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How to Sell Coffee on the Streets Profitably

Do you run a mobile coffee cart business and you want to increase sales? If YES, here are 30 sure tips on how to sell more coffee on the streets profitably.

Basically, a mobile coffee business is made up of a cart, truck or any other vehicle that attaches to a coffee machine and other ancillary equipment, for selling products similar to static coffee shops. If you would like to start a coffee business but you do not have enough startup capital to start a brick and mortar coffee shop, then a good alternative would be to sell coffee in the street.

Coffee has attracted many people into the Mobile Catering Business – it’s easy, clean and offers great profit margins, and what’s more, you can do it with a wide variety of vehicles such as Transit style vans, Piaggio three wheelers, vintage VW campers, electric carts, golf buggies and almost every other type of vehicle imaginable.

In fact, it seems the more unusual the vehicle, the more appealing it is. Here are some advantages that come with selling coffee on the streets.

30 Tips for Selling Coffee on the Streets

1. Do lots and lots of research

The very first tip for selling coffee in the streets and succeeding at it is to carry out a thorough research on that subject area. You need to find out as much information as you can before you start so as to know what to expect.

You will need to know what to sell, where to sell, how to sell it and much more! There are a lot of resources on the internet that can help (this articles being one of them). In addition, you may also want to speak to some experts face to face for more information.

2. Have a Support System in place

When you need answers to pertinent questions or when you need reassurance that you are doing the right thing, or when you need the confidence and support to make required changes, a support system will be of great benefit. You might know someone else who has done it and therefore you can tap them up for information. This kind of person can be a mentor to you and help you to improve your business.

3. Have lots of Determination

There’s no doubting that in order to succeed in this industry you need to have a lot of determination to keep on going when the going gets tough.

It’s not an easy trade, especially in the depths of winter when you have to go out and trade in the cold weather when you’d rather be at home or in an office in the warm. This can spell the difference between a successful coffee business and one that is doomed to fail.

4. Pricing

When you are just starting your business of selling coffee on the streets, you may be confused on how to price your beverages. Obviously, it will depend on what you are selling and the location of your business. Food and drink often costs a lot more at shows and events than it does on a roadside, but then you will probably have to pay more in fees at a show.

5. Insurance

It is very important to be backed by insurance and you should not even operate your coffee business without this. Not only is it a legal requirement, it’s not expensive and will cover you against accidents and food poisoning.

6. Find out the Legal Requirements in your area

The legal requirements of a coffee cart business often vary by city, county and state and you can learn about the ones that apply in your area by contacting your local Health Department or the Department of Environmental Services. At this stage, you’ll address issues such as:

  • The street vending regulations in your city;
  • The types of products you’ll be selling and how they’re handled, stored, and prepared;
  • Commissary requirements (the requirement to operate from a licensed commercial kitchen)
  • The size and the equipment of the coffee vending cart;
  • The cart’s fresh water and waste water holding capacity;
  • Safe food handling course requirement;
  • Hygiene policies;
  • Pre-approval inspection of the equipment.

A lot of municipalities require street food vendors to use a commissary – a licensed and inspected commercial kitchen. Vendors have to report to the commissary each day of operation to prepare the products that will be served from the cart and to clean the cart’s equipment at the end of the shift. However, since you’ll be selling coffee-based drinks, you’ll have to find out if this requirement applies in your case.

When you are done with the legal requirements of this business, you’ll have to research coffee cart makes and models, and decide which one suits your purpose – and your municipality’s regulations – best. Whether you’re considering purchasing a new coffee cart or a second-hand one, you have to keep in mind that the cart and its equipment are a one-time investment and their quality really matters.

So don’t settle for cheap, unverified options, and do your due diligence before making a final decision. In the case you’re looking for something too specific, there’s also the option of having a custom coffee cart made just for you.

7. Location

In order to succeed in selling coffee in the street, you will need to be in certain places where you are most likely to make consistent sale. Since your coffee business is mobile, you might even test each one of them to see which is the most profitable option.

Generally speaking, coffee carts perform best in:

Business parks, Industrial estates, University campuses, Touristic locations, Stadiums and sport centers, Farmers markets, Outdoor events, Outdoor concerts, Car boot sales, Parking lots et al. You should also consider proximity to a commissary (if required), the right ratio of competitors, close-by amenities and accessibility.

8. Know your Competition

Being knowledgeable about your competitors is a vital element to your coffee cart/ truck success. So start checking things out early:

What are your competitors doing right that is worth emulating and improving on? What are they doing wrong that you can capitalize on as a competitive advantage? What could they improve on? Where are their customers coming from? What do their customers buy the most?

As much as customers will appreciate a cheap cup of coffee, they will also want to get it at a convenient location and will also consider quality of service, and menu.

By finding the most important needs in your market and coming up with the best way to meet them, you will be able to stand out from the crowd and dominate your competition. However, be prepared to invest time and do some deliberate planning.

9. Menu and Pricing

Your coffee cart menu is very important: it will determine your equipment requirements, the amount of repeat business and how you’ll fare in relation to your competitors. It’s an integral part of your business that you can use to differentiate yourself from your competitors, so it’s well worth it to really think about what you plan on serving.

You can start by simply writing everything down – from the beverages you’ll serve, to the ingredients that you will use and the additional goods you’ll sell. Then ask yourself:

  • What will you serve that others don’t?
  • What will your signature drink be?
  • What will your signature snack or food offering be?
  • Why will your customers choose you over Starbucks or other established brands?
  • What menu options can you provide that will make your customers come back?

As someone who is selling coffee on the streets, your aim should be to make a profit as quickly as possible. This is where quality and pricing come in. Serve high-quality coffee that you’ll price depending on your suppliers, competition, and running costs.

10. Suppliers

When you have worked out your menu, you will know exactly what you will need to serve your customers. Your suppliers play an important role in your business: where will you get your coffee from? How about your snacks?

Aside from coffee and snacks, your lids, straws, napkins, plates, and cups are among the biggest costs for any coffee business. Getting the right suppliers lined up will greatly benefit your pricing policy, your profit margin, and will increase your chances for repeat business.

11. Define Your Marketing Strategy and Sales Strategy

Starting your coffee business with a well-planned marketing campaign will help you streamline your efforts, saving you a lot of time and money in the long run. For instance, you can;

  • Throw an opening party to let locals know you’re open for business
  • Engage in community events to sell your products
  • Advertise your products in community based newspapers, local TV and radio stations
  • List your business and products on yellow pages ads
  • Leverage the power of internet and social media
  • Engage in direct marketing and sales
  • Encourage the use of Word-of-Mouth marketing.

12. Build a strong brand

Your branding, messaging and visual identity can make or break your marketing efforts and as such, it is very important that you do it right.

A strong name, a good logo and a high quality, smart and well-designed coffee cart or truck are great foundations to launch your business on. The aim of your branding is to have customers remember you, and to associate you with the things that set you apart from the competition.

That means maintaining a clear focus, and consistent message across all your marketing, whether in person on your stand, in printed marketing materials, or online.

13. Have a stellar customer service

A good marketing strategy should include treating your customers right. If you’re running a coffee cart or truck business, then there’s a huge probability that you will be the one serving customers, (at least when you are just starting the business).

It is very crucial that you be courteous and friendly as this will go a long way to helping you build repeat business. You should strive to make your business different from big, faceless brands by providing a friendly, memorable experience that customers want to repeat.

Simple things like a friendly smile, a sincere greeting and a polite thank you will pay dividends. Take an interest in your regular customers, ask questions and create a community feel around your coffee cart will have them coming back time and time again.

14. Reward repeat patronage

The main reason why major coffee brands run customer loyalty card scheme is because they actually work. Loyalty cards are a fantastic, cost-effective way to build your customer-base.

In addition to incentivizing repeat business, the card itself acts as a reminder about your brand (you can add your website and social media handles to the other side of the card) thus helping to keep your cart fresh in the minds of customers.

15. Increase your presence on social media

Social media marketing has come to be a very important aspect of business and marketing today. Engaging with your customers via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is quick, free and easy – and you can do it whilst you work via your smartphone.

The fast-paced nature of the coffee cart and truck industry makes having an equally responsive, up-to-date social media presence of high importance.

To make more money for your coffee cart/truck through social media marketing, you will need to get creative. There’s plenty of opportunity to create fantastic content that customers want to share.

Something as simple as a picture of an enticing, perfectly crafted coffee on a cold winter’s morning, and letting customers know you’re in their area could be enough to drive them to your cart. Don’t just position your business physically; you should also position it well in the cyberspace.

16. Offer free samples

Free samples of an exciting new coffee, complimentary biscuits with every drink, or giving away promotional items work – it’s a proven way to build a following, and one of the simplest and easiest ways to attract crowds of customers to your cart.

17. Have a plan on how to get the best position

Location is vital to any coffee cart/ truck business, and making sure that you get prime spots at busy local events and markets will help to increase footfall and drive sales. The secret here is to get organized, and to plan ahead. Take a look online and create a calendar of local events you might want to attend.

Contact the organizers of the event as early as you can and start to build relationships. Ask about the layout, and work out where you want to be, so you can secure a good spot. Many events put limits on the number of similar stalls that could attend, so if you get in first, you may have the chance to lock out the competition.

18. Have Coffee contests

Holding free prize draws and coffee contests is a great way of bringing customers back to your cart time and time again. It could be something as simple as a naming competition for your latest seasonal drink. The prizes need to be worthwhile, but don’t have to be huge.

The key here is to make a big deal about the draw or winner’s announcement, and the time, so you can encourage customers to return to your cart.

19. Choose a strategic location

Even though some may overlook this, but the truth still remains that choosing a strategic mobile coffee cart location is considerably the most important aspect to the success of your business. You need to pick a place where a lot of people are going to be.

You can’t just rely on friends and family member to buy what you sell. Even when you have return customers, a lot of your sales will still come from people who have never purchased coffee from your truck. That is why it’s so important to pick a destination that is flocking with people. If you didn’t take this into account, then it might be why your coffee cart/ truck business is failing.

There’s adequate customer traffic at public spaces like the office, malls, dry cleaners, service stations, hospital lobbies, and supermarkets. You can also opt to have your cart inside hospitals and government buildings – since these two are prime and stable locations for people who need coffee.

20. Obey the Law

A very important tip for selling coffee on the streets is to obey the law in all you do. If you are not allowed to park in a specific location — even if it seems like it is the best location — you simply can’t park your coffee truck there. This is just common sense.

Every city has its own rules and regulation governing where food and coffee trucks can and cannot conduct business from.

For instance, in Kansas City, food and coffee trucks can’t park within 50 feet of any type of restaurant. They also have to maintain a three-foot passageway for pedestrians. In Los Angeles, you must have a trash can outside your truck and it needs to be clearly marked as a trash can and have a sign attached that requests customers to dump their trash in the receptacle.

There are lot more rules guiding food and coffee trucks and it is up to you to know these rules so that you do not contravene any of them. You can Google your city and food and coffee truck laws to get a full rundown of the do’s and don’ts.

21. Secure the necessary permits, such as tax and food handlers

You wouldn’t want to get into trouble with the law once your coffee cart business begins to boom. In starting any business, there are various permits you must first secure and register.

Ensure that you’ll meet the standards for any health-related permits considering this might affect the reputation and sales of your coffee cart business. The same thing applies for coffee catering, since you’re serving tens and dozens of people all at the same time.

22. Have a business plan

The success of your coffee cart endeavor relies on a strong, solid foundation in the form of a concrete business plan. It is important to determine your set goals, financial forecasts, expected obstacles, and business funding so you’ll know the direction in which you want your business to take.

Document your initial start-up costs (supplies cost and machine fee) along with constant costs (disposable supplies and monthly rent) so you can determine if you’re making profit in the long run. In addition, when setting goals for your coffee business, make sure that the goals are attainable, concrete and measurable. Don’t delude yourself by setting goals that are impossible to attain. Start small and go steady.

23. Protect your supplies

After determining what type of coffee drink you intend to serve and which space is more conducive for sales, it’s time to purchase your supplies. Have a storage ready to protect these supplies from damage and spoiling. There are a variety of coffee cart stands and kiosks available in the market, choose one that will bring more advantage to you and your potential sales.

24. Proximity to competition

If you have to park you coffee cart /truck in a location where other coffee carts are, you should not park your cart too close to another cart. Give your cart a fighting chance and park some distance away

25. Keep your surroundings clean

This may seem obvious but some people may forget to check the nooks and crannies of their cart or truck for dirt. This can be a big turn off for clients who notice it. In addition, you should make sure to clean out and sweep the spot where you park your cart because a clean surrounding will always look more inviting than a dirty one.

Why Start a Mobile Coffee Cart Business?

1. Low Start Up Costs

You can start selling coffee on the street with only a fraction of the capital you would have spent on opening a brick and mortar shop; so it’s a lot cheaper even when you factor in the cost of the truck or cart.

2. Coffee is a growing trend

The coffee business is increasing in popularity. A lot of people do not want to drink a cup of drab, powdered instant, and would rather go for a high quality coffee. This trend will only going to continue.

3. Great Profit Margins

Coffee and tea business is really profitable with gross profit margins reaching up to 95% which is what has attracted the big companies to expand at such a rapid rate. There are very few products that can boast to be this profitable which means that this business is better than a lot of other businesses.

4. A Year Round product

Some products boom only during some periods of the year. This is not the same with coffee. Coffee is not seasonal.

5. Flexibility

It is very possible to operate your mobile coffee business in a way to fit your lifestyle such as choosing only the odd show or event.

On the other hand, there are people who their coffee business is a full time business for them. This business is quite flexible and can even be done in addition to another job. However, selling coffee on the streets is not without its disadvantages. Here are some of them.

Challenges of Running a Mobile Coffee Cart Business

1. Competition

The demand for quality coffee has been on the increase and it only makes sense that this demand will be matched with a growing number of coffee outlets where customers can get their daily cup of delicious coffee.

While more people might be spending more money on coffee, there is also a lot more competition for that business. In order to survive in this competitive atmosphere, your product will either have to be competitively priced, of a higher quality or have better service.

2. Limited Trading Hours

Coffee is a beverage that is usually consumed more in the morning hours and as such this will be when you make most of your money. You will have to start early as many of your customers will want a coffee or tea on their way to work or shortly after they have started.

3. Licensing Issues

In order to sell your coffee on the street, you will need to check with localities in which you would like to work as rules may differ across boroughs.

4. Skill required

In order to brew a cup of coffee that keeps people coming back for more, you will need to be skilled (this goes beyond making a nice pattern on the top). To make good coffee you will need to research how to make a good cup and get practicing. Your level of skill and understanding of your business may well determine whether your business will be successful or not.

5. Competition at Events

Many other businesses will offer hot drinks at events, and you have to ask yourself if someone will want to queue up twice, once for breakfast and again for a coffee to go with it.

While you may have the sole coffee concession, you may find that the burger van next to you is selling cups of instant coffee or generic teabags at half the price you are. Many customers will not queue twice, and as such will pay the food provider for an arguably inferior product. You need to bear this in mind when working out how much to tender to work at events.

6. Brand Loyalty

A lot of coffee customers will prefer to go to a coffee outlet that they are used to. This is great when you have lots of repeat customers who will come to you every day or two, however, it can make it harder to break into the industry initially.

Having examined the advantages and disadvantages of selling coffee on the street, here are some tips that can help you to improve your game.

In conclusion, if you dream of selling coffee on the street, then it can become a reality. Granted, there will be times when running it is stressful, and there will be times when things are not going so well– but never forget why you launched your coffee business in the first place.