Surviving The Slow Season

Ask any food truck owner how they’re doing in May, the season of farmer’s markets, festivals, and weddings, and they’ll probably tell you “Great! But busy!” And the conversation will end there because they’ll have food to make, customers to serve, catering clients to meet and festival contracts to look over. Sometimes in the summer it feels like the rest of the world is off camping, swimming and going on family vacations while we spend the entire sunny season working. It’s tiring and challenging, but being a busy business owner is a good thing because it means you’re making money.

Ask a food truck owner how they’re doing in February and they’ll probably tell you how they’ve been catching up on everything they let slide during the rest of the year – cleaning the house, catching up on paperwork, actually spending time with friends and family. It’s wonderful to have a little bit of time during January, February, and March to slow down, catch up, and plan for the upcoming busy season ahead. The lull in work is usually much needed and much deserved. But there’s a drawback, and it’s a big one: if you’re not working much, chances are you aren’t making much money.

My first winter as a full-time pie maker was a doozy. I’d been so busy all year, and all of a sudden, I found myself without orders to fill or events at which to serve. I was strapped for cash and thought maybe I’d just lost my pie-making mojo. And then April came along and I was busier than ever. I realized I had to strategize for next winter. I came up with a few strategies that I continue to use each winter.

Save, Save, Save

While we all know that summer is busier than winter, and that we should make sure to save money to get us through, it’s hard to do. Build a winter savings into your building budget. Figure out what you need to supplement your income, and then spread that amount throughout your busiest months. If you want to, you can create a separate account and have the money transferred so you don’t even think about it. Come winter, you’ll feel safe knowing you have a little nest egg to get you through.

Try New Things

Who says you need festivals or markets to sell your food? Now that you have some down time, think about other venues for selling your products. A few winters ago, I made a list of ways to sell more pies, and one of them was partnering with a local coffee shop to see if they wanted to carry my pies. I approached them about it, and I’m still delivering pies to the shop today. Is there an avenue for sales you’ve been meaning to tap into? Maybe you’d like to start selling pies at local office buildings, or offering delivery service. Use the time and energy you have now to make the leap!

Use the Extra Time

You don’t need to be out on the truck to be working. Make use of your extra time to plan for your upcoming season. Does your menu need a revamp? Is it time to start thinking about expanding your offerings? Does your catering contract need some tweaking? Could your website use an update? Now is the perfect time to get all your ducks in a row so you’re in a great place when things pick up in April.

It’s also a valuable time to do some thinking and reflecting. What worked well last year? Which events were most successful, and why did they work? Which events might not be worthwhile to you? How can you improve efficiency or lower costs? What are some fun new ways to promote your business? A little quiet time can be great for coming up with new ideas to help you grow and prosper.

Get a Side Job

There’s no shame in doing a little side work when times get a little tight. Not only does it provide a little supplemental income, it can be really fun to do a job that uses different skills than the ones you use operating your food truck. Plus, it’s really nice to have someone else in charge!

My first winter, I started writing articles for an online publication my husband works with, and found I’d really missed writing. I studied English in college but hadn’t used my degree much since graduating. Writing for them reminded me of how much I like writing, so I sought out more opportunities to write (and here I am, writing to you)!

Just remember – the slow season will end and soon you’ll be back to your hectic schedule. No matter how you decide to get through the season, be sure to take a little time to savor it.

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. Connect with Dale Mackey on Google+