Is Your Business Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’?

When I first started Dale’s Fried Pies, I did a lot of reading about mobile food. During that initial research I came across countless articles about “turf wars” between food trucks in big cities where permits were limited. Not being much of a fighter, I wondered if mobile food vendors in my town had similar conflicts. Luckily, I had nothing to worry about. In fact, one of my favorite parts about operating Dale’s Fried Pies is being part of the awesome mobile food community in Knoxville, Tenn. I’ve received invaluable advice, made some great friends, and even bought my food trailer from a fellow food vendor. Being respectful, thoughtful, and kind to your fellow mobile foodies will help you function better, enjoy your work, and project a positive image of food trucks in your communities.

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We’ve all had the “Goldilocks” moment: someone’s been parking in your spot–and they’re still there! Don’t seethe. Conflicts over “turf” can often be avoided through a frank and respectful conversation with your fellow food-truck owner. If another vendor seems to be encroaching on a time or space that you consider yours, ask them for coffee and see if you can come up with a compromise. If you can’t compromise, maybe you can at least agree to look at the rules in place, consider reaching out to the folks in charge of regulation, and ask an unbiased party to help you reach an accord. Even if the solution isn’t one you like, grinning and bearing it is still probably the right move. Which brings me to my next tip. . . .

Play Nice!

Summer’s hot, winter’s slow, and business is business. Even if another vendor gets on your nerves or has a line 10 times longer than yours, it’s in your best interest to take a deep breath, count to 10 (also the number of times better your food is than theirs), and choose not to take things personally. Obviously, calling others out in public can be mutually disastrous. But even giving someone the side eye will only create animosity and one more reason not to work cooperatively with you. Snark has a way of boomeranging and talking behind people’s backs will make you look petty and hard to get along with. No one, from venue owners to customers, wants to work with someone who seems just plain mean.

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Stand Out!

Competition can be both a blessing and a curse. One way to avoid its pitfalls is to make yourself as unique as possible. It’s easy to see a conflict arising between two taco trucks serving the same menu, because if they’re parked in the same area, they are directly competing for the same business. I’ve always benefited from my single focus on fried pies because my food pairs well with other food-truck offerings. But competition can be indirect, too: that taco truck may welcome my pie trailer as a neighbor, but they may also be selling their own desserts. If you can’t make your food offering stand out, study the competition and consider adding value with elements they may have put on the backburner. Can you get around more easily? Do a catering gig without using your vehicle? Provide kids’ items, large take-out orders, or entertainment? Make sure your customers know you’re different that way.

Advise and Refer!

No truck is an island. As a group, we face additional competition from brick-and-mortar foodservice operations and also from those seeking the temporary real estate where we ply our trade. We food trucks only stand to gain from exchanging resources with one another. These can include information and advice to new food-truck owners, like a tip on the best place to find restaurant equipment (KaTom, duh!) in the area. Another example is referring other food trucks to potential clients. If a client asks me to cater an event and I’m unavailable, I’m often able to refer them to another truck that can accommodate them. In turn, I know that when that truck is asked for recommendations, they’re likely to think of me.

Do Them a Solid!

Your generosity doesn’t have to be limited to lip service. If you’re at an event with another vendor and they run out of ice, it’s a good idea to share with them if you have enough. When you run out of one-dollar bills at your next event, they’ll likely help you out and break a twenty.

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With mobile food, strength is often in numbers. Participate in as many multi-vehicle opportunities as you can find. Knowing that one food truck is going to be in a given place will draw some people, but knowing that several food trucks are gathering at a specific time and place will draw even more. Sure, not everybody coming will buy food from you, but the larger customer base will expose you to more people, and likely result in still others hearing about your business for the first time. Make sure your fellow vendors have had a chance to taste your product so they can talk you up to their customers if they’re so inclined. And speaking of tasting. . . .

Be a Customer!

It’s always a nice feeling when another food-truck owner buys a pie from me. I know that they take food seriously and how hard they have to work for their money, so the fact that they are choosing to spend it with me is a compliment. I also love sampling food from other trucks and supporting them in their endeavors. As a bonus, there are often leftovers at the end of events and you’re more likely to be treated to these if you’ve expressed your enthusiasm.

Photos by Shawn Poynter

Dale Mackey
Dale Mackey

Dale Mackey is a Chicago native who moved to Knoxville in 2007 and has no plans of leaving. She spends most of her time making and selling fried pies, but when she finds a free moment, she enjoys writing, eating, playing with her cats, playing with her husband, and going on adventures. She's named after cowgirl Dale Evans, and hopes she does her namesake justice.