Starting a mobile coffee business requires three key elements straight off the bat, we think. Firstly, you need to know and love your coffee. Obvious, right? Secondly, you need to be prepared to work some long and pretty antisocial hours: evenings and weekends if you want to sell your coffee at events, and/or jolly early in the morning if you want to meet that high demand for coffee on the way to work. Thirdly, you need to be even more of a people person than a barista working in a coffee shop. Why? Because serving coffee at 5:30am to grumpy commuters when it’s a degree below zero will test your patience and positivity. If you can tick all those off, then let’s look at how to start your mobile coffee business in a bit more detail.
Your first job – research the market
Sidestepping research is a shortcut to only one thing: failure. Explore your local area. See what the competition is. Look at price points. Look for opportunities. Think easy early wins; your dream might be to provide niche nitro coffee only at high-end events, but if your nearest industrial estate has no nearby coffee outlet, would an early morning pitch there help you earn regular income while you penetrate that tougher market? Can you run your coffee business alongside your permanent job while you build up clientele?
Your second job – write your business plan
Before sampling a single bean, you need a business plan for your mobile coffee business. It might be just to satisfy yourself that you’ve thought about every aspect, or it might be that you need a business loan to fund your venture – and banks tend to like fairly detailed business plans… Below, we list all the considerations you should look into in order to write your business plan.
All the things you need to consider carefully
- What sort of mobile coffee business do you want to be? A permanent pitch or truly mobile? This will determine the sort of stall you set out – whether that’s literally a stall, for regular spots on markets, or whether you need a catering vehicle. Funding will play a part here, too. A standard van, adapted for catering, might only cost a couple of thousand, but if you want a vintage vehicle in great nick, you could spend anything from a few grand to £35,000 and upwards. A Piaggio Ape – a beautiful little three-wheeler – is eye-catching and just the sort of thing that’s welcome at vintage car shows and weddings. There are all sorts of options, from an old-fashioned handcart or pedal tricycle, to bog-standard Suzukis and converted camper vans. You can, of course, hire your coffee van rather than make a huge one-off investment.
- What coffee machine do you need for a mobile coffee van? Our team can help you with that. Leasing a coffee machine reduces your initial capital outlay, too, which lessens your risk. You’ll need to consider the weight, size and capabilities of the espresso machine, depending on your vehicle and the amount of custom you expect. Give us a call on 0800 840 9023 or email email@example.com for a call-back and some free advice.
- What other equipment do you need? An inverter generator or leisure battery to provide power to your coffee machine, for starters. Small refrigerator and freezer? Catering urn? Grinders, stirrers, frothers, takeaway cups and lids – all the accoutrements you’d expect for a mobile hot drinks business.
- Register with the Environmental Health department at your local authority. Get a Street Trading Licence if you intend to trade on public streets or roadsides. You need a Food Hygiene / Safety Certificate, approved handwashing facilities, a Food Safety Risk Assessment, public liability insurance and, if you’re employing any staff, employers’ liability insurance and an electrical certificate. Making sure you’ve got your paperwork covered and your business trading status sorted is arguably your most important area of research.
- Research your opportunities: from special occasions to trading estates, airshows and summer fetes to roadside pitches, markets to food festivals and many more besides.
- Cash or card? Both, ideally. Look into mobile card payments for convenience. We’re fast moving towards a cashless society and, especially when you’re starting out, every sale counts.
- Get a website up and running. At the very least, tie your social media together, with a detailed Facebook business page and linked Instagram account.
- Devise your marketing strategy carefully. What takes priority depends on the sort of business you’re setting up, but look at loyalty cards, flyers, vehicle branding and how best to exploit those social media accounts.
- Sort your suppliers. You want a good, reliable source of ethically procured coffee, at a price which gives you a decent profit margin.
- Your name… You’re about to invest a huge amount of time, effort and money into your business, so that branding needs to have staying power. And it all starts with the name.
- Subscribe to this blog and look back through our previous articles. You’ll find all sorts of information, on everything from coffee company marketing to cleaning your coffee machine. Good luck!