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By: Doug Taylor
If you want to work outdoors, meet all kinds of interesting people and have a flexible work arrangement, operating a concession stand business just might be for you. Whether you decide to sell sunglasses, wristwatches, assorted trinkets or specialty food items, running a concession stand can be both fun and profitable. You also have one thing most businesses don't - wheels - and can work from a fixed location, follow the customers to regional events or some combination of the two.
To succeed with a concession stand business or a food trailer operation you will have to overcome the challenges that any business faces. You will need to decide whether or not you want a partner in the venture, what type of product(s) you want to sell, where you are going to do it, how to deal with vendors and everything else. And, like any other business, you will have to promote and market yourself and your product. It certainly is not a get-rich-quick scheme, but running your own food or product concession stand does have the benefits of mobility, freedom and more than a little fun, if you're willing to work hard at it.
A list of tips could have five, 10 or 20 entries, but a dozen seems like a good number to cover the various bases. The following are in no particular order, and are more or less important, perhaps, depending on what your particular strengths are in business.
1. Have a plan
It seems obvious, but many entrepreneurs shoot themselves in the foot the first day by jumping into a business without having given it any thought. You need to have a business plan if, in fact, you want to approach your concession stand undertaking as a business. If you don't care about making money, getting shut down by the health department or watching your expensive chicken-and-apple sausages spoil in the wrong kind of container, then by all means, jump right in without a thought. If you are serious, you need to write a least a one- or two-page outline of a plan, one that considers all the following points plus the many others your tax preparer or accountant will remind you about.
2. Get a partner
If you are going to operate a large concession business that prepares and serves food, there is no way you are going to do it alone. Instead of thinking in terms of hiring employees, think about getting a partner. Not only can you split the workload, you can also split the risk by having another investor. Also, an investor is going to work a lot harder with you than almost any employee would work for you. Make a careful choice in this matter, however, because you will be closer than man and wife if you are going to work together in cramped quarters for many hours. You need to get along, of course, but you may also need a partner to make up for skills you do not have. When making your plan (in #1 above) you should note the abilities and skills that are needed for success, and if you don't have some of them, find someone who does.
3. Capital and management
How much can you invest, and where will you get it? You really need a fabulous business plan these days if you want to borrow money to start a business, and financial sources will probably want to see you investing as much as you can, too. That signals your seriousness about the business, for one thing. Don't take on too many silent partners just to get funding, as you will regret it later when you are either unable to repay them all as planned or you start getting a lot of unsolicited advice on how to run things. Again, if you can't manage or invest by yourself, get one good, hardworking partner and make a go of it, the two of you.
3. Have a way out
You should definitely have an exit strategy. Naturally you want to feel positive about your business, that you will succeed, but there is always a chance that you will fail. You need to think ahead and leave yourself a way to get out of the business without losing every cent. This might affect your decision to buy, lease or rent a trailer, and will certainly affect what you do with any profit you start making. If profits dwindle and the going gets tough, you can either tough it out or pack it in, and you are not dishonored by doing the latter. Many businesses succeeded only on the second, third or 10th attempt. Be realistic, though, and know when to quit.
4. Go regional with the offerings
If you are serving food, it may be best to "go regional" and serve the popular items of the state or locale you are working in. If you are in New Mexico, Tex-Mex food items might be the way to go, and in Philadelphia the noble cheesesteak is always popular. If you are selling knick-knacks rather than food, it might be sunglasses in Florida or mittens and scarves in Boston. Look around, and see what people are really spending their money on in the areas you want to work. This is part of any good business plan, and it's called market research. Don't leave home without doing some.
5. Keep track of "prep time"
Again, with food you must always take into account the time it takes to prepare the items you are selling. Are you considering plates of food with several items, or single items? Hot, cold or both kinds of items? Drinks only or what? Whatever it is, there is a timetable to the preparation, and time is money in every business. Non-food concession stands have other time-related constraints, such as set-up time and stocking. Make sure you know how long it takes to get from the first step in opening up to the first customer.
6. Location, location, location
If you are in this full-time, you may wish to set up in a permanent location, or semi-permanent at any rate. Or you might prefer following the crowds and staying "light on your feet." A combination of the two could also work. As in real estate, the secret to successful concession sales is location, location, location. After determining the primary location - the college football game, the local flea market, etc. - then there is always the matter of selecting the best venue in that defined area. You might want to scout out the various locations in the area you are going to serve, and cross-reference that with schedules of local events. Be where the hungry people are if you sell food, and be where the sun is bright if you are selling sunglasses, cold drinks and skin protectant.
7. Marketing, new and old
If you decide your business is just a side effort, and not your main source of income, you may want to do only special occasions, festivals, sporting events or parties. In addition to following the people, you want the people who plan and run these kinds of events to know how to contact you, too. List your business at the party planning websites, get your flyers distributed where they can do the most good, put your business cards all over the map and do all the other low-cost and "viral" marketing that you can think of. It never hurts to join a local business group or attend the weekly "lead swap" breakfast meetings. Get out there with your message.
8. Take care of red tape right away
Waste no time in getting in touch with the city, county, state and federal agencies that oversee health, food preparation and business. If you are a mobile concessionaire, you may need to adhere to various different requirements about food vending in the different locations you will service. You may have to pass a food safety exam, pay some fees, arrange for an official inspection of your stand and so forth. Always have up-to-date permits for the areas of the city or county where you will sell your product, whether it's popcorn, hot food or knit purses.
9. Cleanliness counts, big time
Food carts in particular need to look clean and healthy, so spare no time or expense in keeping things spotless. This is also a reflection on you, personally, and people make these kinds of assessments in just a few seconds. Make sure your keep the area around your concession stand clean, too.
10. Listen to your customers
Feedback is crucial to any business. After all the market research, marketing promotion and hard work, the fact is that your customer's reactions are what will tell you how you are doing. If the chicken wings are too hot for most people, make a change. If your black t-shirts aren't selling as well as the white ones, find out why by talking to your buyers. You should see every customer as an opportunity to learn and to fine-tune your business.
11. Review your results regularly
Keep good records, and not just to please the taxman or your CPA. What you are selling, to whom, where and how - this is called "data" and you want as much as you can get so you can gauge how you are doing. Review your sales results for different venues and events, and see if you can learn something to improve your next effort. Sales can go up and down, and although you want to track them daily, you only have to review them monthly. A few days, even a week, is not long enough to establish a real trend, and you could make a fatal error by overreacting to a particular good or bad day or two. Things even out over time, so review regularly, but don't get bogged down in analyzing daily data.
12. Stay positive and persistent
Let's wrap up this list of tips with some "presidential wisdom." When asked what made for success, Calvin Coolidge gave a reply that was so good many people today attribute it to Abraham Lincoln! Coolidge said:
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race".About Author:You are sure to find a variety of concession stand and home theater equipment here at Kano Korn Concession Equipment, including popcorn machines and supplies. Visit KanoKorn.com online today.
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