Legend has it that the language of the Basque region, in Spain, is so hard to learn that even the Devil couldn’t master it, and threw himself off a nearby bridge in frustration. Mark Harrison didn’t go that far but he did find local regulations to be frustrating when he was trying to build up a catering business.
“My wife is Spanish and we moved about seven years ago, to a place near Bilbao, in Northern Spain,” he said. He gave up his paramedic job in the UK in order to make the move. “I needed to find a job where I didn’t need to speak much Spanish, so I imported some hotdog carts.” All went very well initially; he approached the local basketball team at just the time when they were about to start playing in a new stadium and he got the deal to sell refreshments inside the building, along the walkway between the two tiers of the stands. It turned out that the walkway was classified as a public highway by the local council, which owned the stadium, and he was obliged to purchase increasingly expensive permits in order to operate. He decided to close everything down, sell the several hotdog carts he was running, and do something else. The carts sold very quickly and that gave him the idea of building and marketing his own range – and so Eurocarts was born. He rented some premises in Hindley, near Wigan, among a group of engineers and small businesses, whose advice turned out to be invaluable for someone starting his first manufacturing business – not least, to outsource components, rather than try to do everything himself.
“I started looking around for a good supplier and went to a show in Manchester, which is where I met the people from SSC Laser,” Mark explained.
The Eurocart sits on a tricycle chassis. The small single wheel on the hot dog version is to the front, in the New York style. The ice cream version carries the ‘business end’ between the two wheels at the front. The catering unit itself is a large metal box, which contains the gas bottle for the burners inside with Bain Marie containers on the top that hold the frankfurters and other hot ingredients. SSC Laser supplies pretty much all the sheet, cut and folded metal for the cabinet, including the brushed stainless steel top, complete with holes cut, ready for the unit to be fastened together.
A typical Eurocart features three hot containers and more attached to the sides, away from the heat source, to hold toppings, rolls and other cold items. If more space is required then an upper storage unit can be attached. The concept is nothing if not flexible; the target market requires it. In autumn and winter, hotdog carts sell like hot cakes; in spring and summer, potential customers want something similar but for ice creams and cold drinks.
“My customers are primarily younger people, just starting off in business and cannot afford a full size food trailer,” said Mark. A basic Eurocart will go for about £1500-£1800, plus options. A unit being made ready for despatch was equipped with a water supply and 12v electricity; It even had LED lights on the side.
“A catering trailer or an ice cream van could cost £15,000-£20,000, so £1500 for a basic Eurocart is an easier way of getting into the market. In an especially good weekend you could be pushing towards that, and with a good profit margin,” he continued. Eurocarts can be – and are – used in all sorts of places; wherever people are to be found.
“Events can be quite difficult to get into. They can be quite expensive and they usually have food trucks already established,” Mark explained. “The Eurocart’s advantage is that it’s small; less than a metre square. Customers of ours have found that calling the organisers and showing them photos often opens the way in.” They also operate in towns, with a street trade licence, outside football stadiums, for example. Some are pitched in pub gardens. A few have gone to exhibition centres such as the NEC in Birmingham. Replacing the gas burner with electric heating enables them to be used inside buildings.
Mark Harrison understands his market’s mindset; he’s an entrepreneur, selling to entrepreneurs. He sources the trike chassis, Bain Maries, burners, electric wiring looms and power sources from specialist manufacturers. Top of the list is SSC Laser.
“The thing for me is the quality, and the speed at which SSC Laser can do it,” Mark said. He has his own cutting and folding equipment but he readily concedes that he is not as effective as SSC. The components arrive in kit form, ready to be assembled.
“They’re really good with the design process as well,” he continued. “I can do the basic design but I don’t have the software and they’ve been really great at helping out with that. It isn’t quite that I do it in pencil or crayon!“ he laughed “I can do a basic drawing with my software and get all the dimensions on. First time, they phoned me up and we went through the measurements in great detail. We account for the fold, the thickness of the steel and get it absolutely perfect. It then comes to me, clearly labelled, and it’s so easy for me to put it together.” Mark Harrison isn’t a trained fabricator, welder or design engineer; he’s self-taught, so the help he gets from SSC Laser is invaluable. Other suppliers he tried to contact didn’t even return his calls.
‘They may not have taken me seriously but SSC did, and we’ve done a lot of business,” he said. “They helped me save both time and money, producing the parts I need to a standard I could never achieve myself. The staff have been great and helped me produce a product that looks better and – more importantly – sells better.”