menu might do well to sell $500 during a four hour farmers market, a large capacity, multi-dish menu operation might sell $5000 at a two day community event. Simple enough. Therefore; to do $5000 with a simple booth/menu you would need to do ten days at the farmers market.
- However, the math gets a little tricky when you consider the costs associated with each type of operation. For example; the costs of doing business at multi-day events are much higher than short-term local markets because the costs of traveling, sleeping over, hiring labor, and your own time and energy are also involved. Additionally, event costs such as space fees need to be calculated on an individual basis. The space fee for a single day at the farmers market might cost $35, whereas the space fee at a weekend community event can run anywhere from $50 to $1000 plus, depending on the event.
- Food service licensing is also tricky to calculate; depending on what type of license you operate under (mobile or temporary) and what county you work in. In my county a temporary restaurant permit costs the same for ninety days at the weekly farmers market as it does for a single multi-day community event. However, every county structures their fees a little differently.
As for my new little concession trailer; I designed it specifically to serve my simple menu at small, local events. I had very specific criteria in mind:
- Foremost I wanted a booth and menu that is simple enough to work alone thereby eliminating the cost and uncertainty of hiring help.
- I wanted the trailer to be as “open” as a trailer can be. So, I made it a “rag-top” where each side panel of vinyl is rolled up for maximum exposure. Alternately, I can roll down certain panels if the wind, rain or sun is coming in too intensely from one direction.
- The menu needed to be simple enough so as not to require hauling extra stock and essentials like propane tanks. Everything I need for a single day of business can be hauled either in the trailer or the bed of my truck.
- The trailer needed to be light enough to tow with my small pickup truck and wheel around by hand on the jack wheels.
- The trailer is only ten feet long and fits perfectly within a typical standard ten foot space. The actual box is nine feet long; the tongue is one foot plus a two foot removable stinger.
- The trailer is mounted on a single drop axle – making it lower to the ground and thereby easier for kids to order.
- This trailer design would work well for selling many things besides food, such as; baked goods, crafts or farm produce.
I learned many things over the summer. Probably the most important was that though the little trailer will make far more money next year when I put into practice the lessons I learned, I am still not ready to throw in the towel on my deep fry menu. Therefore, I am designing another trailer specifically for my deep fry menu. With it I will do a handful of my favorite, longstanding events and also continue to run the little ice cream trailer at the local farmers market and small, local events. I’m excited because this new fry trailer will get me away from the heavy work of setting up a tent and equipment, plus enable me to continue to serve at the larger events, but mostly because it’s going to be an AWESOME trailer.
I’ll keep you posted.