By Margaret Jackson | Aug 13, 2020
Los Angeles, California
Food truck and other mobile businesses
When Campbell was operating a food truck in Los Angeles, he was making repairs to other people's mobile kitchens on the side.
He quickly discovered there was strong demand for repairs to food trucks and carts and was making more doing overnight repairs for other people than he was selling food, so he founded Firefly Fabrication.
"I was doing overnight repairs and the firefly is a creature of the night," Campbell says of the choice of name. "Fireflies put out 100 percent efficient light. I always strive to be as efficient as a firefly.
The repair business soon progressed into building food trucks and carts. Last year, Firefly built 13 food trucks, six trailers, and four carts. The company already has exceeded that in 2020 largely due to the closing of restaurants as COVID-19 continues to spread.
"We were all worried that people were going to lose interest in food trucks, but nationwide, large restaurant groups are looking for new ways to diversify," Campbell says. "Instead of single-order customers, we're getting orders for five, six, and seven trucks at a time."
Campbell declined to reveal who the national customers are, citing non-disclosure agreements. He says he's worked with customers such as Budweiser and Hello Kitty in the past.
The price of Firefly's food trucks ranges from $80,000 to $100,000, and Campbell estimates buyers recoup their investments in a year or two. While that's the going rate in California, Campbell says food trucks cost far less in places like rural Florida and Texas, where the going rate is about $30,000.
Because of paperwork and red tape, it takes about three months for Firefly to deliver a food truck from the time it's ordered, though the actual manufacturing time is more like five weeks.
"It all has to be approved by the health department and building and housing department and the fire marshal," Campbell says.
Challenges: Shifting from a 100 percent custom fabrication shop to an operation that outfits its trucks and carts with standardized equipment is the biggest hurdle Firefly is facing. Campbell says he's turning to Lean manufacturing principles to help streamline his processes. Campbell estimates standardizing the components of the trucks will decrease production time by about 32 percent and is optimistic he can reduce it even further to about 50 percent of the time it now takes.
"Because of the nature of how many variations there can be, one of the challenges is to streamline the process," Campbell says. "The challenge is to streamline the process."
Opportunities: The COVID-19 pandemic has created a number of opportunities for Firefly. The company is receiving many more requests for its food trucks and carts. It's also gotten unusual requests designed to encourage social distancing at service-oriented businesses such as for mobile nail salons, in which a partition separating the nail technician from the customer is installed.
Firefly just completed a truck that will travel to events and sell toy capsules similar to those dispensed by gum ball machines. The company expects to recoup their investment within a year. Blood donation and pet adoption vehicles also are popular products.
"The future seems really bright for food truck manufacturers," Campbell says.
Needs: Firefly has acquired all of the equipment it needs to manufacture its food trucks and carts. Now it needs more time to dial in the engineering of the products and a bigger space to produce them. "We've been constantly looking for larger space," Campbell says.