A food truck is parked on a concrete plaza under strings of lights. Three patrons line up before the truck, which advertises SNACKS AND DRINKS. Other customers stand and sit at metal tables set up around the plaza.
Mobile businesses give business owners a type of flexibility not usually available to brick-and-mortar locations. — Getty Images/gorodenkoff

Spending more time at home means spending more money on home or small group services and experiences. Safety- and convenience-valuing consumers may be by-products of the pandemic, but they are quickly becoming a way of life. If you have a unique proposition or skill and can take your idea on the road, literally, you may want to consider starting a mobile retail business.

From lower startup costs to scheduling flexibility, the benefits go beyond not being tethered to a fixed brick-and-mortar location waiting for customers to come to you. Smartphone apps and social media have changed the way mobile business owners can reach their target audiences, allowing new and existing customers ease in finding you, and you them from neighborhoods to local markets, festivals and events. Whether by van, bus, cart or trailer, there are some things to know before you go, including permit requirements, local codes, ordinances and limitations on truck-based businesses, all of which vary by city or state.

Food truck

There are nearly 25,000 food truck vendors in the United States, and market size is expected to reach $1.3 billion, a 2.4% growth, in 2021. Their popularity is largely due to the attraction-factor feeling they generate with brightly colored graphics and unique, often gourmet-quality food options at affordable prices. They also foster a feeling of community for those who share a love of and like to bond over interesting food. If you’re someone who loves to cook as much as you love bringing people together, a food truck could be your calling. Trending are those with niche offerings like pho, cupcakes or artisanal mac and cheese, and an emphasis on environmentally- friendly options, allergy sensitivity and the addition of vegan and meat-plant blends to menus. Costs and consideration vary by city and state but this comprehensive guide covers just about everything there is to consider, making it a great place to start.

Mobile hair salon/barbershop

In 2020, beauty salons represented nearly $58 million in market size, down from $66 million in 2019. COVID-19 caused the temporary shutdown of salons and barbershops in many locations throughout the country; fears kept many salon regulars away from what were often standing appointments. There may be no better time to start a mobile beauty business than the present. Delivering a safe and convenient way for men, women and kids to look and feel their best presents an opportunity that can evolve into group experiences for wedding parties, proms and all the other life events people are looking forward to in a post-pandemic world. In addition to licensing for your services and vehicle, you’ll need to invest in beauty tools, salon seating, a sink, mirrors, rolling carts and a generator. A couple of good places to start are to get quotes from contractors who can add water lines and electrical outlets, and to look through trade magazines and local classified ads for used equipment being sold by companies going out of business or undergoing a renovation. Finally, you will want to identify and utilize appointment booking software or an app that can help to manage customer demand and keep you time-efficient and organized. Consider these top picks from Salonbusiness.com.

Mobile pet grooming

It is estimated that over 63 million U.S. households have a dog, a number that continues to grow during the still strong pandemic pet boom. Add to that a pet-grooming industry currently valued at $7 billion and the monthly standing grooming appointments many dog owners have, and that equals a great opportunity for dog lovers who have the know-how and patience for grooming services. For safety-conscious owners, a mobile groomer presents convenience and peace of mind. It can also reduce stress for pets. You will need a truck or van outfitted with the equipment and supplies needed for what customers consider a comprehensive grooming service, including a shampoo bath, brushing, haircut, nail trimming, ear cleaning and teeth brushing. You can set yourself apart from the competition with added spa services from massage to pampering facials. Before you start your menu of services, you’ll need to be properly licensed and insured. The National Dog Groomers Association offers certification courses and a wealth of information to get you started.

Mobile gym

Self-care will continue to be a big buzzword in 2021, with staying physically fit in a COVID-friendly way a top priority. Yet 59% of Americans don’t plan on returning to the gym post-COVID. Enter mobile fitness. Many fitness professionals have leveraged their expertise and offered a socially distanced, out-of-gym experience in parks, parking lots, driveways, garages, private bubbles and backyards. Mobile fitness requires minimal space and equipment. A great full-body workout can be achieved with one’s own body weight as well as with light dumbbells, resistance bands and yoga mats that you can have on-hand for clients, provided you demonstrate and maintain safe cleaning protocols. If being a personal fitness coach excites you but you’re not yet certified, there are several accredited programs to consider.


Have you ever dreamed of opening an independent bookstore but were deterred by the startup costs of a brick-and-mortar or the idea of competing with Amazon? A bookmobile may be the perfect entry and a way to build your brand. A bookmobile has an inherent nostalgia factor that resonates with book lovers from farmers and artisan markets to retirement communities and provides a valuable resource for schools as well as residents of underserved neighborhoods where book deserts exist. Profit margins are thin; however, you can sell other related items with higher margins to make up for it. There are some important build-out and marketing considerations to integrate into your planning.

The early days of the COVID pandemic saw a 120% increase in bike sales across the United States.

Mobile bicycle repair

The early days of the COVID pandemic saw a 120% increase in bike sales across the United States. Bike riding became an outlet that satisfied a need to both exercise and explore. As people continue to pedal, there is a growing need for regular tune-ups and repairs, and mobile bike services have become the go-to for convenience and safety. If you know your way around a bike and have mechanic-level skills, there is a demand for services from brake and gear adjustments to parts replacement. You’ll need all the essential tools and the means to stock them, as well as various replacement parts, in a vehicle that would allow you to transport bikes to and from your workspace, or serve as the workspace, for large jobs like overhauls.

Pop-up flower truck

You know that feeling you get when you buy or receive flowers? That immediate pick-me-up and sensory experience? Imagine delivering that feeling in a novel and special way to flower lovers in communities, farmers markets and private events, and getting paid for it. If you have a love of and an eye for pretty and interesting flora and a creativity that lends itself to artful arranging, starting a pop-up flower truck has an intrinsic charm that is sure to attract attention. Source blooms from local farms and offer build-your-own bouquets and private DIY flower arranging classes. Or be a roaming consultant for events that need floral decor. This guide to starting a mobile enchanted garden is a great place to begin, with tips ranging from truck design to taking pre-orders.

Mobile coffee cart/truck

An estimated 62% of Americans drink coffee daily. Not only are we a country of coffee lovers, but the average coffee drinker consumes 3.1 cups per day. Most can’t start the day without one and then often refuel midday. When people return to the workplace and get back to an on-the-go world, the coffee break will likely be a welcome reprieve. If you establish yourself as a fixture in a high-traffic area, building awareness with an eye-catching cart or truck that speaks to the high quality of your coffee and then delivering on that perception, you can be quite successful. Coffee is a high profit margin business. It’s also a very competitive one, so set yourself apart with a niche proposition. Give your target customer a reason to spend three to four dollars on a cup by offering something unique that they will value, such as ethically sourced, fair-trade ingredients.

Mobile car wash and detailing service

The car wash and detailing industry is expected to see 5.3% growth in 2021 as more and more people feel comfortable taking to the road. And chances are, as spending begins to rebound, drivers will want to invest once again in the care and maintenance of their vehicles. For entrepreneurs with automotive savvy, good attention to detail and physical strength, bringing the car wash experience conveniently to customers can generate a high degree of word-of-mouth buzz. The startup costs are relatively low; however, you will need to invest in and stock basic cleaning solutions and equipment, and perhaps some bigger ticket tools as well, depending on the suite of services being offered. Consider tiered packages to maximize earning potential, which, as outlined here, can range on average from $24,000 to as much as $70,000 per year. Partner with a licensed mechanic and you’re looking at a full-service, on-demand car concierge.

On-demand tech help/repair

We live in a world where most people couldn’t imagine surviving the day without their smartphone, laptop or tablet. Yet screen cracks happen. So does the accidental fall into the toilet, pool or washing machine. And WiFi trouble in a work-from-home world can be a productivity killer. For all of life’s little and big tech fails, there is a need for on-demand tech repair or troubleshooting services. If you have a background in computer science and the ability to confidently diagnose and fix glitches, replace screens and batteries, aid in data recovery and remedy water damage, you can attain superhero status among the many in need of fast tech CPR and willing to pay significantly for it.

Wherever the road to retail takes you, there is a lot of detailed information available, from revenue statistics by industry to how to gut and refit a vehicle. This guide from The Zebra is a good place to start.

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