There are probably some people who want to have their own food truck business but are held back because of fears that it might not work out or maybe they feel that it’s not for them. That is all in the mind. Take the story of Betsy Harris as an example. She was doing something completely different professionally but ended up operating her own food truck. She loves it by the way. Let us read more about her and Summer Snow below.
FTE: Tell me a bit about yourself and Summer Snow.
Betsy: I am a retired professional dancer who went to school and got a degree in Mass Comm, with a minor in English and a Masters in PR. I’m sure you know that journalists don’t make that much money, and I didn’t really have the good personality for PR, so I was teaching at the collegiate level when I decided to start my vending business to work in just the summers. I love kids, working outside and being able to be my own boss.
I have two 7 x 10 ft trailers which are specifically designed to sell shaved ice. I got the first one from a company in Louisiana and the second one 3 years later from a single seller in Louisiana. I shave the ice from 6 x 6 x 12 inch blocks of ice. They are called sno balls down south, but I just call them shaved ice. I also order my flavors from the same company in Louisiana. It’s very difficult to sell ice in Montana because of the weather. It’s always a risk in May, and sometimes even in Junem so I also have gourmet coffee for spring soccer games but by July, the coffee is gone! One of my trailers sit at a regular location in town, and the other is taken to a park during the week and then special events on the weekends.
FTE: Where did you get important information to help you launch your business?
Betsy: My ex-husband had a business of his own, and he was the one who helped me get my business started. He helped me research trailers and which kind I wanted, and took me downtown to get my business started. We have the amazing information on the internet these days, so I would suggest doing research but more importantly not being afraid to call or email people who are doing what you want to do and talking to them about it. I read lots of articles, and we talked to people who were doing it. There are lots of small business organizations, but I didn’t really use any of them. I mostly talked to people who I thought had information about what I needed. Don’t contact people you don’t know, and ask lots of questions.
FTE: There probably were a lot of licenses and permits to secure. How did you know where to go and what to do?
Betsy: They all have websites. Ask other people, or just call the organization. Call the health department. Tell them what you are doing, and ask them what you need to do to get the license. I readily comply with anything they need, so I don’t have that hassle to worry about. They have been pretty easy to work with, but Billings is a small city, so I don’t know what it would be like if I were in LA or Phoenix.
FTE: Was parking ever a problem for you in Billings, Montana?
Betsy: I pay a pretty penny for my regular location and big entry fees for my special events. I know some operators don’t like to pay, but they are always moving around, and who knows where they will be next. June through September, my customers know where they can find me! That’s almost worth the rent I pay for the corner, but I still think I’m getting taken advantage of a bit. That’s business.
FTE: What has been your biggest challenge in the course of running your business?
Betsy: Like I said, I think the weather is my biggest problem, rain in July, snow in May! I also have one main competitor who has been in business about six years longer than me, so he has better name recognition, and has some events that I can’t get into. I think the most unique thing indicative to this area is Pow Wows. I do Pow Wows in the state of Montana. These are very rich cultural events that not many people understand, and when they come for a few hours and watch the dancing, they still don’t get it. It really is a completely different for the Native Americans than it is for the outsiders. It’s almost like nothing happens til the white people go home LOL. I have been doing them for five years, so I have seen some of these kids grow up before my eyes. It is like a week-long family reunion dance contest where everyone camps out for a week and kind of forgets about their real lives. They even have a word for having “the blues” when it’s over. My biggest event is Crow Fair. It happens during the third week of August, and I camp at the site for 10 days. I have done several other Pow Wows, but that is the largest with 1000 teepees set up.
FTE: Finally, since FTE is about helping new entrepreneurs, what advice can you give to those who are thinking of joining the food truck scene?
Betsy: It’s really hard work! If you are not healthy and strong, you might want to reconsider. It is much more work than you think. I have known at least three people who have tried their hand and sold their truck just within a few years because it is so much work and there are so many variables that can cut into your profits. It’s not for the physically or mentally weak people. Trailers are heavy, and there is a lot of heavy lifting. Weather is a huge factor when working outdoors. It might be too hot, too cold and the wind!!! It’s amazing how you realize what the weather is doing when you are out in it.
You’re amazing Betsy. Thank you.
Here are more resources that you can visit to help you launch your food truck business.
Starting a Business (Billings) – This page contains important information about setting up a business in Billings.
FAQ – This is from the official City of Billings page. It features frequently asked questions about business-related concerns.
Business Licenses Guide – Here’s a PDF on eStop Business Licenses
Summer Snow – Please drop by Betsy’s FB page and say hello.