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Small businesses on the road to success

Small businesses in Australlia are going mobile and not just in a digital sense…

Mobile businesses are a growing trend in the Australian economy, with more and more small enterprises trading in foundations for wheels.

Drawing inspiration from the USA and UK, where the mobile business phenomenon has taken off, they’re now popping up across the country.

Being 'mobile' constantly opens up new opportunities and audiences. Customers love the novelty value and convenience of a mobile business, and this sets up an advantage over the corner shop or hairdressers in town or 10 minutes’ walk away.

As the mobile business sector is rapidly expanding, it is becoming a sought after business model with many perks:

• Cheaper 

Taking to the streets means no rent or mortgage to contend with. The overheads are considerably lower (but do bear in mind the cost of fuel, oil, stock replenishment, and parking).

• Flexible 

Running a mobile business provides the business owner with an increased flexibility, many being able to work to their own schedule, improving that all-important work-life-balance.

• Marketing on the move 

Mobile businesses thrive on visibility. A well branded vehicle can act as free mobile marketing; think of it like a billboard on wheels showcasing your business on the move.

With regards to branding, you want it to be eye-catching but not confusing; it needs to be readable in order to generate business.

Trevor Lyman, owner of American screen repair business CrackedMacScreen said in an article for the NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business):

‘I have a sign on the back of my car and people staring at that all day. They’ll call me saying “I am driving behind you right now’.

Going mobile

Mobile businesses are often mobile in more than one sense of the word. A lot of custom comes from word of mouth - something synonymous with the social media trend.

Xavier Verhoeven is one of the creators behind the website and mobile app ‘Where's the Truck’, influenced by ‘...the business model of going to a new location every night, and getting the word out on twitter and Facebook’.

It’s the perfect app for ‘foodies …looking for a feed’ as it updates users with the location throughout the day and night.

This trend was well documented in the recent Hollywood smash, Chef, in which a disillusioned chef leaves his day job in a swanky restaurant, goes back to his passion for South American cusine and starts a mobile food truck selling cuban sandwiches. With the help of his son's knowledge of social media - the business becomes an overnight cult phenomenon, with crowds awaiting it's arrival in destinations posted on advance on Twitter.

Led by the food and drink sector, it’s no longer just food vans at festivals and on street corners driving the mobile business industry. Here are just some of the Australian businesses you can find dotted around the country:

Jumplings Tasty Dumplings, Perth

Roy Chin is causing a street food revolution with his bite size Japanese dumplings. With a prime location under his wheels, his food truck feeds the forever hungry student population.

Roy promotes his van on Facebook and gives advice to others wanting in on the mobile businesses sector, as well as urging the council to change their public trading laws.

Roy has emphasised the positive effects of the new trend and battled worries about its effect on brick-and-mortar-business, and  it seems the council are now on board. In an article last year, Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi told Perth Now :

‘The operation of mobile food vans is sure to generate and encourage a more vibrant 24 hour centre that activates some of the city’s ‘forgotten spaces.’’

Birney & Co,  Melbourne

Founded by Leilani Chen, Birney& Co is a haven for sidewalk shoppers. With its iconic design, the converted bus looks just like a classic Melbourne tram.

Suiting and booting Melbourne and specialising in trendy vintage threads, the company ‘strives to be at the forefront of the mobile retail industry’.

Believing that ‘although the concept is yet to exist in Australia, [they] endeavour to be the first to launch amongst Melbourne’s street culture and diverse lifestyle’.

Leilani told us  'We never anticipated for our business to be as successful as it has, especially within our first year of operation'.

The American mobile retail association (AMRA) reports approximately 500 fashion trucks across the USA's 50 states. 

Recognising that mobile trucks were popular in the USA and UK, Leilani adop ted the concept and is leading the way in this emergent  sector in her home country of Australia. 

The Barber Van, Sydney

The Barber Van is a ‘traditional men’s barber with a modern twist.’ Evolving from a traditional bricks and mortar barbers shop in in 2011, owner Ep Weatherhead now has approximately 1000 regular customers, charging $25 dollars a haircut.

Using her experience from working in both the UK and Australia, she travels through the eastern suburbs and northern beaches of Sydney.

Shark in a bus (Everywhere!)

The more unconventional of our picks, Shark in a bus is Paul Sharp’s eccentric creation. Operating from a 1957 Leyland bus, the private marine museums star attraction is ‘Frankie’ the 5 metre long Great White shark.

Touring the country teaching people about marine conservation, tickets cost $5 and all proceeds go to the charity Two Hands.

Rules of the road

For each different city/state the rules will be different in regards to permits, licences and insurance (and depending on the type of business).

A recent article on mobile businesses in the Guardian stated that ‘while some councils are still welcoming … others make it very difficult for them’.

A key example is Bec Feingold, owner of toasted sandwich truck Toasta, having her business shut down due to operating (on private land) without a permit.

Make sure you read up on the rules of your area - they can easily be found on the government or council websites.

Despite some challenges, mobile businesses are still proving to be popular option. Whether you choose to buy and expand an existing business or start an entirely new venture, they have many advantages and can work for an array of trades - from the more traditional to the totally quirky.  

Interested? Take a look at our mobile food businesses for sale at 

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Image provided by Birney & Co.