One category in the small business space that is getting a lot of love during the COVID-19 pandemic is mobile businesses: pop-up shops on wheels that conveniently and safely deliver not just goods and services, but in-person, often on-demand, experiences that so many are craving after months in isolation.
For owners, this fast-growing model allows for versatility, adaptability, flexibility to remain in operation and lower overhead cost compared to other businesses. And mobile isn’t solely synonymous with food trucks anymore. As these businesses can attest, parlaying your passion and expertise, from clothing to fitness, truly delivers.
Randee Garrett, owner/creative director, Avabelle Boutique
Who we are: A Detroit, Michigan-based fashion boutique pop-up shop on wheels.
Our mobile shop is a 26-foot Freightliner truck that is fully renovated inside to feel and look like a boutique — and even has a fitting room! As much as people have had to shop online this year, it really is enjoyable to see and feel the products in person and for us to be able to bring the boutique experience to and interact with our shoppers. Once you step into the mobile shop, you forget that you’re in the back of a truck, with beautiful racks and fixtures and shelves full of unique, one-of-a-kind items.
Business really shifted in March as stay-at-home orders were put in place here in Michigan. Sadly, all of the large markets and events we’ve done every year for the past five years were canceled, but we did manage to get the mobile shop out to a handful of smaller events.
I didn’t allow the pandemic to slow my consistency with showing up for my business on social media and through email marketing. With large events canceled, I put all of my focus on making my website as user-friendly as possible, providing as much detailed information as I could on each product page.
During the stay-at-home order, I started a weekly “happy hour try-on session” on our Instagram stories, where I try on and style each new arrival, discussing fit, material, sizing, etc. This ended up being something my customers have come to love and look forward to. It happens on Thursday evenings before the new arrivals launch Friday morning.
We have really felt the love for small business this year, and I truly hope it carries on after the pandemic. Follow Avabelle Boutique on Instagram, Facebook & join its Facebook VIP group.
Landon Blankenship, owner, The Bikesmith
Who we are: A Memphis, Tennessee-based on-the go bicycle repair and maintenance service.
Our mobile bike repair service started off as a way to keep overhead low compared to stocking a storefront filled with bikes, parts and apparel that quickly go out of fashion. The bicycle industry moves swiftly with newer and better technologies, and a lot of bicycle shops have to put items on sale after only a year of being a “new” product. So, instead of forcing people to buy what’s available in a limited storefront, we help folks decide what they need individually and on a more personal level.
Our services include parking at several locations where customers can bring their bikes outside without having to step foot inside a building. The bikes get heavily cleaned and disinfected before being returned to the customer, and customers can usually get what they need fixed or purchased with zero contact.
We also offer house calls, where we swing by a customer’s house to pick up bikes and return them like new. Sometimes the bikes can even be fixed or tuned in the driveway on the same day, if scheduled appropriately. Customers who are working from home can also easily leave the bikes parked outside as we’re arriving.
COVID-19 has gotten a lot of new people out riding, and the only downside to that is that there are hardly any bikes or basic parts available right now. So, it’s been a bit of a challenge letting the industry catch up with the high demand. It’s caused most shops, including ours, to get backed up and face longer turnaround times. Production will hopefully be back to normal soon, though, as the bicycle industry as a whole is booming. Follow The Bikesmith on Instagram.
Who we are: A Charleston, South Carolina-based mobile book truck specializing in children’s literature.
Being a mobile bookstore, I was uniquely prepared for the closures the pandemic brought. Owning my space and inventory in full and being relieved from the typical expenses of a brick-and-mortar business allowed me to close during the initial state-wide shutdown without taking a large financial hit.
While we decided to stay closed longer than legally required due to our small space and extremely limited capacity, I’m looking forward to the flexibility being mobile will afford us as shopping habits continue to change.
Consumers were already prioritizing online shopping over physical storefronts before the pandemic, with exceptions being made for experiential shopping. As a children’s bookstore, we provide a unique and interesting way to browse books that doubles as a novel and safe outing. This alone keeps us competitive with our online counterparts, if not totally ousting them in our market, as folks seek out connection now more than ever. Follow GoGo Books on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.
Stephanie & Erica Belk, owners, Frozen Sin
Who we are: A Syosset, New York-based gourmet food and catering truck specializing in unique confections from mini donuts to artisan ice cream sandwiches.
For us, one of the most important aspects of adapting our mobile business during the pandemic was giving our customers a sense of security and ensuring that we were being as safe as possible in our personal lives, so that when it came time to deliver, they were getting the safest food possible.
We are primarily a catering company and we went from serving a minimum of 50 people with our truck to not taking the truck on the road at all. We now offer 100% contactless delivery catering services for those who are still having events and have also expanded our menu to include more lunch and dinner items, rather than just dessert! And for those worried about storage, we are now offering coolers and dry ice for sale.
We want people to enjoy their holidays, small weddings and business events, while still ensuring our safety and the safety of our customers who are still isolating. Follow Frozen Sin on Instagram & Facebook.
Tyler Inloes, owner, FIT TRUCK
Who we are: A California Bay Area-based mobile outdoor gym and personal trainer utilizing a truck outfitted with full-body workout equipment.
California COVID-19 guidelines shut down all fitness facilities and put them at the back of the line to reopen. I saw landscapers, pool cleaners and construction crews were still working, so I sold my car, bought a truck and started Fit Truck.
Now I can help people lose weight, feel better and get healthy in a safe, clean outdoor environment.
Clients love it because they are stuck at home working at a screen all day, and for many, I am the only in-person experience they have right now. Together we create a custom plan for one-on-one personal training to address anything from weight loss to strength training to senior strength during 45-minute sessions.
I bring the dumbbells, exercise bands, a bench, TRX suspension training system and battle ropes, and am always disinfecting equipment and following current CDC guidelines. Follow FIT TRUCK on Instagram.
CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.
Follow us on Instagram for more expert tips & business owners stories.
Event Recap: Marketing and Protecting Your Brand
Watch the replay from our latest Roadmap for Rebuilding event, where the panel discusses marketing your brand to the public and protecting it for the long term.
Published December 10, 2020