Mobile operations aren’t just for food trucks anymore. Today, businesses from hair salons to computer repair operations are taking it to the streets.
It seems the world is going mobile.
It started with the return of the traditional food truck. Nearly one fifth of consumers saw a food truck in their community this summer, according to the National Restaurant Association, and 28% of those made a purchase.
But food on the go is just the beginning. Lately, businesses-on-wheels have come to encompass hair salons, high-tech repair shops, and even makers of artificial limbs. Still, going mobile has its pros and cons.
Trevor Lyman opened CrackedMacScreen in 2009 in response to the growing number of mobile devices in use. The Washington, D.C., business does just what you’d expect: It fixes busted phones. But Lyman doesn’t ask iPhone users to stop by an office for their repairs. He comes to them, anywhere within a 15-mile radius.
Why go mobile? Customer service is Lyman’s chief reason. "There are people who can’t leave their offices, who think this is the greatest thing ever," he says. "People don’t have a lot of time to get some place, and they don’t have a lot of time to wait."
Mobility also gives Lyman more control over his workday. "We can pick and choose our customers. I’d rather have a day with six repairs spaced out, where it’s nice and structured, versus sitting behind some desk dealing with people who are stressed, expecting things to be done right on the spot."
Beth VanStory’s mobile business takes auto repair on the road. Since 2004 her Sterling, Virginia-based TireVan (recently renamed AutoSquad) has been traveling to customers’ locations to repair brakes and replace tires.
Like many mobile-business owners, VanStory says her biggest advantage is a lack of overhead. She doesn’t pay for repairs bays, a customer waiting room, or a warehouse brimming with inventory—inventory that would otherwise be tying up precious capital.
Mobility keeps headcount down. Rather than pay sales staff to prop up a counter, nearly all her employees are technical professionals who clock their hours doing actual repairs.
One more point in favor of mobility: Visibility. While motorists may not cruise by a noticeable storefront every day, they will see the repair trucks that VanStory is in the process of wrapping in highly visual branding graphics.
Lyman, too, describes this as one of the biggest advantages of working out of his car. "I have a sign on the back of my car and people are staring at that all day. They’ll call me saying, 'I am driving behind you right now, can you fix my phone?' I’ve probably made enough money just off my sign to pay for my car," he says.
In the recent past, one downside to a mobile business would have been a cluttered kitchen table. With no formal office, business owners ended up tackling their administrative paperwork at home. With today’s technology, though, that need for desk space has been lessened considerably.
A number of convenient tools make record-keeping possible for those operating businesses on the road, including apps that scan receipts or track travel expenses, and mobile versions of accounting software.
Be aware: Some municipalities will require mobile enterprises to register themselves under local business ordinances. It’s important to check local laws.
That being said, many find the pros outweigh the cons. Why go mobile?
- Low overhead, with no rent or mortgage to pay on a physical office or shop.
- Customer satisfaction, born of bringing services right to the client’s door.
- Virtually free marketing, with the high visibility of mobile signage.
Not every business model lends itself to mobility, but recent trends have shown that creative entrepreneurs can find a mobile niche for a wide range of enterprises.