Helpful ReplyMobile Vendor at fairs/festivals: is it worth it?

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miss.az
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2013/01/04 00:46:15 (permalink)

Mobile Vendor at fairs/festivals: is it worth it?

Hello,
I'm new to this site -- came across it while brainstorming a mobile food business. My original thought was to travel to fairs and festivals across the country: "How cool would it be to have a small food cart (or food truck), and travel across the US while meeting new people, seeing new towns, and selling a great product!". The main draw being travel and a schedule that I could control. The more I think about it, I realize this is not entirely practical for a startup business;  travel expenses would be totally unaffordable, for one. Anyway, at this point I am just considering a small crepe business showcased at local farmer's markets and/or festivals until profit provides further travel. 
 
To give you an idea of my experience: I attended culinary school after high school and since then have gained 6 years of experience in quality restaurants (no chains, some farm-to-table concepts, some banquets & catering, some high-end hotel experience). I realize I will need more training on the business side of things (cost control, inventory, purchasing, etc), but I have a basic foundation of that knowledge and will better educate myself in the time leading up to my startup. I love this industry, and intend on making a career out of it. Lately I've been trying to answer the question, "Where do I want to end up?"...which leads me to all the above thoughts. I would like to own my own piece of the culinary industry, however a big operation or even a small cafe simply seems like too much risk for me. What this all boils down to is, IS IT POSSIBLE TO MAKE A DECENT LIVING BY RUNNING A MOBILE VENDING OPERATION? I know what my theme/staple item would be, and accordingly would create a sense of branding; I would avoid renting commercial kitchen space and instead do the prep at the cart/stand (I believe some states require that anyway?). 
If you have any advice for this particular situation, or have tried something similar, I would love to hear it. Also, I understand that this type of work is somewhat seasonal and perhaps I should have another steady source of income in the beginning?
 
Thanks :)
post edited by miss.az - 2013/01/06 12:15:56
#1
pnwchef
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/04 08:30:09 (permalink)
Depending on the city, I would take a small Chef owned cafe, with low rent, low labor. This would give me the opportunity to put my vision to the test. I feel the mobil business is a lot a harder to build a successful business. In the town I live in now, it would be hard to be successful, if I lived in Portland, Oregon I would do it in a heart beat. Portland is a Mobile business owners dream come true, if your good, they will come. Portland has Pods of food vendors that do a fantastic business and fits the Portland free laid back style way of life. Not every city is close to this, this would be the major problem to your success. My answer would be, it all depends on the area you pick to follow your dream. .........I'm not sure how many food trucks there are around Stanford, take a ride around town and see how long the lines are at lunch time. The area between Westport to Stamford s/b a good area for a Good young Chef to get established. There are a lot of people traveling from that area to work in NYC. I would work/learn in the area of foods that you would like to serve in your own restaurant. Keep focused and learn the business side, learn food and labor cost control Learn on someone else's dime........Welcome to Roadfood..........best of luck................pnwc
#2
ricoboxing
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/08 11:16:11 (permalink)
In Canada (Toronto area specifically), festivals and fairs can be great. I started doing that 3 years ago on weekends selling Hawaiian BBQ and it has produced a good second income on weekends. In order to get into the good festivals though, you have to have a unique product. They don't need anymore hotdog, burger or corn vendors.
 
Last year we did close to 20 different festivals, mostly single day festivals, some 2 and 3 day ones. Best day was $3700, worst day was $0 (cancelled due to rain) so you can have really good days and bad ones too.
 
We're using this as a stepping stone to getting our own quick service restaurant.
#3
Chicnscoop
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/08 16:46:03 (permalink)
We had good sales at a local farmers market and barely covered costs at fairs. Most fairs charge by the linear ft of frontage so be sure your unit is as narrow at the service window as possible to keep frontage costs down. Busy fairs are difficult to get into and they have vendor waiting lists to get good spots so start booking fairs as early as possible. Having a unique product helps get you into fairs too.
#4
miss.az
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/20 13:57:48 (permalink)
Thank you kindly! All these tidbits have been very helpful :-)
#5
Foodbme
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/20 15:09:20 (permalink) ☄ Helpful
As a Business consultant, I helped this lady get started.
She does shows, food truck events and other events in AZ & NV in the winter and parks it on an island in Maine in the summer and sells to tourists.
She's currently at the Barrett Jackson Auto Auction this week.
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Maine-Lobster-Lady/331233693583113
If you contact her I'm sure she'll relate her experience. Give her a few days to recoup from Barret Jackson.  
#6
kennyb
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/21 09:40:29 (permalink)
yes it is. works very well for us.
#7
JodyP
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/24 09:19:40 (permalink) ☄ Helpful
2012 was not one of our banner years doing the festival circuit. There was a lot of competition and the attendance was way off. The smaller festivals (smaller application fees) tended to attract many non- professional food vendors. The larger events have starting charging outrageous application fees especially for food vendors like ourselves who operate out of commercial food trailers or trucks. We would pay $800 to $1600 for a 10’ x 20’ area for a two day event. Our trailer is a 7’ x 14’ with an overall footprint of 8.5’ x 19’ thus requiring two booth spaces.
 
There are a couple of ways to do the fairs. One is to hook up with the midway operator and travel with them or go through the fair organizers. The fair organizers normally charge a set fee plus 20% of gross sales. Remember that the midway operator’s food vendors get the choice spots.
 
If you plan to travel from state to state it is possible but make sure you are aware of what is required. Most of the states or local governing bodies will issue temporary food permits.  
 
If you are going to do the fair circuit I would suggest staying away from the gourmet menu. People who attend fairs love anything fried. Look at what is popular at fairs and try to duplicate it with a twist.
 
We found a niche outside of the festivals doing on site auctions. Simple menu, cold drinks and a captive audience makes for a good weekend.
#8
Ridgeviewbbq
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/25 17:53:43 (permalink)
Only if you want to work harder than you have ever worked, and have no aspirations of getting rich quick!  We have made a decent living from festivals, but there has been a lot of sacrifices made in order to do so.
 
#9
Dr of BBQ
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/27 11:20:36 (permalink)
It is far more work than most would imagine. I have an order for 150 slabs of ribs for Feb 8th. For this and events you bust your tail getting ready for a week before the event and then you have set up, the event, teardown, clean up, and the trip home. And if you have bad weather, rain, extreme heat, cold, you don't sell much, but you still have to pay your crew, entry fees, and in some cases the percentages.  
#10
FriedTater
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/27 12:50:21 (permalink)
Doc, couldn`t have said it better myself.
#11
Buck & Vi's
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/01/27 17:44:24 (permalink)
yes we only do 1 event now we got the reg. spot that keeps us busy enough, the one event we do,do is the paintball gig been doing it since we started and this year they had a b.b.q guy come in TOO, and believe it or not it was GREAT !! yes it was a little less busy but we sold enough and i gues they did too, didnt have time to talk to them or them to us really, but it was finally FUN to do, we laughed joked and had a ball !!sometimes the only food in town is not so good with wait times and all. with 1500-2000 people with only 2 vendors..... there was enough customers to go around lol.pull everything down get everything cinched down takes us a good 1 1/2 hr, then go back its always dark..htis old fart cant see that well..etc etc etc...lol  ho hum....zzzzz time for a nap cheers..
#12
miss.az
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/02/20 14:10:07 (permalink)
Thanks for all the insight, everything from spaces and sign up processes, to the hard work involved--all are useful to me!
@Foodbme, thanks for that--I grew up in Arizona and in an ideal world I would love to work there in the winter and relocate during the summers, so its great to know someone else has been successful doing that as well. 
#13
kennyb
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/02/20 16:43:11 (permalink)
Dr of BBQ

It is far more work than most would imagine. I have an order for 150 slabs of ribs for Feb 8th. For this and events you bust your tail getting ready for a week before the event and then you have set up, the event, teardown, clean up, and the trip home. And if you have bad weather, rain, extreme heat, cold, you don't sell much, but you still have to pay your crew, entry fees, and in some cases the percentages.  

our first trailer we had partners in. our partners wanted out and we bought a lake house so we decided to sell. my wifes brother wanted the trailer. all he ever saw was us counting money at the table after an event. him and his wife bought it, did about 4 events  an sold it cause it was to much work. we missed it so much, sold the lake house an now have 2 trailers, 2 lemonade stands and a dog cart. we both work jobs and do this and love it.
#14
Dr of BBQ
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Re:Mobile Vendor: is it worth it? 2013/02/20 17:24:08 (permalink)
Kenny,
You touched on the key you really have to like it because it's not all about counting money at the kitchen table. LOL Besides I'd get bored fishing every day. LOL
#15
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