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Go Mobile: The Truck Business Isn’t Just for Food

Mobile dentistry? Mobile pet grooming? ‘You just name it––everything is going mobile.’

4 Minute Read

What you need to know 

  • The proliferation of food trucks, which are a nearly $3B industry, has led to a demand for other mobile services.

How you can capitalize 

  • Start your own mobile business, from dentistry to pet grooming to bicycle repair and beyond. Almost any service or product people want on a regular basis can work as a mobile concept. 
  • Partner with businesses to provide services at different sites every day and maintain a steady stream of customers.

* * *

Consider food trucks the beginning. 

Between 2012 and 2017, the market for these mobile businesses increased from $615m to $2.7B. Their popularity changed opinions about buying something directly off the street and gave people the option for convenience and freshness. That 15-minute jaunt to a restaurant was no longer necessary. 

Now, consider everything else. The mainstream success of food trucks has created potential for numerous other mobile businesses. Just about anything people want on a regular basis—be it a product or service—is often easier to provide through a van or truck. 

  • A mobile business alleviates travel time for customers who can wait for the mobile business to arrive in their area and removes costs associated with brick and mortar for new entrepreneurs. 
  • With an aging population, convenient health and repair-related services will be more crucial than ever. 
  • The proliferation of food trucks has also led to changes in infrastructure and permitting processes in cities, making them more ready for future mobile businesses.    

In this report, we explore dozens of opportunities for mobile businesses, from dentistry to pets, and provide a case study explaining how to make a mobile business work.

The case study: Sterlings Mobile Salon & Barber Co. 

Kush Kapila, 39, started Sterlings Mobile Salon & Barber Co. 7 years ago, after experiencing a Super Cuts for the first time.

He had moved to San Diego from Montreal, where salons and barbers are more service-oriented. He was shocked at the inadequacy of Super Cuts, where he waited 45 minutes and received a buzz cut after asking for his hair to be cut short.

“I was driving home and saw a food truck,” says Kapila, who connected the dots and realized an opportunity.

Kapila wasn’t the first to start a mobile salon, but he improved the premise. Through online research, he saw that most businesses were not scaling. They failed after 2 to 3 months. 

His first major innovation was getting a premium Airstream trailer. Other businesses were using RVs or white trucks that he thought looked cheap and uninviting. He had researched and found that even for brick-and-mortar salons, cleanliness was an issue. “It didn’t matter how convenient it was,” Kapila says. “If it looks like a dumpster, they’re not going to go inside.” 

The idea was a bit of a gamble: The Airstream trailer cost $150k and represented the vast majority of his startup costs. Kapila was funded by his savings and investments from friends.

His second major innovation involved his business model. Realizing that haircuts were different than food––they’re needed only once a month or so––Kapila sought to partner with companies and visit their campuses on a rotating basis. He had seen a MetLife study showing that haircuts were a sought-after corporate benefit (along with dry cleaning). 

Sterlings partnered with Intuit and Qualcomm, among other companies. At first, Kapila charged them nothing and made revenue solely from haircuts. Now, depending on the business, Sterlings charges $175 to $300 per day. The corporate customers get a 25% discount on the cuts.

It also makes revenue from doing special events—charging $1k, for instance, to bring the trailer to a groom and groomsmen on a wedding day. Last year, Sterlings did a tour where it designed the trailer with the backing of a major brand and made $150k in three weeks. 

Since launching in San Diego, Sterlings has expanded to Orange County, Calif., and will soon launch in San Francisco. It has several trailers in both areas. The company saved money on new trailers by manufacturing its own, at a cost of $75k.  

Sterlings is set to make $600k this year and is growing 50% YoY. But the beginning wasn’t easy. Kapila says he made $50k in the first year and with the high startup cost had to work another job to support the business.

Kapila says a mobile business doesn’t just work because of the convenience it provides customers. It also gives the owner a major advantage: Mobile business owners don’t pay rent, and there is less dead time. By traveling to different businesses every day, Kapila can count on a steady stream of customers. 

“You just name it––everything is going mobile,” says Kapila, who is working on a book about mobile businesses.  

With that model in mind, here are some mobile businesses primed for growth… 

Mobile businesses expected to grow 

Dentistry: Similar to a mobile salon, professionals need to attend the dentist multiple times per year. It can also be difficult to schedule an appointment with work commitments. A mobile dentist could likely strike agreements with employers to set up near office buildings. 

  • The mobile dental startup HENRY recently received $10m in Series A funding.    

Mobile Pet anything: Mobile pet grooming? Mobile veterinarians? Doggy day care pickup? The combination of the booming pet market––pet spending has quadrupled since 1995––creates several possibilities for a mobile business. Current mobile vet businesses tend to be local and aimed at people with difficulties leaving their homes, rather than larger demographics.   

Mobile bike mechanics: Get a big enough truck and you can fit bike repair supplies, as well as storage for bikes that customers could drop off and pick up days later. Velofix, a Canada-based company, has mobile bike mechanic franchises that operate in several North American cities.  

Mobile personal training, CrossFit, and gyms: For people who don’t want to go to the gym but want more social interaction than Peloton. This business could thrive by making partnerships with employers. GYMGUYZ does mobile personal training in Washington state. 

Food trucks: What’s old is still useful. The market is expected to continue growing at a 5% CAGR for the next several years. Where might you best start a food truck business? Internet users in Hawaii, Arkansas, Florida, and North Carolina have expressed the most interest in “food truck near me” in the last year.

  • Food truck apps: Trends member Scott Duncan suggested on Facebook an app that allows users to search for and connect with nearby food trucks, and processes their orders and payments.   

Truck manufacturing: Take a hint from Kapila and start manufacturing luxury trailers––and charge less than the growing rate of $100k+. 

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