Food trucks and mobile businesses are here to stay, forecast to generate $2.7 billion annually by 2017. However, as different cities scramble to figure out regulations, the question emerges—where can these carts, trucks and trailers stop to satisfy eager customers? The response: a new kind of trailer park.
Lots and parks give carts, trucks and trailers a place to park new mobile shops and restaurants. Owners rent out spots to trailers and trucks, creating a semi-permanent mall, like the Georgetown Trailer Park Mall in Seattle or outdoor food courts such as the Austin Food Park in Texas.
Parks eliminate a major headache for customers – finding their favorite taco cart or mobile boutique. As mobile options have increased, patrons have tracked their favorites through Twitter feeds, mobile apps and even GPS. “A major challenge [in the mobile business industry] is finding the good spots that work for you,” says Stacey Steffe, founder of the American Mobile Retail Association. “Getting a routine is very important.”
At the same time, parks can cut red tape for businesses on wheels. According to a study conducted by the National League of Cities, most municipalities don’t have centralized permitting for mobile businesses, requiring an arcane process involving multiple licenses and permits from departments including zoning, safety and sanitation. Says the study, costs for these permits add up, ranging from $100 to $1,500, depending on the city. Renting an area for a few hours can cost anything from one hundred to several hundred dollars. Lots help streamline the paperwork process by grounding the business in a single location.
Of course, lots create an added cost with leases usually ranging from $600 to $900 per month. In exchange, lots offer trucks and mobile boutiques creature comforts they can’t get often on the road like a common area for customers, lights, security cameras, dumpster access and restrooms. They also help with advertising, promoting food trucks through web presence and advertising event opportunities. “It’s a lot of work,” says Austin Food Park owner Shay Reynolds. “You have to help them market.”
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More importantly, truck parks provide a sense of community. “There’s strength in numbers when people see there’s a collective group of trucks,” says Steffe. “It’s almost a family thing.”
Parks also create a shopping an eating destination, helping food carts to become a key part of a city’s cuisine. “We have food in food carts that you can’t get in restaurants,” says Brett Burmeister, creator of the popular blog Food Carts Portland.
For the lot owner, the mobile businesses must become more than a sum of their parts. Reynolds says he learned that trucks need to demonstrate “unique talents,” as well as “an understanding of what it takes to earn some success,” to be an asset to the park.
Additionally, the trailers must be prompt in their payments. This was Reynold’s biggest challenge in his first year of running the park. While originally Austin Food Park had housed nine trailers, this year Reynolds is cutting down to three and developing trailer homes in the park. Reynolds attributed the switch primarily to demand—with more parks opening than food trucks needed, he aims to provide something different, with less food truck rents to collect.
Will trailer parks for everything from food to clothing continue to spread across the country? Steffe thinks so. “I think it’s going to continue to grow,” she says. “Especially now that mobile businesses are acknowledged as a business model, this helps further legitimize the business model.”