Carol Clark was an event planner. She coordinated events such as Oktoberfest, the Durango Farmers Market and the Four Corner’s Green Living Expo. With an eye for detail, Carol noticed sizeable crowds but a lack of food vendors to feed them all. This perceived need appeared to be a business opportunity. In 2012, Carol took her idea to pair event planning and mobile food truck services to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Fort Lewis College. She met with Joe Keck and Terryl Peterson.
Carol’s creative and organizational skills were strong, but she needed financial assistance to understand how a mobile restaurant operated. Joe provided direction with city codes and requirements. Terryl specialized in financial and business operations. For this venture, specifics such as how much food to purchase before an event and how many customers were required to turn a profit had to be determined. Terryl and Joe gave Carol homework which called for her meet with city planners and utilized spreadsheets to calculate costs. In her final assessment, Carol concluded the food truck idea would not be feasible. City codes can take a long time to change, if at all, and a poorly attended event would be a big obstacle to breaking even. However, what she learned along the way came in handy the following year.
Carol planned a Durango street event called Evenings on 8th. She set up a covered bar where customers could sit down, have a drink and take in the crowd. Her venue was the only one of its kind. Crowd goers loved it. Their feedback spurred the potential of a mobile bar business. A bar would be less expensive to operate than a food truck, and city codes would not be a factor.
By the end of 2013, Carol purchased an old bread truck and converted it into a bar. She incorporated the traveling bar with her events and the initial results were promising. Overtime, the truck needed frequent repairs and became a liability. She spoke with her friend Matt, a financial planner, and asked what could be done. Matt recommended she purchase a trailer and get rid of the truck altogether. A trailer would be affordable and more efficient. If the business were to fail, loses would be minimal. She conceded and purchased a trailer. The interior and exterior were customized with beer taps, lights, a sound system and a flat screen tv.
Toast Mobile Lounge (TML) made its first appearance at the county fairgrounds for an event titled ‘The Wedding Show.’ Carol and her staff created a drink menu and decided prices on the spot. The mobile lounge was a big success. Carol received several requests to have the bar at future events. She saw TML as a sustainable business and sought additional input. Terryl provided information on how to take care of staff and financial spreadsheets. Carol also met with SBDC’s financial analyst, Tom Phare. Tom taught her how to price her product correctly so not to undercut herself.
As Carol implemented SBDC’s recommendations, trailer modifications were completed, staff was hired and trained, and TML launched a website. In TML’s second year, business continued to grow as they traveled to different cities. Carol noticed TML as unique. Nobody in other cities had what she had. Knowing how accessible SBDC was, Carol returned to inquire how TML could expand to have a permanent presence in numerous cities and states. SBDC recommended Carol apply to SCAPE (Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs), an intensive training program for start-ups taught by experienced business professionals. She presented her proposal to SCAPE in November 2016 and was soon accepted into the program. Carol is currently learning how to scale TML. She anticipates five new trailers to be built in the coming year.
Carol is so grateful to SBDC. “Anytime I went to SBDC they never gave the impression my ideas were unacceptable. Rather, they helped me learn if it was feasible.” Her advice to entrepreneurs is to contact them. “They helped me with structure and operations. If there is a grandiose vision, SBDC can help with that and tell you the truth about how it is.”