10 Essentials you Need to know to Run a Mobile Boutique

January 24, 2018 2 Comments

10 Essentials you Need to know to Run a Mobile Boutique

I have been running my business for 5 years now.  Having done 10x10 tent events for 4 years I decided I needed to make my life easier and allow my business to grow.  So I bought a bus.  I have had a Wandering.Boutique (as I like to call it) officially now for almost 1 year and I have learned more than I could ever imagine.  I want to share that knowledge with you all so you can take that adventure by the horns and make your dreams a reality!

Heres my 10 Essentials you Need to know to Run a Mobile Boutique

               1. Know what type of vehicle you want

      I took a long time decided on what I thought would be the best vehicle for what I wanted in a mobile boutique, which in the end was a bus.  There are so many different kinds of wheels out there that really you need to look at them all and figure out what is going to work for your needs in particular. For me I decided on the bus because at the time I had a Honda CR-V and really that car is incapable of hauling any type of trailer except one that would have been big enough for a Despicable Me Minion.  So I started looking into step vans, trucks, old UHauls and buses.  I though more about the impact I wanted to make and my mantra, "Stand Boldly as Someone Different".  Everyone had done the step van thing and I really wanted to do something authentic to who I was.  I had always wanted a VW bus and had even thought about that, then a cargo van to haul everything and set up a tent, but ultimately decided that it was the set up and break down of the tent booth that I really disliked.  I wanted to be able to have plants and natural light.  I wanted the customer to be able to see into the bus, so the commitment to come in wasn't so daunting and they could get a glimpse at what I have to offer.   I went back and forth from step van to bus for a while, but that's when the bus idea really started to stick as I realized that it was everything I had ever wanted.

      Here's some things to think about:

      • Do you want to deal with an engine or would a trailer work for you? 
      • If the trailer sounds like the right option, do you have the right truck to tow it?  Is it big enough for the set up & design you have in mind?  Are you willing to hitch and unhitch every time you set up or are you having a permanent location for the trailer?  Does that limit you to the locations that you can set up at?  Where will you park the car when you unhitch from the trailer? 
      • If you are going for a trailer, would it be an Airstream, a vintage camper, a horse box, a motorcycle box... what kind of shape and design of exterior & interior works for you?  What head room do you need?
      • If your going for an engine, step van, bus, truck, RV, Camper van? 
      • Are you willing to deal with mechanical problems? 
      • Whats your budget? Are you willing to travel to see vehicles or are you trying to find something local?  If you are going to travel, how will you get the vehicle home, insure it & drive home or get it towed?

                  2. Find a good mechanic & learn about the engine

        Since I know only about the engine realm of a mobile boutique lets talk that, and if you do decide to go for a trailer, my best advice would be to find a fellow #girlboss and reach out & ask questions about the trailer life!

        So firstly, find a good mechanic.  You'll no doubt need the support and you will seriously appreciate them if they are good people!  I called a mechanic down the road that I saw a step van parked out side of and asked if they worked on heavy duty vehicles and told them my bus is 24ft long, they said no and referred me to my next call...Bullins Guynn.  I kid you not, it was that easy.  They are the greatest!  Honestly!  I took the bus to them during the conversion to get the heat units removed, so they have been a part of my business since before the bus was officially a boutique..."they want to help Moon.Flower.Child succeed!"  Literally, that brought me so much joy.  

        Lets talk pricing.  Heavy duty diesel mechanics generally start at about $125/hour for the labor.  So if you've got something wrong with your vehicle generally that's where the bill will hit you hard, not for the parts (which tend to be affordable - unless its something huge!)  My bills from them tend to range from $220 - $600.  And more recently I have had to visit them for lots of little repairs.

        My bus is a 1992 and apparently they didn't add computers to vehicles until later, so when there's something wrong they have to dig in the engine and open her up just to test all the possible reasons for the bus being broken down or having engine troubles...that in its self takes FOREVER!  So there's your labor cost.  So with that said, learn about your engine.  Each time the bus breaks down I get my mechanic to show me what they did, how it works, what it should sound like, what it smells like.  Ask questions.  You'll need to know when your on the road if something comes up, maybe you'll be able to fix it yourself, or at least you'll know what to say when calling for road side assistance.

        Also don't be fooled by the magic touch that your mechanic has...they will find a way to start the engine as if there was never a problem. #goals

                    3. Get Insurance - road side assistance

          This is an important thing to note, I work with a broker who got me the best deal.  I realized I didn't have road side assistance or any type of coverage with my business/bus insurance so I set that in place to get $100 refunded back to me each day I had roadside/towing needs.  The very next day - no joke - I had to get a tow.  Towing a vehicle like my little 24ft long bus is about $180 just for them to hook up the bus & there there's mileage costs on top of that.

          I have been driving down I-95 in New York and run out of oil, I have been on the road to an event and leaked out all of my transmission fluid, both times I had to pull to the side of the road and its a miracle the bus is still powering ahead.  Keep a tow company on speed dial, my go to is Lemons Wrecker Service, but have several on back up in case they're on holiday or closed for the weekend (which has happened to me before...I had to call 5 before finally the 6th was able to come and get me). 


                      4. Have a savings account with a pot of gold ongoing costs

            Insurance is my most expensive monthly cost at $230 for business & road coverage.  That's something to keep in mind when putting together your budget and overall costs of what its going to take to run your little biz.  

            Fuel obviously varies depending on where you are in the world and if your in the states same goes.  I will say, its never happened to me, but don't run out of fuel.  A fellow bus boutique business, Gypsy Junque told me of a story that she ran out of fuel and for a diesel its a whole ordeal, you cant just hitch a ride from someone with a gas can and pour it back in your tank.  You have to take it to a mechanic.  So ever since then...I NEVER run out of fuel, or let it get low!!!  Depending on where I am I fill up from empty and it can run me $65 - $80.

            Tires are costly.  I had to get one repaired and it ran me about $260 for the tire itself and the labor to get it switched out.  You also have to visit a heavy duty tire shop.

            I mentioned I ran out of fluids on the road...so now I travel with extra jugs of everything in my bus and check the levels of my fluids every time I take the bus out.  Everything special for the diesel engine.



                        5. Have places to store product

              Somehow the first time I was headed out for my launch, which was just down the road, I thought that I could drive with everything set up and displayed beautifully.  Uh, NO!  Everything went flying.  My dad was with me and he was trying to stand balanced in a bus that I hadn't really driven that much as well as jump around catching everything as it came flying off the shelves.  I have learned to embrace ratchet straps!  They save the day for me.  I didn't want to have drawers and cupboards in my design so I use 2 pieces of plywood with ratchet straps to hold everything into the shelves that I have.  It took time for me to figure out the most idea way to break down the display, but for now have it down to a T.



                        6. Have the vehicle branded

              One of the biggest reasons of having a bus was to have people see my business and market on the road.  I was traveling so much to events and nobody could know who I was or what I was doing.  Having the bus drive around town with the social media clearly marked allows people to see and recognize the bus when on the road.  Not only that, but its an excellent way to connect with customers.  I have had so many people find me on Instagram or Facebook and reach out and just say how cool it was to see my bus on the road.  That's another opportunity right there to capture them as a potential customer! 

              You can get a custom 'wrap' and have someone design the image and colour of your vehicle, but those are pricey.  From what research I did they can run you on average $2,000!  That's just not for me.  I was running on a budget when I was doing the conversion, which you can watch on Youtube. I decided to paint it all myself.  I couldn't decide on one colour so went for a rainbow of colours that were consistent with my branding.  I drew the logo and wording out in pencil first before doing multiple coats with tiny brushes to get fine detail.  It also added to the concept of the brand where by everything is handmade, sustainable or made for a cause, including the bus!

                        7. Travel Near Not Far.

               My first year was amazing, I wouldn't change it for the world.  But, if I did have to learn something to take forward from it is travel near not far. Taking the bus on super long 18 hour road trips was taxing on both myself and the bus.  We experienced incredible life changing road trips, but my wallet wasn't looking so good, even if we smashed it in sales at the events.   I made Youtube videos of all our roadtrips, check them out! In the long run, its not worth putting your vehicle through long haul drives as well as thinking about what is most efficient for your business bank accounts.  Driving for 18 hours cost me in food, gas, stress, and in turn problems with the bus.  I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, I'm just saying be smart about it. 



              There were a few times I made pit stops along the way to visit family & friends or to collaborate with businesses for one day pop up shops, like at the Bold Bean.  That definitely made it worth the trip home!  Plus I got to meet my customers from another state!


              On top of that, not everyone is open to having such a big vehicle part of their event, or maybe they have specific fire marshal regulations because it has potential to be super flammable!  (note...have a fire marshal inspected current year fire hydrant - some festivals might require it, at least carry a fire hydrant with you) 




              So far the I have partaken in festivals, independent pop up shops in collaboration with businesses in my local town and farmers/artist markets.  I would say my most favorite is the festival route, although its the most costly ranging from $350-$2,500.  I have yet to spend more than $1,000 to participate at an event, but know that as I grow, having a sea of 30,000 people visit or even pass the bus can be huge for business and spreading word of the business.  Local events in partnerships with businesses locally tend to be completely free, or for a small fee.  I am able to connect with my local community and contribute to the city of Durham.  To set those up requires work in terms of emailing and calling and initiating the partnership which can take a while to establish.  But I get to set my own hours, choose my days and am the only business that sets up as a Pop Up Event, making it exciting.  Markets are similar to festivals, a little higher in price, and with applications to fill out and set dates, with other artists and vendors partaking in an event with a set time, generally on weekends.

                        8. Have an outdoor space to invite people in

              People don't read signs so even if you have some type of plaque that says come on in they probably wont read it so be prepared to respond to one of my #1 questions..."Can I come in?" Not only that, but the idea of a business in a vehicle that you can come into is still somewhat of a new idea even though food trucks have been around for some time now.  There is a great commitment that people have to make to come into the bus, they have to step up into a very small space that can sometimes be very overcrowded.  It can be daunting for some to be in that environment, so creating a welcoming space outside of you boutique.  Find a way to open the space up to the outdoors so that people in passing will be encouraged to stop and take a look and maybe even step inside to shop! 


              9. Choose your eCommerce platform

              I have used them all!  I started with Etsy & square, changed to wix and I think for now am very settled and content with Shopify.  I do still have my Etsy Store open with a small selection of products just to optimize my SEO of my brand.  I use the Shopify eCommerce platform to sell products online & in person as well as promote future events, markets & pop ups.  I use Mail Chimp to reach out to my community so they know where the bus will be set up for the month  that to sell online & market your events.

                        10.  Have fun!

              Sometimes the stress of running a business and all the back end work can be overwhelming.  On top of the fact that your business is run out of a vehicle which in itself can be a pain in the butt!  Follow your heart, enjoy the journey and let the wheels of adventure roll you to places you've never been to before.  Open your doors to new opportunity and let the world come into your space and you'll enjoy every moment of it. 

              Good Luck!

              If you ever have any questions feel free to contact me and I'm happy to guide you through the process.

              2 Responses

              Office 365 Support
              Office 365 Support

              April 24, 2018

              Im impressed, I should say. Pretty rarely do I come across a blog thats each informative and entertaining, and let me let you know, youve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is significant; the problem is some thing that not sufficient men and women are talking intelligently about. Im seriously happy that I stumbled across this in my search for one thing relating to this issue.

              Office 365 Support

              Office 365 Support
              Office 365 Support

              April 24, 2018

              Im impressed, I should say. Pretty rarely do I come across a blog thats each informative and entertaining, and let me let you know, youve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is significant; the problem is some thing that not sufficient men and women are talking intelligently about. Im seriously happy that I stumbled across this in my search for one thing relating to this issue.

              Office 365 Support

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