Before we begin, the content of work written below is based on the experiences of the author (Sean Jaehne), who is the owner of Chase The Food Trucks, an online food truck scheduling platform. The following content are his thoughts and opinions, which are intended to be free knowledge to anyone with interest in the food truck industry. The topic of this article was presented by Best Served Creative, who also have a podcast discussing many topics involving the restaurant industry. If you are interested in having more insights into the inner workings of the hospitality industry, check them out in the provided link. TOPIC: How can a food truck brand successfully launch into a new market, and subsequently into a nationally recognized brand? First off, I believe desiring to become a national brand (for any business) is a choice needing the consideration, “do I really want this.” This kind of journey from local-to-national needs to be a conscious choice from the beginning as you can end up in something you never intended, and loose the passion for why you started in the first place. With that said, there is nothing wrong with being (only) locally popular. I think we all are too often mesmerized by the prospects of serving everyone and everywhere, but when up to the challenge it reveals all the sacrifices you have to make to get there. However, it is an incredible feat when you can create something that crosses borders. Below are my opinions that would help a food truck get from local-to-national: 1) “Iceberg Branding” Like an iceberg, your brand needs to be 10% visible and 90% underwater. What does this mean? Well the 10% visibility refers to a brand being recognized and familiar enough for customer buy-in on its surface level. For this topic we are only sticking to the context of the USA food truck industry, therefore methods for this success are usually fashioned by the some variation of the common sub-title “American Twist.” Also effective are the inclusion of other descriptive cuisine words that attach to local, state, or nation recognition. This will become more obvious in the examples listed below. Now it’s time to touch upon the sub-surface level of the “iceberg,” with what lies mysteriously underneath. It is here that brands try to differentiate from each other, and become some thing unique. This is the chef’s chance to pay homage to their cultural background, to unique travel experiences they may have had, or even just a random experiment of blending to unrelated cuisines. To be clear, the term can have a ambiguous meaning in this context. It does not have to be cuisines of international origin. In some cases city-to-city and state-to-state cuisines can be wildly different from one another that they can be successfully branded as a new fusion experience. So why is there customer buy-in for these cuisine fusion concepts, and how can this help lead to becoming a national brand? Well the “familiar” aspect of the cuisine, what’s locally recognized, gives customers the trust and comfortability in discovering more what the restaurant has to offer. The “exotic“ is what gives the customer a new experience, one in which only your restaurant can offer and isn’t easily copied. Eating good food is not only an entertainment experience, but also an enlightening one when it can bring different groups and cultures together with the discovery of what is both similar and different among all people of the world. Here are just a few examples of￼ cuisine fusions that I have personally experienced that successfully blend familiar and exotic: Pho-Jita | Thai and Tex-Mex Oh My Gogi | Korean BBQ The TX BBQ Lab | Carolina BBQ YoYo’s Hotdogs | Korean Hotdogs Hula Dog | Hawaiian Hotdogs Foreign Policy | Multi-National Flavored Burgers So to reiterate, 10% of the brand gets the customers comfortable, while the remaining 90% is the entertaining discovery of something new. 2) “Needing R&R” Though we all do you need rest and relaxation from time-to-time, this is not referring to that. This refers to your “recognition” and “remembrance” by your established customer base. The foundations of this were laid out in your branding, however, this extends to what methods in customer service you provide that allow customers to be continued loyal patrons. I have known plenty of food trucks to go out every day as if it’s their first day of operation. By that, I mean they go out each day of operation without an established customer base, and typically every customer they receive is experiencing them for the first time. This is not to say that they were in anyway a disappointment to their previous customers, but rather they are not giving their customers any affective measures to follow up with them after. Online presence is crucial for any business these days. If you’re not found somewhere online, likely you won’t gain the trust of enough customers. So joining the major social media platforms, having a website, and having an monitored business phone and email are all a must! Handing out business cards to every walkup (whether they buy or not) is the ground-work needed in giving customers a means to follow up with you after their first visit. However, there also needs to be an emotional exchange with customers, one that compels them they owe you their continued support thereafter. As with most businesses, this problem stems from a food truck’s desire to just take in orders and process them out quickly, without really engaging with the customer.￼ This a profit over personality tactic, that is great for short term financial gains, but neglects investment into customer loyalty. Obviously there is a fine balance with transactional and engagement behaviors with your customers. You can’t spend too much time with each customer, and make the following customers wait longer. This is where social media, and other online methods, become essential. Use those platforms to ask your customer’s questions. Ask them for feedback, and get them to feel at stake with your success. Personally, I think business cards are a very cheap and effective way to keep your customers remembering you. On them, your business contact and references to your online presence is an absolute must! Also, you would be missing opportunities if the cards don’t in some way express your businesses availability to be booked-upon-request. Catering opportunities become nearly half of annual revenue stream for mature-stage food truck (2+ years operating). Additionally, learn the basics customer greetings every business should be using. This CSM article articulates what common greetings help in customer appeal: https://www.customerservicemanager.com/customer-service-greetings/ Greetings help establish your customer engagement mentioned previously, and don’t draw up a lot of time. However, avoid becoming too robotic with these greetings, and even better is to come up with your own unique greeting that references your brand. 3) “Efficiency in the Kitchen” The foundation of this point is centered in the cuisine(s) itself. So when building your menu, you must ask yourself how scalable is each item added. A cuisine or an individual item may be extraordinary in marketing appeal, but if it isn’t cost-effective to produce then it simply won’t succeed. Menu items that will ever make it under a national brand have to to balance these criteria: supply costs, supply sources, preparation, employee teachability, and ultimately the cost to customers. Obviously the more expensive and/or time-consuming your menu items are, the more you may be restricted in growth and scalability. Scalability is also filled with irony, in that each kitchen (individual food truck in this case) can usually only operate in a city-wide context. So any would-be national food brand would need to consider each operating city’s supply chain circumstances for their product sourcing and production. Local circumstances may dictate price variations among the business chains, which I believe local labor costs to be the biggest factor to consider ahead of expansion. Living costs and standards may vary city-to-city or state-to-state Additionally, different cultural norms to each operating area will affect the labor pool the each kitchen can draw from. This section also begs the question whether or not the menu item(s) are ever compatible in grocery stores or other big storefront networks, particularly in the frozen sections. This opens up further discussions on packaging, product quality in dry freeze conditions, and distribution costs. Such questions, really deserve their own new article and therefore for this article’s sake we will presume storefront distributions are not a consideration. 4) “Becoming a Boss” This journey is beyond just the growth of your business, but will inevitably encompass your personal growth as well. How you form it from the beginning will determine a lot of how it ends. Though as topic for expansion in another future article, it must be said that your early choices of partnerships alone can set you on a course of success or failure. In short, the more partners involved the more potential divergence in decision making for the business as a whole. However, presuming this is not your challenge, you must learn to become a boss. No matter the other achievements, business will ultimately fail without leadership. A successful company must be able to hire, train, and lead its employees. It goes without saying, the challenge becomes more immense across new cities and states. Leadership helps bond all stakeholders to the company’s mission, and your business leadership will form the basis of the company culture. More interesting, is if a company’s culture (no matter what the business) can out-live the founders. There are many shelf-brands (attests to why they’re even called that) that we shop for everyday, and perhaps we take for granted their presence in every store across the country.