Oh, there was great joy last fall when La Poblanita opened in a used car lot across from Weiland’s Market. Then it moved to the parking lot of the dry cleaners 100 feet away. Then it got a professional looking wrap. Then it changed its orientation to face another part of the parking lot. All seemed like good, positive changes. The food was great, service was good and a community was rooting for the new chica in town. Then winter came and hours became erratic. Not that hours were perfectly consistent before, but even factoring in weather, one never knew when the trailer might be open. A competitor just down Indianola Ave, La Morelina, left its spot as winter progressed, then La Poblanita disappeared for a while. I found it a few weeks later in the parking lot of a barber ship near Boston Bert’s Seafood Trailer, four or five streets north of the original spot. On the plus side, the parking lot was bigger and nicer and for the vendor, it looked like they had plug-in electric hook up which makes a big difference in the winter time. (This barber shop used to host a coffee trailer in the past). And in theory, the proximity to Boston Bert’s could be good for both by creating a de facto Mobile food court. But then hours were erratic again. In mid February I dropped by to find the sign below.
On March 1st, I went looking to Poblanita at the new site….and nothing. I found Poblanita back at the old spot (minus the sign)….and there was no sign of life. I hope Poblanita comes back, I like the food and Clintonville needs that type of culinary diversity. Granted, this winter was sucky for any mobile food vendor but Poblanita made some avoidable errors that could have improved the odds for more customers on the good days.
OK, now for mobile food 101. The first rule of mobile food club is: Be Consistent. The second rule of mobile food club is: Be Consistent. The third rule: communicate to your potential and regular customers in as many ways as you can as often as you can. If you follow these rules, you could have average food and still have better than average chances of being successful.
These are some things Poblanita could have done:
Write your hours on a laminated sign and post to the trailer.
When you can’t keep those hours, have another sign that indicates when you will be back during normal business hours.
Make sure you have a sign that says open that can be easily seen from the road (100 or more feet away).
When allowed (sometime you can’t use stand alone signs on some properties in some parts of town ) buy or make a sign (use two by fours if you need to, paint it orange if you need to), so that when people drive by they know you are open for business.
If you can’t maintain your hours, change them and communicate to your customers what is going on, they will be more likely to visit you if they know that you can’t maintain the hours they might prefer.
Don’t just rely on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram to communicate to customers. If you picked one of more of those tools – keep with each and use them every day. If you did not, pick one and learn to use it. And no matter how many of those that you use, assume that few if any of your customers are paying attention to your social media at any given moment. And if you have a sign with your business hours, that sign or another one should list the social media you are using. Not just that you use it but the exact handle or address that you are using.
There are hundreds of other things that small businesses need to do to make it, but the first business that ever opened, and each one since then, has used signs to let customers know that they are open for business…..and when they are closed for business.