| by Elliot Maras
Saladworks relies on food truck to drive sales while stores close for remodeling

Jena Henderson and C.W. Bruton of Saladworks proudly display the company's food truck. Photo courtesy of Saladworks.

Saladworks, a name synonymous with fresh salads, is making its bid for the consumer's preference for food that is healthy, customizable and easy to order. The 30-year-old franchise organization, with close to 100 locations in 14 states and two countries, has embarked on a rebranding initiative for its franchisees that already includes self-serve kiosks, Wi-Fi connectivity, USB ports and electric jacks.

Another part of this rebranding initiative is its food truck, which has already traveled to Philadelphia, Virginia, North Carolina and will soon visit Atlanta.

"It serves many purposes," said Pat Sugrue, company president and CEO.

Benefits already proven

The truck's benefits became evident when the stores' remodeling began late last year and required closing stores for as long as a week.

"We don't want to lose for even a day, let alone a week," Sugrue said. "We wanted to have an alternative for the franchisee to be able to keep the guests engaged with the brand and keep employees working, and so the food truck was a great answer to that."

The truck allowed the stores to maintain half of their regular business when they were closed for remodeling. Some guests, after all, visit their stores as frequently as 17 times a month.

The truck launched in December of 2016 at a Philadelphia shopping center at the first remodeled store. The company publicized the fact that the store would close for remodeling but that the truck would be available. The truck parked in front of the store and set up chairs for customers, and signs on the truck updated customers about the store remodeling.

A cross-functional team effort

Designing the truck was a cross-functional effort: operations, IT and marketing were all involved. Operations wrote the specs for the kitchen equipment, and the company's marketing agency designed the wrap, for example.

Custom Mobile Food Equipment in Hammonton, New Jersey, installed the kitchen equipment in a 2015 Series Ford chassis with a 175-amp alternator. The kitchen has grain finished stainless steel interior walls; completely welded steel framing; insulated walls; a kitchen sliding window with screens; a three-compartment sink; a hand sink; a 30-gallon freshwater tank with an exterior hose; a 34.5-gallon waste water tank; a 3-cubic-foot, built upright refrigerator with adjustable shelves, a sandwich prep station; a 6-foot serving window; outdoor lighting; two 15,000 btu rooftop A/C with hit strips; a generator; and a backup camera.

The truck uses Gusto, which is the same POS system found in the brick-and-mortar restaurants and allows customers to pay using either cash or credit card. Shortly after launching the truck in December, the company soon realized the need for 220-volt extension cords in order not to have to use the power generator, which was noisy and costly.

With all of the upgrades and enhancements, Sugrue said the final cost of the truck was in the "early six figures."

The truck's menu, posted on social media, is a bit less expansive than the one in the restaurant but it offers all the ingredients for the company's signature salads. There are around 40 toppings available on the truck, out of the 65 to 70 in the restaurant.

Top challenge: regulations

The biggest challenge has been securing local government permits, Sugrue said. 

"A lot of the different communities in and around Philadelphia have some very specific requirements and approval processes that take a very long time," he said. "There were a lot of places we could use the food truck as a marketing tool, as a recruiting center, but could not get a permit to sell food in a short window we were trying to do."

Temple University in Philadelphia proved a cooperative partner for Saladworks, resulting in a freestanding Saladworks store inside the school's student union that Sugrue said is "absolutely killing it."

So far, Temple University is the only regular stop for the truck, but Sugrue thinks that long-term, regular stops will be an important part of the business.

"That's why it's so important to have a scheduler in addition to the operator of the food truck," he said.

More trucks on the way

The store rebranding should be finished by the end of the current quarter, he said. At that point, the company will look to deploy the truck as its own revenue center and begin adding more trucks.

"We definitely see more trucks in our future," said Sugrue, who is in the process of developing a truck franchise agreement to offer to its franchisees.

"It makes good sense to say, 'I'm going to put in three stores and a truck," Sugrue said.

"We can go to some of the food truck 'villages' that are in different cities," he said. "We can use the truck to interview out of and recruit employees."

The food truck also gives the company a way to bring its food to people who don't have easy access to its restaurants.

Sugrue thinks the truck has already broken even, considering both the tangible and intangible benefits it brings. The intangible benefits include the marketing value.

Looking to the future, Sugrue envisions having self-order kiosks on the trucks. He sees the kiosks as potentially more important for trucks than for restaurants since speed of service is actually more critical on trucks.

"They (the customers) like the information they can get through the kiosks about calorie count," he said." But the biggest reason is being able to order salads made just for them.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Food & Beverage, Franchising & Growth, Health & Nutrition, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Operations Management, Policy / Legislation / Regulation, Vehicles

Companies: Gusto POS

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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