Proper Planning: The Best Way to Start Your Concession Business

Proper Planning: The Best Way to Start Your Concession Business

Once you decide that you want to start a concession business, there are a myriad of decisions that need to be made. Sometimes the amount of work that needs to be done before the stand is even open can seem like a daunting task. Follow these steps and you will be well on your way to debuting a solidly planned concession stand or mobile cart.

In this article, you will learn
  • How to put all of your knowledge together to make a business plan.
  • To decide whether mobile or permanent concessions are right for you.
  • How and where to get hands-on research and experience.
  • How to create a plan for an operations strategy.
  • How to develop a marketing strategy.


Develop a Business Plan
You have decided whether you are going to be a permanent concessions vendor or a mobile one, now you just have to come up with a plan of attack. This involves creating a business plan. Developing a plan is a great way to be organized from the get-go, and banks love to see a business plan if you are applying for a loan. Here is the basic layout your business plan should have:

Will a trailer work best for your business model?

Have a general statement of purpose.
Your statement should be specific without going into the nitty gritty details such as equipment and costs. (e.g. "I want to sell the best barbeque ribs to Northern New Mexico and I am going to target local festivals and cooking competitions")

Develop goals and objectives.
Starting a business is no simple matter. Try to break down your steps into more manageable small goals. (e.g. Instead of stating “I will have a trailer set up in six months,” break the large goal into smaller achievements like “I will have the design for a trailer in one month. In the second month I will purchase my equipment. In the third month, I will begin researching events")

Describe how your business will operate.
Tackle the issues of whether you will work alone, with another family member or whether you will be hiring help from outside. Figure out what your hours of operation will be.

Figure out the logistics.
These are the pieces of your business that will cost you money during your operation. Plan out what type of equipment you will need and how you will arrange it in your cart or trailer. >>Learn More

Research possible financial resources.
There are very few people who have the start up capital for a new business, but there are many banks and financial institutions that can help you with a loan. Find out what options exist in your area. Compare interest rates and payback timelines and figure out which loan is right for you. Learn more about running a concession business.

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Choose Between Permanent or Mobile Concessions
Before you start vending food, you need to make the decision whether you want to start your business in a permanent stand that is in the same place day to day or if you want to have a mobile cart or trailer that can switch up locations on the fly. Consider the following pros and cons for each type of concession business before you make your decision

Permanent Concession Stand
Pros Cons
Regulars
By having a stand set in the same area holding regular hours, you are likely to develop regular customers that become loyal to you.
Routine
Because your stand will be set up and in the same place every day, you can set up routines and you will not have to deal with out-of-the-ordinary snags 
Time Commitment
Running a concession stand requires that you hold consistent hours every week. You must be willing to show up for these hours of operation come rain or shine
Vulnerability
You are tied to your area whether it is busy or dead. If business drops off because the traffic disappears, there is very little you can do to get business to pick back up
Normal Schedule
You can set the hours that you want to have the stand open and leave them as such because your stand is not catering to a certain event
Large Up-Front Investment
A stand requires investment in larger equipment such as a restaurant range, charbroiler or fryer, or all three.
Ease of Operation
Once the stand is set up, there will be minimal difficult manual labor from day to day. The equipment is stationary and routines have been put in place.
 

Mobile Concession Cart/Trailer
Pros Cons
Variety
Variety of customers that you will encounter at new venues will never end. You will always have a new customer to wow.
Unreliable Income
The events you plan on attending are subject to change just as much as your income. Income from mobile sales can be very inconsistent if events are not as successful as you planned.
Part Time Business
Mobile vending does not require your attention seven days of the week. Instead, you can pick and choose which events and locations are most important to business
Physical Demands
Pushing a cart or setting up a trailer takes a lot of elbow grease. If you have medical conditions that prevent you from strenuous activity, this is not an option for you unless you have help.
Independence
Go wherever you want, whenever you want. You are not tied down to a permanent spot and can decide for yourself where you want to sell today
Higher Risk and Lower Control
If you are only working a few days a week, you are relying on each event to be a success. If it is not, you can be out a lot of money for the week
Lower Initial Investment
There is a lot less money involved in starting a business using a mobile cart. If things go awry, you stand to lose a lot less.

Research Before You Start
As with any business venture, it is important to take the time to do some research to see what the best fit will be for your lifestyle and goals. There are many ways to research all about the concession industry, but the best way to get the answers is to get out there and do hands-on research. Here are some suggestions:


Talking with fellow concession stand owners can provide a lot of insight.
Scout out concession stands
Consider the stands from the view point of a competitor and a customer. See what they are selling, how their menu is priced and what type of equipment they are using. Consider whether the prices are too high, whether the signage is confusing, etc. Go to several areas and scope out the competition to get a better idea of what you would want to do similarly and what you would want to do differently.

Talk with peers
Some concessionaires may not be as open as others, but if you are tactful, you can usually get some information out of them. Ask them what their best selling foods are. Ask them for the one piece of knowledge they wish they had before they began their business. Their knowledge is your power.

Talk with venue planners
Find out what they look for in a concession stand. They will eventually have a hand in your overall success, so take time to listen to what they like or dislike in a concession vendor. Find out what kind of general specifications, if any, they have for their carts or stands.

Develop a Strategy for Operations
Now you have a general idea of what your business is going to look like and what your goals are, but you need to spend some time deciding how your business will be run. There are some challenges to selling concession food that may not arise with traditional restaurants.

Plan your menu
With any menu, you will have to sacrifice certain things and add others that may not be your favorite dish, but are popular. Take into consideration prep time, space, seasonality and cost of ingredients. >>Learn More

Design your booth, trailer or cart
Many privately owned outdoor arenas have specifications that need to be met before you can open a concession stand with them. Find out if you will need to have you stand be a certain color or size before ordering it.

Ensure that you have the appropriate equipment or vehicle
Once you have your menu planned out, make sure that you have all the commercial equipment that you will need to properly and safely prepare your food. If you have a trailer, make certain your car can handle towing it. >>Learn More

Arrange for storage and transport
If you have a small cart or trailer, chances are you will not have room for every piece of equipment. You will also have to find a place to store your mobile stand


A commisary kitchen is a good way to prep food away from a concession stand.
Find commercial space for food preparation
Check with local vendors to see where they rent commercial kitchen space. Research rates for commissaries or commercial kitchens in the area. Oftentimes it is within a commissary or warehouse space, but occasionally a restaurant will agree to let vendors use their space for a fee during times when they are closed. >>Learn More

Obtain the proper licensing and insurance
Research within your county what the permit regulations are and what types of inspections you will need to pass. Talk to a local insurance company to see what insurance options are best for your business. >>Learn More

Develop a Marketing Strategy
Marketing is not all giant billboards and glossy ads. It’s about taking the time to plan the way you want to attract customers and keep them coming back for more. Consider the following aspects when you are developing your marketing strategy:

Decide who your target customer is.
Every business has a targeted demographic. Your business should be no different. Choosing your customer base will dictate many things, from the type of menu you create to the prices you charge.

For example: if your target client is a business person out to grab lunch, you will want a menu that includes sandwiches and perhaps chips. Your price point must be competitive with surrounding restaurants so that your customer will choose you over a standard sit-down eatery. By the same token, if you decide that your target market is families that are out for a day at the fair, your menu will include more snacks and fun food like cotton candy and popcorn, and your prices can be higher because there is no competition for your audience.


The proper signage makes a concession stand eye-catching.
Fix a schedule for your cart or stand.
Your stand should have consistent hours so that your customers can rely on you to be there during your stated hours of operation. Some of the best marketing for vendors is word of mouth, and if your customers can tell a potential new visitor when to visit your stand, the odds of them visiting are higher

Price based on location.
Your surroundings will dictate pricing. If you are the only vendor in the area, you can charge more for your product than if you are one of several concessionaires in a single location.

Choose the proper signage.
It is important to let your customers know what kind of food you are selling, but be careful not to overdo it with signage. Too much signage can overwhelm customers. Pick a few of your specialties to highlight and then create a clear menu with all of your offerings and the prices.

Once you have everything organized, getting all of the pieces to come together will take a little work and a good deal of start-up cash, but being ready for all of the obstacles that you may come up against in the starting phase will help you in the long run.

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