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5 Things Food Truck Owners Can Learn From the Great American Food Truck Race

The Great American Food Truck Race” is more than just entertainment. Food truck operators glean valuable lessons from the successes and failures of competing teams. Here are just a few things food truck owners can learn from “The Great American Food Truck Race.”

1. Know Your Market

Image via Flickr by SierraTierra

Market research is critical to your success as a food truck owner. Opening a food truck selling cheese steaks right next to 10 other trucks doing the same is wasted effort. Likewise, selling hot dogs in an area where veganism is commonplace probably won’t be overwhelmingly profitable. The Coast of Atlanta team failed to attract business during the first week of the competition in L.A., simply because they didn’t know their customers.

2. Differentiate Yourself

Running a successful cheese steak food truck next to competitors offering the same is possible if you can differentiate yourself from the competition. What’s your unique selling proposition? Is there a compelling reason your cheese steaks are five times better than the five vendors all lined up on the same street?

This is where the 2010 competitor Nom Nom lost out after a winning streak the entire season. While Nom Nom’s banh mi sandwiches were good and easy to assemble, they failed to stand out from the crowd in Manhattan – a city flooded with shops offering the same sandwich. Top competitor Grill ‘Em All topples Nom Nom by giving New Yorkers what they really want: Burgers and fries.

3. Marketing is Key

A big part of Grill ‘Em All’s success in the 2010 season is simply that the team took the time and carved out a niche in its marketing strategy. Before hitting Manhattan for that essential last leg of the competition, Grill ‘Em All capitalized on the power of the Internet and attracted a loyal following of metal heads in Staten Island from the start.

Team Nom Nom showcased its savvy marketing skills up to this point in the competition. Yet in the very city where marketing efforts literally won the game, the team didn’t use its marketing prowess and never attracted the customer base it needed for claiming the ultimate prize. If you’re entering unchartered territory, making your business known to locals is the only route to success.

4. Plan Production and Productivity

In busy cities where food trucks are popular, customers aren’t interested in standing around waiting for their food. As the Pop-A-Waffle team found, not enough equipment means production is slower – and customers head elsewhere for quicker service. A single waffle iron didn’t cut it for producing waffles quick enough for meeting demand.

Likewise, overhead and supply costs kill many budgets. Make sure your niche is profitable based on ingredients and other overhead costs, and develop alternative production methods for cutting costs and faster execution.

5. Be Savvy with Your Budget

How savvy you are with your budget makes or breaks your success. Just ask the Seoul Sausage team, which made Korean-spiced hamburgers in the first week of the competition instead of its signature sausage. Why? Seoul Sausage couldn’t fit an expensive sausage press into its budget.  Fortunately, the risk paid off. Take calculated risks with budget decisions and carefully analyze how your choices could impact sales.

If your family complains that you’re watching “The Great American Food Truck Race,” tell them you’re conducting business research. The lessons you learn from watching this show can quickly catapult your food truck business to success.



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