In today’s culture of on-demand convenience and economic uncertainty, many new entrepreneurs are eschewing brick-and-mortar stores and looking for mobile business ideas. A more flexible and cost-effective way to start a business.
And while many companies are happy to operate exclusively online, plenty of other businesses — think florists, bookstores, coffee shops, and clothing boutiques — still want a place to sell products or services in person and be part of a community.
That’s the appeal of mobile businesses which operate out of trucks, trailers, vans, and buses. Not only do these businesses come straight to the customer (or crowd of customers), but they leave a memorable impression and cost way less to launch and operate than a traditional storefront!
How much does it cost to start a mobile business?
According to a survey by the American Mobile Retail Association, the average cost to start a mobile retail business is $18,999, which includes buying and retrofitting a used vehicle and registering a new company. Other yearly fees include inventory, insurance, fuel, and POS (point of sale) systems to accept payments.
So, to be clear, it’s not super cheap to start a mobile business on wheels. But by operating on the road, you can avoid costs like rent, staffing, large displays, and traditional advertising. You also have the flexibility to set your hours and test different ideas and locations as you grow.
Read on for a list of mobile business ideas, and see real-life businesses on wheels that have made a mark.
Top 31 mobile business ideas for every discipline
Let’s dive into some profitable and trending mobile business ideas from every discipline and industry.
1. Refill station
With the #zerowaste movement taking its stride, more and more people need plastic-free refills on their detergent, soap, cleaner, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. Having a refill station on wheels is the best way to serve the zero waste mission and meet people where they are. It even gives you the freedom to expand into new neighborhoods effortlessly!
Check out Refill Road as an example.
2. Vintage/ thrift clothing shop
Thrift shopping is another sustainable business initiative to help people ditch fast fashion for unique, pre-loved clothing. If you’ve got an eye for fashion and a strong thrift game, why not help people and clothing find their perfect fit? Check out Stealz on Wheelz!
3. Pop-up events
From outdoor cinema setup to yoga in the park, being able to set up popup events is a lucrative and in-demand mobile business idea. Check out the Freshair Cinema as an example!
4. Makeup artist
During the wedding and holiday seasons, people in any major city are looking for a quick and beautiful look to revive them between work and an evening event. I know I have! Providing a mobile makeup solution is a great way to help individuals stay fresh while they navigate various events on a time crunch.
5. Personal chef
A step beyond catering, a personal chef helps people create an event around learning a new cuisine or providing a scrumptious meal for a special occasion. If you’ve got sublime cooking skills, it could be time to put them to use!
6. Freshly baked goods
It’s hard to resist the smell of freshly baked goods in the morning. To serve people who didn’t have time for breakfast or need a pick-me-up, having an array of treats ready to go at any metro or train station is the key to a thriving mobile baked goods business.
7. Paddleboard rental
Any body of water is bound to attract people with an affinity for watersports. With a wide array of inflatable paddleboards, you could make a solid business out of providing hourly fun in the water. However, keep in mind that paddleboards can be expensive, and this would be a seasonal business in most states. There are also safety measures to consider!
8. Nail spa
To accommodate people who need to get their nails done between work and events, having a mobile nail spa is a life-saver. Nails are easily forgotten in the flurry of everyday life, so why not make it convenient for people to get polished? The upfront costs are fairly small, it just involves learning the trade.
9. Mobile hairstylist
Beauty on the go is essential most times, but predominantly through the wedding season and the holidays. If you already have the skillset or want to work towards it, this is an incredible option for a small business venture.
10. Mobile event decorator
From holidays to backyard BBQs and baby showers, people usually can’t be bothered to buy and set up the decor– and then clean up after. You’ll need a knack for event planning and some storage for various decorations for different occasions. Plus a rockin’ good Instagram account to show off your work!
11. Cleaning service
From Airbnb turnovers to post-party-cleanup, having a mobile cleaning business is in demand and profitable in urban areas. If you’re like me and find cleaning therapeutic, this could be your entrepreneurial opportunity. You could even take it a step further and enter the sustainability niche by only using safe chemicals and low waste methods.
12. Junk removal
Junk removal can be anything from clearing out an old garage to helping construction sites keep things tidy. Startup costs aren’t substantial, and the learning curve is fairly easy.
13. Organizing service
Chances are, you know at least a handful of people who could benefit from an organizing service. Whether you’ve seen Tidying Up with Marie Kondo or not, this mobile business idea is great for people who love to roll up their sleeves and organize a messy closet, living room, or kitchen. It doesn’t require much initial investment, just the skillset and willingness to make order out of chaos.
14. Landscaping or snow removal
Seasonal but lucrative, landscaping and snow removal will always be in demand services. If you’ve got a green thumb and are looking for that entrepreneurial start, this could be the perfect opportunity.
15. Beekeeping Consultant
With concerns about waning bee populations — and a #savethebees movement — urban beekeeping is a growing area of interest. However, most people don’t have the knowledge to set up hives in a small space like a yard or balcony.
Cue beekeepers, who can create a unique mobile business that involves hive installation, education sessions, and honey harvesting for homes, businesses, schools, and companies.
With a perishable product and seasonal fluctuations, running a flower business can be stressful. But flowers make people happy — and they can be an on-the-way-home impulse purchase, especially for Millennials who prioritize self-care.
A mobile flower business lets florists sell in different neighborhoods and experiment with bouquet offerings and floral varieties. A truck is also a great way to advertise floral services for weddings and events.
Despite the prevalence of Amazon and ebooks, independent bookstores are staying relevant through reinvention and community-building. And what better way to reinvent than to offer a departure from a traditional physical store?
We love the look and idea behind Twenty Stories in L.A., a mobile truck business started by two writers who had the idea to curate and showcase literature in new spaces.
18. Coffee Shop
If you’ve always wanted to open a coffee shop, but don’t want the commitment of finding a spot to rent, a mobile coffee business could be an ideal solution — or a smaller-scale way to test your concept. Many of these businesses operate on bikes and carts, making them a fixture at festivals and outdoor events.
Mobile coffee businesses can also serve as indoor event providers, coming to offices and conferences to offer specialized coffee drinks.
19. Specialty Food Provider
While fully equipped food trucks and catering operations are one thing, starting a mobile business that offers a specialty food — think cotton candy, kettle corn, popsicles, cupcakes, and beyond — can be a fun attraction at parties, meetings, conferences, and other events.
This concept works best for foods that don’t have to be heated, as you want to minimize setup at events. A simpler concept also works best if you’re going to offer your food on a bike or cart.
20. Mobile pizza
One of the world’s favorite food, it rivals the hot dog on a boozy night out or a particularly busy weekday. Having a pizza-making machine on wheels is an excellent way to start a fun and delicious business with a manageable starting cost. Being mobile allows you to be at the right place at the right time!
Check out Mama Said mobile pizza!
21. Bike Repair Service
Biking is becoming a way of life for a growing number of commuters. A mobile bike repair service can offer bike tune-ups, repairs, tire changes, accessory installations, and more while saving people the hassle of hauling their bike to a shop.
This business could also expand into bike restoration and build a community of events around DIY bike repair, as many brick-and-mortar shops do.
22. Barber Shop
Barbershops have both old-school and hipster appeal, making them a fun business to take on the road. They can also go to neighborhoods lacking in hair-cutting options, or office-dense areas where lunchtime trims are in demand.
Barber Dash mobile barbershop is rentable for weddings, events, and private functions, providing a fun spot for a photo shoot.
23. Car Wash and Detailing Service
A mobile car wash and detailing business saves people the time and hassle of cleaning their vehicles. Services could include exterior washing and waxing, interior steam cleaning, pet hair removal, and more.
To differentiate, this type of business could also offer seasonal packages and promotions, or a “subscription” model of washing customers’ cars at regular intervals.
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24. Bar Service
Not all venues have bars or bartenders, and that’s where a mobile bar service meets a need for events, office parties, home celebrations, and more.
You’ll need licenses, alcohol, glassware, and supplies (including portable bars). This type of business could also expand into event staffing and cocktail classes for private parties and corporate events.
25. Cloth Diaper Delivery Service
While cloth diapers are more environmentally friendly than their disposable counterparts, keeping up with washing them is a massive chore for new parents.
Enter cloth diaper delivery services, which pick up dirty diapers and deliver fresh ones on a regular timeline. It’s a dirty job, but popular in many cities, especially among environment- and health-conscious consumers.
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26. Financial Planner
While you wouldn’t expect to see a financial planner operating out of a vehicle, the below example shows that even traditional services can be turned into mobile business opportunities — and may entice more people to get a free consultation or book a session in a more friendly and convenient space.
In the case of The Finance Bar, owner Marsha Barnes still runs her business out of an office but takes her bus on the road in the summer to connect with more people seeking financial help.
27. Farmers’ Market or Produce Stand
Selling vegetables from the side of the road has been a longtime business, but selling produce from a truck? A step up! If you’re a local grower, a mobile setup could work well in areas that don’t have many year-round farmers’ markets.
You could even expand it into a truck that sells pies, jams, and pre-made foods found at other markets.
28. Pet Grooming Service
With the number of people who spend big bucks on their pets, it’s no surprise that the pet grooming industry is booming (and, in many places, overcrowded).
A mobile pet spa helps owners out because they don’t have to trek their cats and dogs to a physical location — and the mess associated with bathing or grooming a pet gets contained in the vehicle!
29. Photo Scanning and Digital Archiving Service
It’s hard to remember a time when digital cameras didn’t exist, but many people have piles of photos, videos, and slides taking up space in their homes that they rarely get to enjoy. With a mobile business, you can offer clients a pick-up/drop-off service or scan photos on-site.
You can also help people scan documents, organize digital files, and back up data, so they never have to lose valuable memories or run out of space.
30. Composting Service
Many people want to compost, but can’t be bothered with the mess or hassle of actually doing it. Composting pick-up also isn’t offered as a public service in all areas (this is especially true for offices and restaurants).
Enter compost operations like CompostNow, which deliver clean bins every week, swap bins out regularly, and ensure food scraps get turned into valuable fertilizer for local farms and gardens.
31. Graffiti Removal Service
Do you get satisfaction from big cleanup projects? Graffiti removal might be the mobile business for you. This type of service gets graffiti off walls, windows, vehicles, and more, and is especially useful to commercial businesses and storefronts.
As an expansion, services can also include glass repair and repainting services.
As the above examples show, mobile business opportunities can run the gamut from selling books, flowers, and other goods, to offering services like pet grooming, composting, and bartending. In other words, they go far beyond food trucks.
Due to the public nature of a mobile business, good branding is essential. Create a custom logo and use vinyl decals and paint to decorate the exterior of your vehicle.
Want more info? Check out the American Mobile Retail Association’s steps for launching a mobile business, or read our in-depth guide on how to start a small business.