|Keith Hill has expanded from one truck four years ago to a second truck and a brick-and-mortar restaurant. He believes food truck owners must work together to improve industry professionalism.|
How does a fragmented, entrepreneur-driven industry transform itself into an established profession with recognized standards of excellence?
A key factor is the commitment of leaders willing to invest their time and energy to make it happen.
Keith Hill, a 4-year food truck veteran, sees his industry at a cross road. The co-owner of I Love Bacon, based in Huntsville, Alabama, believes his industry is maturing and he wants to see it associated with the highest possible level of professionalism.
Success requires commitment
In pursuit of this commitment, Hill, along with growing his business, has always made time to participate in industry-building activities. He sees his own success depending on the cooperation of his fellow food truck owners.
Food Truck Operator has recognized Hill as the winner of its first Influencer of the Year award based on the time he has contributed to activities to improve the industry. Hill currently operates two food trucks — in Huntsville and Montgomery, Alabama — and recently opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Cullman, Alabama.
He attended both the Fast Casual Executive Summit in Nashville and the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit in Dallas this past year. He has also attended local shows sponsored by his wholesale foodservice distributors, Sysco and Performance Food Group.
Hill believes he has gained helpful information from colleagues during these conferences. During the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, for example, he was able to learn how other food truck owners plan for events, handle inventory management, address government regulations, practice food safety and recruit employees.
Role models that matter
"The most successful people share ideas and help people and mentor people that are not quite as far along as they are," Hill said. His role models include, first and foremost, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla.
"There's some monetary incentive on his end, but I think he believes what he's doing is right and he believes what he's doing helps, and that's kind of the mind set I like to be in," Hills said.
Within the restaurant business, Danny Meyer, founder of Shake Shack, comes to mind.
"He is exactly the model of what you should do in a fast casual business," Hill said, having recently spent eight days in New York City visiting Shake Shack restaurants.
"He's definitely a lot further along the path than I am, but he's a tremendous role model in the way he does things," he said. "The way he builds a brand, the culture within his company as a whole, his employees, the way everybody feels about their jobs," are all aspects of Shake Shack that Hill, 39, wants to emulate. It is obvious to Hill that Meyer has compassion for his employees and loves his brand.
Why associations matter
Hill has also seen the benefits that associations provide. The Huntsville Food Truck Association, which has about 80 member trucks, has enjoyed a cooperative working relationship with the local government. Birmingham, by contrast, the other city Hill serves, has not been as easy, and has more requirements for food trucks.
As his own business has reached a critical stage in its growth, having recently opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Hill recognizes the need for better educational resources for food truck owners.
"There are not a lot of resources for food trucks," he said.
He would like to see more executive level education for food truck business owners.
For his employees, culinary training is already available, but he would like to see more management training. He also wishes there was also a program that could instill drive in people.
He thinks a large food truck convention drawing food truck owners from different parts of the country would be a good thing, and he believes the majority of his fellow food truck owners feel the same way.
Hill thinks educational activities are also important given the higher level of competition in today's food truck industry. New trucks face a more competitive playing field, and going it alone is harder than it was when Hill launched his first truck in 2014.
Business has become more competitive
"Four years ago, it was a little easier to get noticed," he said. "Now every business on earth is clouding social media with advertising and posts." Building a food truck brand today is harder for a newcomer since there are so many more trucks on the road.
Hill doesn't have any statistics to point to, but he believes there is more turnover among food trucks today, which is detrimental to the industry as a whole.
"It's a little harder to get noticed, just because of all the people coming in and out of the business," he said.
"It definitely helps when we all band together and move in one direction as one," he said.
Part 2 of this two-part series on Hill will take a closer look at his journey from one truck to two trucks and a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.