“Dog grooming is just one of the many businesses gone mobile. Rene Johnston /Getty Images
Back in 2010, Stacey Jischke-Steffe was selling women’s clothing and accessories at various Los Angeles street markets when she spotted the crowds around the food trucks and thought, “Why not put a store on wheels?” A few months later, she and her business partner Jeanine Romo bought a vintage 1974 Grummond Olson step van and christened it Le Fashion Truck.
Today, Jischke-Steffe and Romo not only sell their LA-designed clothes, bags and jewelry from the back of the van, but they’re the co-founders of the American Mobile Retail Association, whose 107 members represent only a fraction of the estimated 1,000 non-food truck-based businesses operating across the United States. Here are some of the coolest — and strangest — mobile business ideas.
1. Fast Lane to Fashion
According to a 2015 survey, 84 percent of mobile retailers specialize in women’s fashion and accessories. Many are similar to Le Fashion Truck, carrying locally designed and handmade clothes and jewelry for stylish 30-to-50-somethings. Jischke-Steffe and Romo paid $18,000 to buy and retrofit their truck, which is way below the start-up costs of a brick-and-mortar clothing store. According to the survey, 45 percent of mobile retailers report gross monthly income between $1,000 and $4,999.
2. Drive-by Paternity Tests
The audacious brilliance of the Who’s Your Daddy? DNA testing truck wasn’t lost on cable network VH1, which launched a reality show called Swab Stories chronicling the high drama of the truck’s clients. The truck’s creator, Jared Rosenthal, is also the CEO of Health Street, a drug-testing company with more than 2,500 locations nationwide. His original version of the testing truck had a giant pee cup on the side. Wonder why he changed it…
3. Stogie Mobiles
The Mobile Cigar Lounge was founded by two former Tampa Bay Lightning teammates who couldn’t find a place to enjoy a fine hand-rolled Cuban while celebrating their 2004 Stanley Cup victory. Their cigar lounge on wheels — a converted 1961 airstream complete with leather-upholstered couches and a fully stocked humidor — can be rented for private events. Similar mobile smoking lounges can be found in cities across the U.S.
4. Salon On Demand
The Hair and There Mobile Salon brings a luxurious salon experience right to your door. A fun idea for pre-wedding primping, the Houston-based mobile salon requires a five-person minimum to make the trip. If you live in the Washington D.C. area, book a visit from the Blowdry Taxi for your at-home updo or blowout.
5. Fitness on Wheels
The first mobile gyms began popping up in the mid-1980s in Los Angeles. (Actor/director Ron Howard was an early customer.) Now there are national franchises like Gyms on Wheels that offer a full complement of strength training, conditioning and cardio in the back of a bus. For a real kick — or punch, really — flag down the Boxing Bus in Raleigh, North Carolina.
6. Street Justice
The Dearie Law Firm in New York City has been “driving legal services right to your doorstep” for 17 years. Its Mobile Law Office is a retrofitted 40-foot (12-meter) mobile classroom complete with mahogany desks, gilt mirrors and a private conference room. Inside the mobile office, attorneys take depositions and consult with clients — sometimes via videoconference — who are too sick or injured to make it to the firm’s brick-and-mortar locations.
7. Dog Bath on a Bus
Mobile dog groomers like New York’s Bark Bathe & Beyond and Denver’s Sudzy Dogz are a godsend for busy pet-owners and their pampered pooches. The grooming vans come with their own water and power supplies, and offer everything from nail trimming to “oatmeal baths.” They even cater to high-strung mutts.
8. Wedding Wagons
Leave it to Las Vegas, the capital of speedy nuptials, to dream up the Las Vegas Wedding Wagon. The wedding van arrives with everything — officiant, photographer, flowers, legal paperwork. All you need to do is pick a location (and a spouse). The Mobile Wedding Chapel in Los Angeles will even throw in a bottle of champagne and a T-shirt.
9. Karaoke Kars
One of the biggest parties at the annual SXSW festival in Austin is on four wheels. The [RV]IP Lounge is a 38-foot (11.6-meter) Tradewinds RV that’s been converted into a mobile karaoke bar. When the RV isn’t rented out for corporate parties (by companies like WIRED, HBO and Starbucks), it roams the late-night streets of Los Angeles picking up unsuspecting revelers. Everyone’s welcome aboard, from A-list stars to curious tourists, but there are two important rules: no singing Journey before midnight, and no “Bohemian Rhapsody,” ever.
10. Gaming on the Go
Your kid’s birthday is in a week. She’s too old for a bouncy house and too cool for a clown. Time to call the GameTruck. This nationwide chain is one of many companies that deliver gaming parties inside huge customized trailers. The mobile gaming theater is a 10-year-old’s fantasy stocked with every major gaming system and hundreds of popular titles. For added fun, GameTruck will also set up laser tag or BubbleSoccer on your lawn.