I recently came across an insightful case study (attached) titled "From Niche to Movement to Mainstream" about the rise of the food truck movement (and hip hop).

Reading it, I couldn't help but see the parallels with our work (and think about a similar discussion Can we copy the craft beer movement?)...here are some of the interesting nuggets I gleaned from the food truck PDF (attached):

The catalyst for the food truck explosion was the Great Recession: restauranteurs (and others reinventing their careers) had less resources, needed to get scrappy, and well, necessity is the mother of invention.

The food truck industry grew up alongside social media platforms, which gave niches a bigger voice...in fact many food trucks counted on social media as part of their business model (to let people know where they'd be parked).

Food trucks (with their low overhead and flexibility) aren't admired in the brick-and-mortar restaurant world: but food truckers focused on their niche say "we don't steal restaurant customers, we earn them."

If your restaurant with climate control, bathrooms, tables and sometimes alcohol can’t compete with a food truck that has none of that, well, maybe it’s time to go knit or do something else.

Products that food trucks sell tend to come from higher quality, often healthier ingredients designated to fill that all-too-important niche. Food trucks, very early on, realized that clear communications – and two-way dialogue through social media – were critical to establishing and growing their consumer base.

Tools and infrastructure that food trucks need to collaborate in a 21st century economy are evolving. New types of businesses (you can have keys cut, get shoes or bicycles repaired or any number of ancillary services from mobile vendors), training and finance components for people in the neighborhood, too, business coaches, microloan program...etc.

I especially found this quote interesting...

"A lot of food trucks are not necessarily getting into the food truck business with the intention of staying there for the next 10-20 years,’ notes Stensson. ‘It’s often a short-term project. And some do it with the intention of opening a brick and mortar as an outgrowth of that food truck. There’s a lot going on there. But I don’t think it’s going to go away—I think it’s just going to keep evolving and maturing.’


  • From_Niche_to_Movement_to_Mainstream.pdf
    2.2 MB
I've found it quite interesting and enlightening talking to many local business owners of all types. Which ones took a big hit the past 2 years? Which ones went under?? Which ones THRIVED?

It's very telling.

Food trucks have come out as some of the clear winners.

Why? Lower overhead. More flexibility. High visibility.

Which businesses tanked? Mostly those who were already overextended and who depended on a lot of staff, resources and with expensive leased space.

It's not really rocket science but it does make me reflect upon Jim Collin's "Hedgehog Concept". Basically it's to focus tightly on your core competencies...things that are working, what you love & things your business does well. Don't try to be too many things to too many people...discard the non-core layers.

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Food trucks are big in portland. Many brick and mortar businesses started in food trucks. But, we’ve lost a lot of restaurants and food trucks. Marriott ousted our central food truck court with their high end building. Locals began pushing back on greedy ‘progress’ until the city found a new place to have the trucks gather. Being there feels like being at a party or festival.It’s a cross cultural hangout where folks of all ages are welcome to try new and exotic foods, meet new people and enjoy themselves. It’s very like this industry where we welcome folks from all over the world and encourage them to ‘taste’ our unique spaces. It might also offer a flavor of home and acceptance to our travelers.
Here in the UK we have seen a resurgence in market towns, turning back into market towns. Small food a clothing stands offering unique items on street rather than in the big malls. Being out doors, these certainly saw a boost during covid and it makes a change from androgynous "chain" stores, which you can see in every town in the country.
I must admit my 'best projects' Luca & Giulia (my kids) have always dared me to organize an event around our pool overlooking the Tiber River Valley surrounded by food trucks, porchetta, bruschetta, piadine ecc.bwhich the Italian cuisine can lend itself to as not everyone has a 'nonna' slaving away in a hot kitchen for hours.

This got me remembering some years back while exhibiting at the Milano Design Week, they held exhibitors and visitors alike within the existing urban fabric where various courtyards were lined with local, international and exotic cuisine and it worked wonderfully creating a bit of human traffic to find the example: a french exposition and you could enjoy a crepe in the same courtyard.

This has my tagging Antonio Antonio Bortolotti and BobG BobG if this would not be a sustainable suggestion (given the context) for the VRWS in Porto who's urban and artstic context lends itself to an interesting way to experience Porto during breaks...there will be breaks right Anto'? 😂🐞🐞🐞
Dawn Dawn what a wonderfully relevant moment for the Hedgehog to make its return to the community.

TomG TomG and Lauren Madewell Lauren Madewell -- I'm curious (been thinking about your family businesses this week as you have both endured centuries of market growth) -- is the hedgehog a kind of defense mechanism to survive and thrive?
I can't wait to dig into this article! I can already see the parallels even on the surface level- glorifying our "niche," capitalizing on adaptability & flexibility (two very different things in my book), and more personal, often humorous, relationships with our owner/guests/consumers. To answer your question Matt- YES yes yes. The hedgehog has, in a sense, been a powerful defense mechanism. Around June of 2020, when our Smoky Mtn market became unhinged (as in relentless *amen* bookings) I knew it was time to STEP.THE.HECK.UP or our operations were going to struggle to even keep up. It was that crazy here. We are not a "keep up" company and that's not how I am wired, so I was not content to simply keep up with demand, which I saw so many of the companies around me doing. Note: many have since sold. I understood what was happening to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for our company to become a serious BRAND. New demographics were pouring into the area from all over the country because we were one of very few destination markets still open. We were seeing more millennial travelers than ever and Airbnb held a large portion of our bookings. In other words, our market was experiencing a renaissance and I wanted to fully, and creatively, capitalize on it and influence a new path for our future. So at the time I did not see this hedgehog concept as a defense mechanism, but rather an offensive.

Before today I'd not seen this graph, but it was absolutely the subconscious blueprint for how we handled covid. I would say this is exactly how my dad (owner) handled The Great Recession, when he inherited the business out of the blue (what timing, right?) and reimagined the business model to take it to new heights. I am just now starting to ask questions about whether or not we employed any defensive or offensive blueprints for the fires that swept through and took so much of our market's inventory and scared away visitors. TBD with that, but I am trying to learn from it. I was not yet fully in my role as Operations Manager at the time so I was not yet at the forefront of responding. I'd love to pick Tom's brain about how his company handled these 3 major economic impacts on his company!

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