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Found on street corners and college campuses, in the lobbies of hotels and office buildings, in malls, casinos, airports and even hospitals, carts and kiosks have become a permanently portable fixture within our daily lives. These modular structures are an excellent solution for a world that craves quick, convenient service but is still unwilling to give up on that perfect cup of coffee and breakfast pastry in the morning or a delicious smoothie fix in the afternoon. Not only do carts and kiosks meet the demands of the customers, but they also offer many advantages for the entrepreneur who is looking for an inexpensive way to start his own business.

Carriage Works
Generation after generation has witnessed the success of this business, from the small push carts that used to line street corners and vend a variety of products to the more advanced, specialized kiosks and modular structures that are now an evident part of corporate buildings and shopping centers around the world. But what brought about the need for these structures in our society? Why have they become so popular? How have they changed over the years and what do they offer today’s consumers and business owners?

In today’s fast paced world, more and more people prefer to be able to grab a quick lunch or snack over sitting down at a classic, white table-clothed restaurant or dealing with the long lines that are inevitable at a café or deli. As Barbara Evensizer, president of Oregon-based Carriage Works, Inc. stated, carts and kiosks have slowly gained popularity because “savvy operators have recognized the competition from outside vendors such as fast food operations and convenience stores for some time now. A few have tried to address the problem by using mobile coffee carts to entice potential customers by bringing the food to them.” Carriage Works, Inc. designs, manufactures and distributes these carts and kiosks that combine convenience and speed with a wide variety of foods and beverages that attract impulse consumers and keep them coming back time and again.

Michaelo Espresso
What makes this industry thrive is the fact that it offers consumers options and a different experience. “You can get a cup of coffee anywhere in the U.S. from 7-11 to Starbucks to the local espresso bar, so often times people rely on service,” stated Fabrice Moschetti of Moschetti, Inc. It is the convenient locations, quick, friendly service and whether or not the customer and what he orders is remembered that keeps him wanting to come back. According to Bill Moore, vice president of the Van San Corporation’s Concession Division, these carts appeal to practically “all of the individual’s five senses at once,” making the experience one that he remembers and to which he wants to return. The beverages and food choices are laid out before the customer’s eyes. He can smell the aroma of the coffee brewing right there, hears the steamer and tastes the delicacies.

Van San Corporation
The “savvy operators” of these businesses have learned how important this new experience is to consumers and are taking advantage. They range anywhere from the small mom and pop, singular carts to chains under the ownership of a large company. CMCespresso reports the manufacturing of carts for a variety of customers ranging anywhere from the individual who is new to the business, to independent coffee roasters, to large distribution companies like Java City and the Dodds Company. Dr. G. Gerry Tesch, president of Gerry’s Coffee Carts in San Diego, believes that the owners of cart and kiosk businesses “want to be their own boss. They no longer want to work for somebody else and they want to decide when and how long they work.” These individuals are also very aware of the fact that within this industry, it is possible to own a business for as little as $5,000 to $15,000 for a cart and $15,000 to $30,000 for a kiosk and, if successful, make sales close to $700 a day. Robert Kronrad, senior vice president of All Star Carts & Vehicles, stated that it is not rare for a kiosk situated in a more transitory location, such as a mall or airport, to bring in anywhere from $800-$1,500 a day in revenues.

Michaelo Espresso
Then how does a business owner make sure that his cart or kiosk is among those with revenues in the higher end of the scale? Location, location, location. No matter how cliched, this is among the most important pieces of advice a prospective operator can receive. “My advice to customers is to not put the cart before the horse. Sometimes locations can take several months to secure and you don’t want to dump all of your capital before you have a guaranteed location,” states Marcus Bezuhly of CMCespresso. One problem that can arise from ordering a cart or kiosk before obtaining a location is that some aspect of the structure might render it inoperable in a certain area.

All Star Carts and Vehicles is a company that takes on an array of responsibilities from designing concepts to building the finished free standing building and, having been in the business since 1975, Kronrad states, “I’ve seen way too often people who purchase units from other companies unaware of building and health department requirements,” within certain cities, counties and states. Business owners will buy a structure before securing a location and later run into a problem when they cannot operate it in location that would have been perfect otherwise. Jerry DePorter of Bridge Industries, Inc. also suggests, “Before entering into a rental agreement, be sure and check into your local health codes and other licensing units to see if our site can be approved. Freestanding kiosks have to meet different rules and are usually more restrictive than a cart location.”

Carriage Works
Rory Ramirez, president and C.E.O. of Java Espresso Concepts, knows how unique and specific some restrictions and ordinances are to particular areas. This California based company takes advantage of its knowledge of the fast food industry in order to design and fabricate modular buildings for the tea and coffee trade. Besides this know-how, Ramirez’s experience has shown him that while California might have a design review board that sets rules and limitations as to the color, shape, style, etc. of buildings within the state, and Florida and Wisconsin are also difficult areas, other states such as Mississippi are less restrictive. At the same time, California operations only need to deal with state inspectors while in other states, business owners have to worry about local inspectors as well.

As legitimate as the importance of a good location is to this business, it does not completely overshadow the other details future operators should keep in mind. “If you find the right location, your investment can grow. For example, some people started with a cart, then as their business grew, expanded into a kiosk, and now own full-blown cafes,” stated Moschetti. However he continues to say that “nobody can predict what a location will generate in matter of sales and once you have established the place, Starbucks may just open next door. That is what makes the cart and kiosk concept so appealing. You can be wrong, your investment can be moved and you can try again across the street or a block away.”

Carriage Works
It is for this reason that Kronrad stresses the importance of having a business plan and doing the research before you get started. Business owners need to keep in mind how much they are willing to spend and to crunch the numbers as to the revenues they expect to make. There are also specifics to deal with such as maintenance, health and sanitation codes, rent costs, and basic structure of the cart or kiosk itself. Because there is so much to keep in mind when planning for such a business, Ramirez strongly suggests spending a small amount of money researching the business so that you can avoid the loss of thousands of dollars later on.

Beyond the logistics, Moore also stresses the importance of creativity and ingenuity in the business. Time and again, Moore has seen that looks are an important part of this show. “Carts started out very simply and the best ones have yet to be made,” he stated.

The creative aspect of the industry is still exploding and new graphics allow these structures to either fit discreetly into their surrounds or to stand out in a crowd. Gerry’s Coffee Carts are a prime example of the innovative structures that are now available to operators. The Volkswagen Beetle-shaped carts come in an array of eye-catching styles and colors. Other companies sell carts and kiosks in a variety of themes, such as a “Nautical” cart from Carriage Works, complete with back-lit graphics an underwater scene.

Gerry's Coffee Carts
Once the outer-design of the structure is established, there is still the question as to how to equip it. Those who frequent carts and kiosks are now looking for more than just a simple cup of coffee. Michael Myers, president of cart and kiosk manufacturer Michaelo Espresso noted an increase in cart and kiosk operators who want to provide more choices for their customers. ”Menus have broadened. Most now offer not only espresso beverages, but also cold drinks like Italian sodas, a larger variety of food items, bottled water and more.” In addition to its custom-built espresso carts and kiosks, Michaelo Espresso also provides espresso machines and grinders, accessories and training for the business. One unique option from Michaelo Espresso is the panini grill, so their clients can cater to the phenomenon that has recently developed a strong following in the U.S. Blenders for cold coffee drinks and smoothies and display cases filled with pastries can also be good investments. What an operator chooses to include in his cart or kiosk depends a great deal on growing trends in the area he plans to set up shop, how much he is willing to spend and how much he hopes to make. Above all, however, it is important to remember that customers want to feel special and to not be treated like a number. Friendly, swift service can only add to the success of any business.

Dahlia Damaghi, whose true calling is coffee cart customer service, works hard as Tea & Coffee Trade Journal’s intern when not attending classes at Columbia University.

Tea & Coffee - July/August 2001


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