continued from Fire it Up… this is the fifth installment if you just came in… please read and start from the bottom post under the ‘Catersource 2016’ heading and work your way up to be in chronological order..
Coming back from a Catersource conference was usually bittersweet. We had all that camaraderie while there but now we needed to put what we learned into our business.
Being from Canada always was somewhat of a handicap moneywise .. the American dollar is usually always worth more than ours. We needed to travel a great distance, 3000 miles return by car. Add to that hotels and driving time as well as meals.
But then every conference we attended always paid us back in spades! We were there to learn and we put it to good use on our return. We increased sales and made enough money to finally build us a REAL catering kitchen!
We built a walk-in cooler.. a really big one, now I am sure that has got to be every caterers dream! also a walk-in freezer which needed expanding in later years.
We got rid of the trailer and it wasn’t long before we started running out of space in the 2000 sq ft. commercial kitchen. We had an overhead door so we could bring our vehicles inside to load in cold winter months. That only lasted one year before we needed that space.
We also acquired a couple smaller barbeques that were easier to pull. They could rotisserie barbeque one whole hog each (the big one could do three market weight hogs or six smaller ones). We also acquired a food truck for concession work, which is in my opinion, it’s own special kind of hell.
The internet was coming into play and I hooked up early on with a ‘techie genius’ we ran into while feeding an agricultural event for three days. We now had a website, and our presence there was also a huge factor in getting corporate work.
Defining what you do and who you are, moving forward, is critical at this stage. Do you stay small .. or should you expand and how about menu offerings? We continued to struggle with what direction we needed to take.
We had a forum with Catersource and I was an avid user of this. Getting help from many people, using different approaches and figuring out problems or even just venting.. We really need this kind of camaraderie in this business. Carl Franklin Jones was the moderator and his mentor on there was Mike Roman.
I use the ICA Roundtable now and I encourage others to as well. You need not be a member for their forum and we need these forums to help elevate our business and quench our thirst for knowledge.
One important thing I learned , among many, is that we couldn’t be everything to everyone. One unsuccessful venture we tried to start was a drop off ‘brown bag lunches’ to boost sales during the week.
So I became not only the phone person but the person that made the lunches and also the delivery person.. well that didn’t last more than three months. In theory it was a good idea but to actually MAKE money you need volume and then a delivery person!
The kitchen was a godsend and we also added to our equipment line and had professional signage on all our vans. We had our uniforms professionally logo’ed and contracted with a laundry service for our own linens.
Around this time we also made a decision to cut out the small non-profitable catering jobs. That was a tough call, but lets face it, if you are not making any money on them what is the point? We decided to go with a minimum of fifty people for a catered meal.
We learned this from others and various speakers at Catersource. You cannot continue to break even on events or god forbid, lose money. The only thing separating us from other catering companies was our barbeques. This was and is our mainstay… we needed to ‘cash in’ on this difference (we could feed really large groups of people with ease).. in a field if need be.
Also early on we decided plate service was not our forte’, we do buffets only. Having said that, I did attend a class put on by Roy Porter at a recent Catersource that could make me change my mind and if you are in that position you should attend his classes. But I am just a senior consultant for the company now, so I am low man on the totem pole (having sold it to my kids).
So defining what we are and what we do is critical in running a ‘profitable’ catering business.. what makes it special? What makes it different? What can you offer that nobody else does?
My next blog I’m going to tell you how we created our niche …. and also how I learned at Catersource an idea we still use today to keep our corporate clients coming back for more…. to be continued..