In more ways than one, running a cart business is like running a cartel. You'll always need to be on alert, always have to grease the wheels of the system with money, and be prepared for sudden encounters with local muscle. From the experiences of the carts Foodie: Just Eat in Uttara and Laham: World of Meat in Dhanmondi, here are a few tips.
Keep extra products handy for surprise visits from local troublemakers
You're operating in a country that would cease to function without the political 'big brothers' who roam the streets day and night for their cause. Sooner or later, they will pay a visit to assert their supposed authority in the area. They expect money and free merchandise, and threaten to vandalise your cart if you don't comply.
“The bigger challenges that we face every day are the local collectors. They come every once in a while,” says the owners of Foodie. Laham faces similar challenges, as witnessed by yours truly on a visit to the cart for their signature meatbox.
If you are on good terms with local influentials, you can hopefully make a few calls to the right people who can ask these extorters to back off. But for carts without connections, the monthly payment to these exacters ranges between BDT 5,000 to 10,000.
You may have to appease the local authorities, for they are part of the problem
“At each step of seeking permission to operate our business, we had to pay additional charges on top of the actual legal amount," corroborates the source at Foodie. But the problem is not limited only to licensing and permission. The police at each area also needs to be paid a small but regular sum of money every month.
It was further shared that, “During the first two months after Foodie launched, police officers used to come and threaten to close down the cart every other day. Even after he was shown Foodie's legal papers including trade license, permission from the city corporation and permission from the sector welfare association, a police constable told us that the real power on the street belongs to the police, no matter what document we have.”
Make things appear on short notice. Have a quick restocking plan.
In full – scale restaurants, you can easily set aside a room or space to stock inventory. A disadvantage of running shop in a cart is that there is very little storage space. You have to estimate daily demand and keep the appropriate inventory quantity at the cart each day.
But, on some days, business booms and you find your existing inventory capacity far exceeded by demand. For example, on some days, Laham's inventory ran out even before closing time right after they launched. They remedied the issue by expanding their capacity.
You don't want to turn away customers and leave them with a negative impression. So, what you should do is make sure you have a plan to replenish inventory in a small time window if needed. The shorter the chain that supplies inventory to your cart, the faster you can match your supply to demand.
Always have a plan to go on the run
Although a cart business may have a legitimate trade license, it may not have papers permitting business activity on the street. Streets are public locations, and therefore commercial establishments such as carts do not have a permanent claim on the spaces they occupy.
If you are currently operating at the best possible place and you have to relocate, you will be left in uncertainty about where to go next. Rather than waiting to plan until such disaster strikes, it's more practical to have multiple locations in mind as your plan B, C, D and so on.
You can also capitalise on seasonality in the cart business. If your cart is stationed near a school when classes are in session, you'll be able to extend your customer base to parents and school going students. In the holiday season, you can try stationing near recreational spots. If your planning is sound, mobility can become an advantage.
Starting that business your inner entrepreneur has always wanted is very much possible in a place like Dhaka. At a reasonably low monetary investment, you can launch a scalable venture on wheels that could thrive with the blessing of enough 10/ 10 reviews on Facebook.
Tasmiah is a student of finance at IBA, DU.