How did you come to set up your own food truck business?
My background is actually in IT, where I spent 30 years in sales and business development roles taking new technology things to market.
The Rock Dogs story started about a year ago when I built my son a hot dog cart for Christmas and we took it to a mate's place opposite Eden Park for the NRL Auckland Nines. That weekend we turned over a few thousand dollars in cash and I had a really fun time rallying our young crew of sons and dealing with the crowd. I was amazed how successful this little venture was and we even made the six o'clock news.
I'd also been immersed in two TV shows - George Clarke's Amazing Spaces and Rock my RV - so a week later I bought a 1985 unregistered school bus for $6000. It was going to be my winter project to rock my own RV, although at that point the thought of developing a food truck hadn't registered.
I spent 10 months working on the bus every weekend, doing pretty much everything with my own cash and tools.
There were certain things I definitely wanted in the design - to be fully self-contained with water and be solar powered so I could work anywhere with mains power and continuous refrigeration. Being a keen muso I also decked it out with a really strong rock music theme.
During the fitout I also got immersed in food TV - shows like The Food Truck, MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules - and I started thinking about the bus having both home and income potential as a food bus. Then I hit a real crossroads in my life when I started to question if I enjoyed working for a multinational IT company.
I was actually really unhappy, so rather than focusing on money and income I decided to focus on creating more happiness and job satisfaction. I didn't own a flash house - I was renting - so I didn't have a mortgage, and I also had no debts or credit cards. I felt the time was right to build a business that could become my lifestyle. So Rock Dogs was born.
Now you've got the bus, where do you go?
We service large festivals and events, as well as private clients. We also do lunch runs into industrial areas that aren't well served by local lunch operators.
How does your operation run? Do you do everything from the bus?
Operationally the setup is really simple. The hotdogs are made to order on the bus and some of our preparation is carried out in advance. We use as much technology as we can, so we have completely mobile internet, mobile eftpos and a cloud-based accounting system.
It's literally a paperless operation that we can run anywhere; I often place orders while we're on the road. We operate with a crew of between one and three and rock out up to 100 hot dogs an hour.
What have been some of the obstacles as a startup in this industry?
The biggest hurdles have been to do with compliance. The current Auckland City food bylaws prevent us from trading within the CBD, but there's new legislation working it's way through council to address that, which we hope to see by the end of this year.
Competition is another obstacle with lots of events and festivals having preferred suppliers with long relationships and contracts, although I've found the market for private events and catering is largely open.
What are some of your plans to develop the business?
I'm an entrepreneur first and foremost, not a chef, and I really want to quickly expand our brand and intellectual property by franchising or leasing mobile Rock Dogs units. We're developing these at the moment as a way to get other people into self-employment.
In the meantime I'm also working in the business with family and on the business with our clients - a mixture of companies and events people. The work is hard yakka, but I love that every day is completely different from the next.
So you don't regret chucking in the IT career to run a food truck?
I don't regret a single day since leaving my IT career behind. And I haven't left my IT network, and I've found those relationships are now a source of leads for events.
One of the most amazing things about being my own boss is having the ability to execute an idea you had in the morning that very same day - you just can't do that in a multinational company with 400,000 staff.
Learning to trust others and to ask for advice and feedback is something I've had to learn quickly, and yes there's anxiety, bills, good weeks and bad ones. But I do feel I've established a business that's commercially sound and it's certainly providing me with a lifestyle and an income. It's become my vehicle for happiness now and in retirement.
Coming up in Your Business: New health and safety legislation comes into force in April. What changes has your business had to make because of this, and what impact will new rules around compliance have on your operation? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org