As Kim was developing his menu for Flying Pig Truck, he used Chefs Center of California’s kitchens to create new dishes. The truck then allowed them to “check how people were going to like some of our menu [items], especially the pork bellies … and things like that, which are not really common on a truck.”
After introducing his fare to public praise, Kim says, “it built up our confidence that things were really working out.” Kim’s plan originally called for a storefront right away, but delays in securing a workable location prompted him to shift gears.
“I had the plan for six months for the truck, and we were hoping to open up the brick-and-mortar [location] some time last year,” he says. “It was a long delay and we ended up running the truck for almost 18 months, but it’s actually helped us a lot with the marketing.”
Media attention, including an appearance on Oprah and a flurry of local TV spots, helped ramp up customer traffic without draining the budget. “We didn’t pay anything, but we ended up getting a lot of exposure,” Kim says.
When It’s Time to Move On
Operators that gain a little traction and attract the beginnings of a customer base while working with an incubator eventually need to spread their wings and experience the industry out on their own. Bressler says some entrepreneurs are quick to jump ahead once they’ve garnered a bit of success, but that delaying growth can also cause problems.
“Sometimes people will wait much longer than they should, when they have to take slightly more aggressive steps to ensure the long-term viability of their fledgling businesses,” he says. Timing for the next steps depends on the business and what the owner feels comfortable with, he says. “This could be something that takes place in the first several months of operation, or it could be several years down the line. It really is just going to depend on the person and the marketplace at that time.”
Three months after launch, the Flying Pig Truck team kicked its social media program into overdrive.
“We really started updating our tweets and people were calling us, asking where we were going to be,” Kim says. “When we open up the brick and mortar, we should be able to do well.”
A desire to more fully embrace her company vision prompted Hughes to leave the relative safety of ACEnet and strike out on her own. “In order to grow, I needed to say, ‘This is what I am,’” she says. Renting her own space was expensive, but, “to establish my own identity, I needed a separate place.”
Most incubators offer a variety of services and resources to help their businesses grow. For example, Chefs Center of California has partnerships that allow them to offer business development classes and workshops, and Bressler works with operators on business administration, including how to leverage the Center’s microlending programs. North Market, meanwhile, employs its own marketing and graphic design staff who handle the Market’s needs, but who also help individual operators on things like social media, signs, and fliers. The team also provides tenants with access to a small onsite business suite that has computers, Internet access, printers, fax machines, and even postage.
Schaller and the team at ACEnet provide assistance with market analysis, brand development, and managing balance sheets and financial statements. They also have a loan fund for alums.
Although every budding quick serve has its own growth model and resource needs, many young business operators are finding that, especially in rough economic times, incubators can provide a supportive environment to help them find out what works for them and their business.
“What we’re looking at is trying to help people find a successful model for themselves that will actually end up as a positive payday for them at the end of the day,” Bressler says.