Keep On Truckin’

In the growing food truck market, a stellar wrap can be the difference between growing into a fleet operation or going out of business.

Imagine this: You’re at a neighborhood festival. It’s summer and the weather is perfect; the sun is shining; it’s not too hot, not too breezy – just right. You’ve got a cool drink in your right hand, while your left is waiting to hold a savory snack. You turn a corner and what’s greeting you? A line of food trucks offering every type of cuisine you can think of. Jackpot! Now, if only you could decide which delightful scent, wafting from the row of restaurants on wheels, to follow…

The food truck industry is booming. Valued at $800 million in 2017, the market is set to grow 20 percent to $985 million this year, according to “The Mobile Food Trends Report” by food truck consultancy Off the Grid. This is good news for foodies and print shops alike – more food trucks means more mobile, tasty treats and new vehicle wrapping opportunities. 

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The one thing all successful food trucks have in common is a catchy exterior that attracts hungry customers. That’s where Roseville, California-based Palmer Signs seals the deal for many restaurateurs in Northern California. Founded in 1990, Palmer Signs began as a simple sign shop and has since grown into a 15-employee, “one-stop shop for people’s advertising needs,” says Tony Palmer, CEO and owner. Palmer Signs’ specialty is vehicle wraps, including more than 80 food trucks for businesses in Sacramento, San Francisco, and beyond. “We have people come from 200 miles away to have us do them,” Palmer adds. “People will see that Palmer Signs did a food truck, [and say] ‘I want one but mine needs to be better.’ That seems to be the MO with these guys – it’s a lot of fun.”

Palmer has seen it all when it comes to auto condition. “Most of them are used trucks that can be anywhere from ‘fairly good, look great,’ to ones that have been painted with a roller,” he says. While the shop has had the opportunity to wrap a few brand-new vehicles, that’s far from the norm. “We’ve had ones that we literally had to bring a sandblaster onsite to blast the whole truck before we wrapped it. And they’re always filthy and they always smell horrible,” Palmer recalls. Most food trucks need about half a day of cleaning and degreasing before they’re ready to be wrapped, but some heavily used trucks have taken up to three days of elbow grease.

In terms of wrap design, “there’s a huge strategy to it,” says Palmer. The shop works closely with its clients to bring vague ideas to fruition – “Most people have an idea but very few have a complete concept.” An established local food chain called Chando’s Tacos had a successful, plain black food truck with the Chando’s logo on the side. “And it did well,” says Palmer. “Then they came to us and asked for a wrap. We made it bright orange with a stripe and his gross receipts went up 40 percent after he wrapped his food truck!” 

According to Palmer, food truck wraps must be easily identifiable and quickly send a message of what food is being served, especially at events with multiple vendors. “We always put information at the top of the food truck – when they’re all lined up, you can’t usually read the doors and you look across the top,” explains Palmer. “We also make an area where the logo can fit on [the truck’s] side, not obstructed by anything. People like to come up to a food truck, take pictures, and post it to social media, so we make sure there’s an area where people can do that.” After all, did you even eat at a food truck if you don’t post about it on Instagram?

dreamlandWrapping food trucks may not be the most immediately profitable niche – “For us, they’re not real moneymakers,” says Palmer. Wrapping two regular vehicles a day proves to be more advantageous for his shop. Plus, 90 percent of the restaurant biz owners are on a budget, so Palmer Signs has come up with a strategy that saves his clients a little money and gets the word out about the shop’s expertise. The PSP offers food truck clients a discount if they allow Palmer Signs advertisements to be integrated into the wrap. “So now I’ve got 80 food trucks driving around the Sacramento area with my logo on the back of them,” explains Palmer. “It shows people that we’re good designers, we know how to work with people, and these are rolling billboards for us everywhere.”

At the end of the day, “our job is to get people to come to your food trucks; your job is to keep them,” says Palmer. A lot of the shop’s clients are on shoestring budgets, with some going as far as investing their life savings in a mobile food experience for a shot at the American dream. “I think that’s why we do so many food trucks – people know we’re gonna be honest with them and they know we’re looking out for their best interests,” says Palmer. “We have a lot of background in food and we do kind of coach these food truck guys with things we know are successful.” Unfortunately, not every single one is an overnight sensation. Of the 80 trucks Palmer Signs has wrapped, around 20 have gone out of business for various reasons. But for those who are successful, Palmer sees expansion and more food truck purchases. And more food trucks means more food truck wraps. (Case in point: Chando’s Tacos now has six trucks roaming the streets of Northern California – “As far as he’s concerned, we’re his lucky charm because of how well his business has done,” Palmer laughs.)

Palmer gives us a taste of the mobile restaurant biz in the following articles. All featured wraps were imaged with the shop’s HP Latex 570 printer onto 3M Controltac Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive IJ180C, finished with 3M Scotchcal Gloss Overlaminate 8518.

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