A coffee van would appear to be a safe and practical entry point for anyone wishing to start a coffee business. As with everything else in life, there are pros and cons to starting a coffee van business versus starting a traditional coffee shop. At the end of the day, the decision is ultimately yours to make, based on your goals and objectives, as well as your budget.
In this blog, Coffee Mentality’s Ian Abadiano shares his journey into coffee which started almost 10 years ago with a coffee van. Ian quit his corporate life to start his own business. He chose to buy into a coffee van franchise given his limited background in coffee and running a small business.
“I was new to Australia, had no business experience nor any connections in the coffee industry, but I took the plunge as I knew one thing: the world loves coffee and it is forever growing and evolving and I wanted to be part it.“
Ian still does his daily coffee run, pouring coffees from the same coffee van, despite expanding his coffee business a decade later to three cafes in Brisbane.
For anyone interested in how to start a coffee van business, Ian shares his five “wish-someone-had-told-me” tips.
This meant being an owner-operator where Ian drove the van around himself, make coffees and build the relationship with customers.
What most people may not realise is that owning a coffee van means you are your own worker and boss because you don’t have the luxury of hiring someone to run the business for you. Because the margins in coffee are so small, any profit you make will be enough to pay yourself a salary. Unless you’re willing to operate longer hours, hiring someone could be an option. However, this may be counterproductive if your goal in going down this path, is to create a more flexible lifestyle.
The biggest advantage of starting a coffee van over a bricks and mortar café is that you can be versatile and move your business to different locations to be where your customers are. This could be at an event, a sporting event, or at the weekend markets.
Most people think that operating a coffee van requires settling on a single spot and sticking to it. Yes, if you plan to trade at sporting events and weekend markets, this may be true. However, what people don’t realise is that having a business on wheels allows you to go where the crowd is.
“Be creative and find a location where you can reach a large number of people in a short period of time. To save you driving around, I would recommend choosing an industrial area with medium to large-sized businesses who have a sizeable staff base, and literally drive to their doorstep.”
Ian says consistency is essential. Try to be in the same place and at the same time every day so you can build relationships with businesses and their employees so they know when you will be there each day.
“I have made the mistake of turning up whenever I wanted to and realised it doesn’t work this way. Coffees are part of people’s daily routine so you need to be consistent and become part of their routine.”
You may have heard that buying a car, or any vehicle for that matter, is a dead investment. However, in this case, you are purchasing a business, and the coffee van is your vehicle of doing so. You are indeed acquiring an asset with worth since it will generate you income over time, allowing you to pay yourself a wage and live the lifestyle you seek.
So, if this is going to be your means of living, make sure you invest in a reliable van. You will be transporting heavy equipment – coffee machine, power generator and a refrigerator, so a commercial vehicle that is both heavy duty and dependable is recommended.
Aside from the expense of purchasing a van, the fit out is the most expensive part. To guarantee that everything works well and fits together, you’ll need an experienced fitter to help with your power source and equipment and ergonomics. Because you’ll be on the road for the most of the time, it’s critical that the equipment you’re carrying is safe and balanced.
“You’ll have enough on your plate running your business so minimise the chances of van or machine breakdown. Remember that in order to be successful, you must be dependable and consistent in your delivery of coffee to your customers. It will be difficult to regain customer goodwill and loyalty once you have lost your routine.”
Gone are the days when you thought food and beverages served from a food truck were of low quality. The mobile food industry has stepped up its game, and what is trendy and gourmet these days is served from food trucks.
It is the same with coffee in that your customers would expect the best – the same barista made coffee they would get from a coffee shop,
We ask Ian what he means by very good coffee.
“That means serving specialty coffee, as opposed to commercial coffee you’ll find at a supermarket. Find a blend that has a taste profile that would appeal to majority of your customers; and versatile enough to go with all milk options including alternative milk.
Ian also notes that customers have become more selective in their taste and coffee preference, including how they think about coffee.
All of these factors contribute to the definition of your product and brand. Deciding on a speciality coffee brand and what it represents is something you must consider.
“If you’re going to invest your hard earned savings on a coffee van business, make sure both your coffee and customer service are top notch. Learn how to brew not just any coffee, but exceptional coffee. Before you start operating, get some barista training.”
While making a profit is undoubtedly important, it should not be your main goal. Starting out any business does require a certain mentality.
Ian says living out the Coffee Mentality values of “People, Passion and Planet” is what keeps him and the business on track.
“For me these values define the contribution we as a business make to benefit others – to my immediate team, community and world at large.
“Being supportive of the people around me in terms of mentoring, or helping them establish their own cafe does give purpose to what I do. It then becomes more than just pouring coffee each day.
“It’s also about finding ways to help coffee farmers improve their livelihood through our urban coffee project; and developing new products from coffee waste to reduce our environmental impact. It all counts towards a purpose.”
There are many benefits to starting a coffee van business. It is a relatively low investment and will literally take you places. It is a great way to slowly build up your confidence, business skills and know-how before you launch into a cafe.
Coffee Mentality offers assistance from barista training to coffee consulting to supplying wholesale coffee.