The Demographics of Your Food Truck Customers

Think about the demographics of your food truck's ideal customer. Demographics are the typical characteristics of the people who will make purchases from your truck. These characteristics include age, income, education, status, type of occupation, and household size.

Certain concepts and cuisines cater to particular segments of your community, so knowing what your customer market consists of will help you tailor your business to those you’ll be able to sell to. Ask yourself these questions about customer demographics until you feel you have a good, solid answer for each one:

  • Are your target customers primarily men or women?

  • Exactly how old are they? (Don’t aim at the entire population by saying that they’re between 18 and 80.)

  • How much education do your ideal customers have?

  • Where do they live?

  • Who else lives in their home?

  • What do they do for a living?

  • How much money do they make?

After you’ve defined your target customer, you’ll be able to adjust your concept to maximize its appeal to these customers and understand what motivates them to make a purchase.

After you’ve decided the traits of your ideal customers, the next step is to gather specific information about them. The most important details are age, gender, income, education, geography, and household size. Knowing how many times a month and which meals a customer eats outside of the home can also be helpful.

Consult the U.S. Census for customer demographics

You can find a lot of good, general information about market demographics at the U.S. Census Bureau website. All you need to do is go to the People & Households section on the bottom of the home page and search the site by narrowing down the demographic data you want to receive.

Using this website can come in handy after focusing your search on a specific market segment (such as males, age 25 to 34) and looking for general statistics, such as regional averages for income, educational background, and household size.

Talk to small business associations for demographic information

Most college campuses have a Small Business Development Center (SBDC), but if you want to find the closest SBDC in your location, go to the Association of Small Business Development Centers website.

Because SBDCs are not-for-profit and community-service-oriented, they can often help you get access to information you wouldn’t be able to easily find on your own. SBDC services include, but aren’t limited to, assisting small businesses with financial, marketing, production, organization, engineering, and technical problems and feasibility studies. All services given at SBDCs are free and confidential.

Hire a research firm to determine your ideal food truck customer

Some research companies, like Nielsen, provide demographic information online. They base their fees on the amount of information you request. Although this type of source isn’t free, most food truck operators can still afford it (in the range of $300 to $2,500). You’ll receive well-researched data on market demographics or even economic development in your area that’s customized to your concept for as little as a few hundred dollars.

Another service a research firm can provide is the moderation of a focus group. A focus group is a form of interactive research where a small group of individuals can help you gather information about customer opinions on new ideas, products, or services that are currently either being offered or going through the product development stage.

You can form a focus group for information about anything related to your business and your market, from products to service or merely the generation of new ideas for your concept. The research firm asks the focus group participants structured questions about a specific topic and encourages them to discuss their thoughts with the other participants.

These open discussions can help generate ideas and can provide you with a wealth of information for your business.

The point of gathering multiple focus group participants is to get as many different perspectives as possible. The ideal size of a focus group is eight to ten people. When a research firm selects focus group participants, it should look at their demographics, familiarity with your products, or their food purchasing history.

A research firm often asks group participants questions based on the objectives of the project. For example, if the focus group objective is to determine why customers in your area would want a food truck selling your style of cuisine, questions may include the following:

  • What is your knowledge of the food truck industry?

  • Would you eat food from a food truck?

  • Do you enjoy [insert your cuisine here] style food?

  • Would you be more likely to eat this type of food at lunch or dinner?

  • What is your perception of the cost of this style of food?

  • If you have children, do they like to eat this type of food?

  • If you had the choice between eating this style of food from a truck or from a restaurant, which would you prefer?

Hold at least two different focus groups to ensure that you get a good mix of perspectives for your data.

Paying an outside consultant to perform your focus groups will provide the most objective results but can also cost you more than you’re originally planning to spend on this data (anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000 unless you’re seeking very basic information). People will be more willing to volunteer if they’re going to receive, say, $50 for their time and participation.

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