Keep On Truckin’

3 07 2012

There haven’t been too many years since the Kogi BBQ trucks started popping up all over Los Angeles. They took the city by storm, bringing somewhat upscale and certainly trendy food to the downtown office crowd. Social media played a big role, as the trucks would be in different locations on different days, and at different times. Like all good things from California, the idea got traction and sped around the country. The result is that nearly every US city of any size has one or more taco trucks cruising the streets.

But savvy entrepreneurs quickly surmised the strengths of these mobile restaurants. They have relatively low overhead, and allow a vendor to have many locations at once, even if it is with only one truck. Move around every few hours, and it’s like having a storefront all over town. Today, everything from fashion to follicles are getting the mobile treatment. In fact, one of my former students, a 1993 grad, recently launched Mobiltique, which for now makes the rounds in a trailer towed behind a large SUV. It’s the same idea that Kogi had, but with a fashion flair.

And it is a great idea.

For entrepreneurs short on cash, a truck can be much cheaper to operate than leasing (or owning) a store. Hours of operation are pretty much dictated by your initiative, and as long as zoning ordinances don’t limit your operations, you can do business freely. (Naturally, check with City Hall before you try this.)

Combine the benefits of social media and a fully-functional e-commerce website, and suddenly this is a powerful business proposition.

But wait. Haven’t trucks and even bicycles been used for years as retail stores? Of course they have. I remember the Good Humor Ice Cream man in my Chicago neighborhood peddling (and pedaling) coolness on hot summer days. Vans and small trucks continue the tradition to this day, but I have also seen push carts in some areas as well (like the beach). And what about the Snap-On Tools truck? While this is technically not retail, it makes sales calls and deliveries to auto shops just like Kogi brings tacos curbside.

Which is another way of saying that maybe this isn’t such a new idea after all. At the risk of sounding sexist, women have been having Tupperware and lingerie parties for decades. There’s probably no point in trying this with the guys, because someone would bring beer, and before long everyone would be in front of a television watching the game. We’re bad that way.

But for my former student and the many others delivering the goods in trucks, I say keep on truckin’. It’s the new old fashioned way, and it proves once more there really is nothing new under the sun. Maybe just better ways of doing it.

And the next time I’m in LA, I’m going to track down Kogi. Taco ’bout a clever business model.

Dr “I’ll Take Two To Go” Gerlich

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