How could a small, family run, barbeque catering company even dream of breaking a million dollars in sales? Our most popular menu offerings ran from 7.95 to 12.95 a person (buffet style), no plated service here.
Lets see.. at an average of 10 dollars a person , we would have to serve 100,000 people a year divided by 365 days would be approx. 275 people a day, or almost 2000 people a week. By the way that is how to feed thousands of people.. break it down into smaller numbers and go from there. (something I learned early on at a Catersource conference)
Did Catersource make us that million ..uh uh. Did they come and work in our business.. not really. There is that old saying about leading a horse to water .. Well it seems I was that horse and boy was I thirsty! See.. not one of us had any catering experience in our little BBQ company and we never thought to hire a chef.
We learned by trial and error and we had a lot of those trials. My favorite saying to my mom when she asked how did the event go? “well we didn’t lose any money and it was a learning experience“. One day she finally got exasperated and said “well you if you are always just learning how are you ever going to make any money at this?”
My mom was right, we needed to make money.. this catering was hard enough work and just turning the money wasn’t helping. I started focusing on profit (actually.. making money for us, not just turning it in the business!).
We did not have a venue, and our staff consisted of ourselves (five of us.. plus various family members when available). Attending each conference in Vegas I started to scope out the speakers that were making the big bucks. I was trying to figure out how we could incorporate what they did .. into something we could do?
We did have one advantage right off the bat.. our commercial kitchen was on our own land, on our acreage with our home (which has good points and bad). Our overhead was a lot less then most. I also learned we couldn’t be everything to everybody.. we needed to exploit our niche’ market.
Focusing on profit is probably one of the most important things I learned. Putting it quite simply.. we had to charge more money for what we offered. We also needed to be different from everyone else and exploit that difference! AND dare I say “charge for it!”.
The next thing we had to do was look into other areas with-in what we were doing to make extra income. I started by asking our rental company what that tent, the client ordered, was worth? The answer made my jaw drop!!! Add tables and chairs, well that was serious change.
The rental companies were making ten times more than us and it seemed like we were doing all the work (I know better now). I want to stress here that although we do have some rentals, that is a whole other ballgame, accumulating inventory.(we don’t do it)
We were already making money on linens (our linen company charged us 1.25 for a tablecloth and we charged 10.00). We also came back from one conference and added 10% to our bottom line by adding a service charge. In the following years we changed it to 15% without hardly a ripple from our clients. (the fluctuation in food and gas prices was justification enough)
For some reason I just couldn’t shake that tent price out of my head. How could we get a piece of that action? My mission was to see how others handled events involving a lot of rentals. The catersouce forum was helpful as well .. now I consult the ICA roundtable (open to all) with my questions.
After much deliberation we decided to start an event department, and so ‘Great Event Creations’ was born! As half of you know.. giving birth is not easy, but rewarding as hell. My phone persona had a mouthful to recite .. with a smile yet! Adding Great Events to the tag line.
The sweet part of this deal is that we don’t even have to have inventory! I wanted those tent rentals and set out to get that business. Along the way I found out how much those bouncy things they rented at picnics, cost! One guy was getting 1200 dollars for a slide and if it rained he still got paid.. even though he didn’t even have to show up!
We do a lot of corporate picnics and we were ‘indoctrinated’ at Catersource to give the customer more than what they expect. It didn’t take me long to see that the bouncy things were taking the place of true interaction and mingling at the picnics. That gave me an idea.
I set out to bring back the fun and excitement into these picnics. I decided to have a ‘games nanny’.. her sole job was to make sure everyone had fun at our picnics. We put tug-a-wars (adults versus kids) and sack races, three-legged races and relays and a crafts corner as well as face painting and airbrush tattoos and whatever it took to engage and encourage the family fun.. and they did have fun!
Our picnics became a lot more work .. our clients now relied on us to take care of everything.. and I did. We worked directly with the rental companies and of course we worked out a deal with them and our clients. The bonus here was weddings, requiring tents, tables and chairs (we had the linens covered already). We only needed to ask them if they had a tent yet?
We had a ready made clientele for our new business, without any added costs. One job alone, required a fifty thousand dollar tent with tables and chairs. Can we compete with the big guys? You bet we can ! Are we a big catering/event company.. not really. Can we do huge events ? Ahhhh .. bring it on! I love a challenge.
I loved doing the picnics especially.. as one little girl so succinctly put it, as she was roasting her marshmallow at the s’mores bar towards the end of the picnic. I asked her if she had fun today? She looked at me with a big smile.. a whole bunch of ribbons pinned on her chest (from the races and activities) and said “this was the best day of my whole life” .. I choke up even now recalling that experience.
I know this blog is longer than most .. but bear with me.. to break a million dollars you need to add more services without added cost. Take-out meals are huge, rentals are a given .. but give them something really personal (like adding a games nanny and the lot) and you can write your own check.
If you want to know more, please introduce yourself at #CSES2016 I am one of 20 Ambassadors there to help you make the most of your experience at the conference.
ps I want to give a special thanks to Jack Milan (www.ediblesbyjack.com).. he drilled it into me that you need to charge what you are worth and I have this to say.. I feel like a million bucks !!
you can make more money too.. check out one of our earlier picnics https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDh_kNuJ5vY