The Business of Concession Stands

By March 10, 2014April 24th, 2014No Comments

Little stalls stationed by the roadside, at fairgrounds or in shopping malls, even those that are on wheels are some of the most sustainable businesses in the F&B world. For one, it caters to people in search of grab-and-go goodies and secondly, it requires a much lower budget to set up which gives more people a chance to try their hand in this business. While it is indeed less complicated to set up and operate, there are still areas that are important to look into that will contribute to the success of your concession business.
The premise of concession stands is typically to offer niche products with common ingredients or prepared with the same type or very minimal type of equipment. Think of popular items like juices, popcorn, ice-cream and sandwiches. You could also sell items from a specific cuisine type such as grilled items on sticks that are almost always a hit everywhere as customers like the convenience, the variety and flexibility in terms of budget. Possibilities of menu type include:
Offers quick transaction time from customer choosing an item, getting it packed, paying and be on their way. Quick turnover of customers leads to increased profitability and because preparation was done earlier, you require less
equipment at your stand and fewer staff to ensure that customers are not waiting too long to get their food. It can also minimise on-site mistakes that could hamper reputation as issues can be rectified before food items reaches the stand. Pre-cooking would mean more work on estimating the demands and it is unlikely the flow of customers is the same daily. Therefore you need to find a balance between over and under preparing because you want to maintain minimal wastage yet there is a need to cook enough to meet a certain level of demand for profitability; or at least break even for the day. You will also need to make sure that food storing environment is optimum so that food such as sandwiches do not get soggy from wilted vegetables or meats that start going bad. Or if it is a hot item like pretzels, temperature in the display case must be warm enough so that the dough stays soft as cold temperatures make breads go hard. Food quality will not be compromised with proper handling and storage but there might be people who perceive food to be less fresh compared to made on-the-spot.


This category of concession stands can range from quickserve items like nachos and dips, to even freshly grilled burgers. Food items like these give customers a feeling that they are well-taken care of, even though at a concession stand which is typically pick-and-go for they see the value of freshly cooked food and would not mind paying more. Having said that, expect customer turnover to be slightly lower as time is needed to prepare the food and some people do not want to wait. This issue can be negated by hiring more help and purchasing more equipment for improved production though you will also need to determine if your budget is adequate to take up more floor space in commercial buildings like shopping malls which could mean extra rental. Because you will need to keep cooking ingredients within reach to prepare upon order, some buildings also allocate storage area therefore you can possibly maintain a smaller stand, minus the storage equipment. It is also not uncommon for businesses which food requires cooking to take up a shop lot although the item sold are concessionary in nature such as Crazy Potato french fries. This is because such operations require ventilation and gas lines to prepare the food.
Unique Items
You may think of selling exotic or cultural specialty and that will be the edge that sets you apart as the possibility of a competitor is much lower. It can fetch higher prices as customers usually have a mindset of “get it now as it is rarely available and I don’t know when I’ll come back here again”. On the flipside, there could be more time involved especially if the food needs to be prepared a certain way and being unique could also mean higher ingredient costs. Also look at the demographics of your location as the percentage of people choosing familiarity (and perhaps budget) over new experiences is higher.
Popular Items
Perennial favourites include popcorn, hotdogs and candy which are emotional links for some people, for example, a carnival is not complete without cotton candy or having popcorn with movies. As common concession items, equipment will not be hard to obtain. Note that popular brings fiercer competition thus you got to keep prices competitive and cut yourself a niche to attract customers (marketing gimmicks, work fast enough and ensure that your people and machines are well-oiled all the time).

Attracting a crowd - popcorn made live

Attracting a crowd – popcorn made live

A complete set-up with seating facilities

A complete set-up with seating facilities

Concession offerings can either be housed at a permanent spot or you can take the business anywhere you deem will attract customers. Permanent stands are likely to be inside commercial buildings while moving carts are often seen at carnivals or engaged by customers for special events. This can be a factor in your decision whether you want to have a business that runs 365 days, with you being at the forefront or hiring employees to manage the stand or do it on a seasonal basis. Some may do it out of interest and choose to only sell their niche items at selected times and places. Here is a list that weighs out both sides of the coin in terms of permanent or a mobile stand.



The Right Target
Customers are closely knit to where you locate your business. There is no blanket that can cover every type of consumer out there although your location will more or less suggest the crowd likely to pass by your concession stand. For example; if you operate within a commercial mall, take note on who frequents it most of the time. Is it family-oriented with a hypermarket and shops that cater to everyone’s needs? Or is it an urban and trendy mall that attracts young professionals with a taste for the upmarket, be it in fashion or food? In terms of mobile operations; it could be funfairs and carnivals that are made for family

fun (consider familiar and fun items) or niche, weekend bazaars or flea markets that are happy hunting grounds for people on the lookout for something unique (thus you can be creative with your food too!). Once you lock down your target audience, you can then look at pricing the items correctly. For permanent stands, prices should ideally be affordable as you are looking at regular customers to keep the business sustainable while being mobile gives you a bit more leeway in terms of pricing as visitors to one-off events are likely not to mind spending more for the novelty of the moment and because you also need to make enough to cover your expenses till your next event.


Accessories Are A Neccessity
Usually referred to as smallware, these are the little items that serve to make consumption easier for the customer. While small in size, expenditure on them amounts to something as you need to replenish them often; compared to fixing or buying new equipment. To know what you need, imagine yourself as a customer and think about how eating can be made more convenient and less messy. Then talk to a supplier to find smallwares that are least cumbersome to handle. Napkins should, by default, be a standard ware given with food items and although not as necessary for drinks; it should be available. Some customers may prefer to have sauces placed atop the food item while some may request for them in packets; so having squeeze bottles is an easier option for customers intending to walk while eating (having to open a pack of sauce may not be appreciated if customers have their hands full).
Taking The Step
There will always be opportunity for a concession stand and we caught up with two concession business owners who gave us a perspective on operating in this part of the food and beverage market segment. Some are also open to franchising so that could be a direction for you; one that has a successful business model in place and guidelines to help you operate.

For Joe Tan of Cornery and Nicholas Teoh of Conepizza, innovation is a huge part of the game although it takes shape in different forms for both enterprises.


“Concessions are in a way, not a new business idea but with so many choices out there, we need to always innovate”. Being the master franchiser for Singapore-born Cornery popcorn, the idea is to shift the public perception that popcorn is only for the cinema and the most accepted flavour being the traditional caramel. Cornery (a combination of the word ‘popcorn’ and ‘gallery’) lives up to its name by presenting a myriad of savoury and sweet flavours of popcorn to the masses at its 200sqft kiosk where its products are made on-site for added value of interest – corn kernels popping out and the enticing smell as it is being mixed attracts the passerby while free samples are always helpful to introduce your brand. With constant research and development, the brand encourages patrons that popcorn can be exciting; for example; eating butterscotch and ‘tom yum’ flavoured popcorn together results in a sweet-sourspicy taste mellowed by the smoothness of butter. Might be a best of both worlds for some people!

Cornery currently operates four outlets in malls around Klang Valley; namely Plaza Low Yat, Cheras Sentral, KL Festival City and Quill City Mall. Joe is not in a hurry to expand as he wants to ensure that the concept can be replicated in each place. Location is also important and before deciding on a spot, he first monitors the traffic and demographics of a mall’s visitors. Additionally, the mall’s regulation is a factor; whether it allows for the on-site preparation and if there is adequate space for rent. It is also important to think about a projected ROI versus the cost of rental at the location and
Cornery’s popcorn is priced at mid-range levels and targets the family crowd.

When asked why he chose popcorn, Joe said that it is a product that is relatively easy to manage as cooking is done without oil and certification is not an issue. We watched with a tinge of excitement as the corn kernels transformed in the popcorn poppers as the smell of the butterscotch coating the corn in the large mixer wafted through the air. Cornery is opened for franchising and the cost of franchise includes location scouting, setting up of the stand and training. For franchise enquiry:

Tel : 603-8073 3617
Email :
Contact person : Joe Tan

A pizza turned into an easy-to-hold snack item, Conepizza is the result of Nicholas’ experimentations and idea of sharing pizza in a different way. Where pizza is usually eaten at the table, with many people to share, individuals can now enjoy a pizza anytime; as a snack or meal. Boosted by his background as a chef who worked in various locations around the world, he came up with the formula of the pizza dough, telling us that the dough is slightly different than the traditional pizza base as it needed to be pliable and sturdy enough to hold the pizza filling. Meanwhile, the recipes are essentially Italian but tweaked to suit Malaysian flavours; such as a spicy addition to the usual tomato-based sauce.


In terms of business operations, Conepizza runs from a central kitchen that prepares the cone from scratch, par-bakes them and delivers to each of its 8 outlets around Malaysia for onsite preparation. Ingredients are prepared in the outlet and a Conepizza takes around 4 minutes to prepare from assembly to baking. The one electric equipment is the oven and the team regularly tests different ovens to match its production needs. Each of its kiosks also requires cold food display tables to store fresh ingredients like deli meats and cheese. Although he was trained as a Chef, Nicholas tells us that he was not familiar with business operations when he started hence taking up a management course with a Coach. He chose to market Conepizza as a concession food because it is more controllable whereby procedures are set beforehand; how often supplies are sent and the volume of sales at each outlet can more or less be predicted. Running a kiosk also requires less staff and one does not need to know how to cook to prepare the Conepizza with standard operating procedures in place. This also applies to those interested to be a franchisee of Conepizza; where the package includes equipment and training but not location scouting.
Conepizza is available at Klang Valley – Sunway Pyramid, Paradigm Mall, KL Festival Mall (coming soon), Cheras Sentral. It also partners Cathay Cineplex at e@curve and Citysquare Johor Bahru. Other outlets in Peninsular Malaysia include KB Mall (Kelantan), Sutera mall (Skudai), Gurney Plaza (Penang).

For franchise enquiry:
Tel : 6012-6746 236 / 6017-8879 099
Email :
Contact person : Nicholas Teoh