Business, Economics and Jobs

Beyond food trucks: More businesses go mobile


Customers line up at a Chick-fil-A food truck in Washington, DC, on July 26, 2012. Taking note of the explosive growth of food trucks, more small businesses are forgoing physical office space and instead running startups from their cars.


Robert MacPherson

Leave it to creative entrepreneurs to turn potential obstacles such as high overhead costs into assets.

Taking a cue from the explosive growth of food trucks, more small businesses are forgoing costly brick-and-mortar offices and instead running startups from their cars.

"Lately, businesses-on-wheels have come to encompass hair salons, high-tech repair shops, and even makers of artificial limbs," the National Federation of Independent Business said in a recent post.

These businesses have a particular allure for millenials, who are embracing nontraditional work environments and are used to operating pretty much anywhere with a smartphone and Wi-Fi connection.

DC's CrackedMacScreen

Consider CrackedMacScreen, a business that two brothers — Trevor and Colin Lyman — run from a Toyota Prius, Scion, scooter and bicycles in Washington, DC. They offer affordable screen repair for Apple Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod products. With business logos prominently displayed on both of their vehicles, the cars act as mobile billboards while they drive around the city doing repair jobs.

Beyond free mobile marketing, other perks of going mobile include no rent or mortgage to pay on a physical office space or shop.

The Lyman brothers — perhaps like other millennials — have a unique take on business overhead. Weaned on technology and fluid work environments, paying for stationary retail space and waiting for a landline phone to ring seems antiquated. Millennials — those between 18 and 34 — are redefining traditional work lifestyles as they carve out career paths and opportunities in a still stagnant economy.

Mobility allows the CrackedMacScreen guys to drum up business and enjoy the immediacy of delivering services right to clients' doors.

"If you can do what you do from home or from a Starbucks, why would you pay for an office?" Trevor Lyman asked.

Cue From Food Trucks

High overhead costs are a key roadblock for entrepreneurs trying to open brick-and mortar small businesses.

For foodies, the solution has been food trucks. US street vendors generated $1.5 billion in revenue during the past five years to 2012, an average annual growth rate of 8.4 percent, according to IBISWorld, a Los Angeles-based market research firm that tracks the food truck craze.

But being a mobile business has its potential pitfalls.

Record-keeping on-the-go can turn into a mess. But the NFIB notes there are advances in technology including apps that scan receipts and mobile accounting software to keep paperwork from piling up on a kitchen table.

But for the Lyman brothers and other mobile businesses, the rewards outweigh the risks. Business days are never boring. And no two days are alike when they're visiting clients homes, businesses — and sometimes — DC government offices.

The Lyman brothers' work has taken them to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration among other locations. Clients have included Representative Michele Bachmann and Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Government employees in particular are hesitant to part with their smartphones — even for repairs — as their devices contain sensitive data.

"Even on the craziest days, we're still glad we're not sitting at a retail storefront," Trevor Lyman said. "We get to meet a ton of different people in many different scenarios — it keeps us on our toes."

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