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  • Writer's pictureAlex Gough

Preventative maintenance is the only way!

This business follows on from my "Consistency is Key" post. If you've read that, this one will make even more sense.

Every week we see new coffee vans join the industry. It's growing all the time, and its great to see. But whilst most van owners focus heavily on making things look good (social media plays a big role), and making things taste good, we tend to forget to make sure things work properly.

There are only two main causes of us losing our ability to maintain our consistency. One is a human problem. If you employ others, you'll understand this. If you work for yourself, this will never be an issue.

However the second and equally important cause of consistency woes is our machinery. Everything from the vehicle to your coffee machine. Perhaps surprisingly to many new operators, our machinery requires a considerable amount of maintenance. And unfortunately, many coffee van owners only realise this once something breaks down. Speak to any generator technician, and they'll have a chuckle about all the coffee vans they only hear from when they have a breakdown, well after their service was due. And often, they can't just put their other bookings aside for you. You might miss two or three days just waiting to book it in!

A successful coffee van operation requires a preventative maintenance approach. What do I mean by this? I mean get things serviced on time, not just when they need fixing.

For those that have generators, this is your lifeline and the piece of machinery that needs the most attention. It might run fine for 500 hours if you don't get it serviced. But you're running a gauntlet every day over 200 hours. If you get it serviced every 200 hours, like you're supposed to, your mechanic will identify the issues before they come up, and will replace parts before they get to the break down stage. And don't just take it somewhere every 200 hours, and shrug your shoulders and say "do your thing". You should keep an active spreadsheet handy with the full periodic maintenance schedule (you can order one from the manufacturer), and take note of what needs replacing and when. That way, when you call your mechanic to book it in, you can say "Hi, the generator is due, and this time we need the fuel filter, air filter and oil filter replaced, oh and the brushes are due for changing too!" This will make the whole process far easier to stay on top of, both for yourself and your mechanic.

So, your generator is now well looked after. Don't neglect your coffee machine and grinder, either. They should all get at least a basic service once a quarter at a minimum. If you notice your grinder is taking a long time to grind a shot (more than, say, 9 seconds for a 20g dose), your blades need replacing. But again, don't wait this long! Get it done every 3-4 months, minimum. Put the date in your diary and stay on top of it. Every coffee machine service, in addition to the usual seals, showers, o-rings, get your technician to also check your pump pressure, the temperature at which your coffee is brewing, and quality of the water coming out of the boiler. If you haven't done this, you're lucky your customers aren't complaining, because all of these elements play a big role in the taste of your coffee! Have them check it regularly, and replace parts when needed. Haven't had your anti-vac valve changed in 18 months (or ever?). Get it done! It's cheap - and an essential part!

Your van - make sure you get it serviced every 10,000 hours, and get your tyres checked regularly too. Sometimes a flat tyre can cost you a whole day, or an event! It's not worth the risk - replace them before they are due. Is your van battery more than 2 years old? Replace it. It will be a couple hundred dollars. Far less than you'll lose if it doesn't start one day and you miss a big job. Even if you're late by one hour, you will likely lose more than the cost of the battery.

What are you other parts to think about? The water filter is one. This thing is crucial to your coffee tasting good and your water being pure. Most van owners have no idea where it even is. It usually tells you on the casing how often it should be replaced, but aim for every 6 months as a general rule. Put the date in your diary. Its as easy as changing a light bulb in your living room.

Have you had your appliances tag tested? You should do this every year - and it will cost about $20 for everything. If there's a fault in one of them, they'll find it. It could save you a big problem, maybe even a fire.

Follow this approach, and you'll have far fewer "break-down days" than otherwise. Need a technician or mechanic? Get in touch and we can recommend one in your area.


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