Hitting the Road
From barbershops to bars, these mobile businesses bring their services directly to the people
If the past pandemic year has taught us anything, it’s that convenience (and safety) is king. Curbside pickup, grocery delivery and overnight shipping are here to stay. It only makes sense that more businesses are finding ways to bring their products and services directly to consumers. These local businesses on wheels have innovated to do just that, offering creative alternatives to delivering everything from barbering to imbibing.
Pretty Pink Fashion Boutique
Flexibility was at the top of the work wishlist for Jamie Abitz who left behind a career in health care to open her online and mobile retail business, Pretty Pink Fashion Boutique.
“Never did I really imagine that it would evolve into what it has, but it’s allowed me to be home and raise my kids while doing something I love and is fun,” she says.
Based in Freedom, Pretty Pink Fashion Boutique launched as an online women’s clothing and accessory store almost five years ago. About a year and a half into the business, Abitz added the mobile fashion truck into the mix.
“I really liked the idea of being mobile,” says Abitz, who had seen fashion trucks in larger cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. “I think it’s a new concept for our area and it’s exciting to people.”
Pretty Pink’s mobile boutique is a former service truck used in a plumbing business that Abitz found online. She and her husband, Jay, an automotive instructor at Freedom High School, gutted the truck and installed everything you’d find in a brick and mortar boutique including two fitting rooms and clothing display racks.
“I get a lot of comments on how it’s much bigger than people expected. It’s kind of deceiving from the outside,” Abitz says.
Before COVID-19, Abitz says about 80% of her business was done at in-person events like fairs, festivals and private home parties. Abitz will also open the truck for impromptu shopping by request of local customers. August through December are the truck’s busiest months.
With many events being canceled over the past year, Pretty Pink’s online business has grown. Abitz has seen an increased interest in loungewear with more people working from home. Home decor, which Abitz began offering last fall, has been another growing segment.
“We are in the process of building a warehouse off our existing shop to make more room for home decor and gifts,” she says.
Despite the lack of events in 2020, Abitz says the boutique surpassed its prior year in sales. Abitz is hopeful that this summer will bring the return of more in-person events, which have been the bread and butter of Pretty Pink Fashion Boutique.
“I personally prefer in-person interaction,” she says. “If we can continue where we are at with the online business and add in events, it’s going to be an awesome year.”
In Da Kut Barbershop n’ Hair EFX
“The mobile barbershop is fully loaded for me to do whatever I need to do for a client, whether it’s a facial, a regular cut, designs, straight razor shave, whatever. I can do it all from the mobile barbershop,” says Beasley, who got his start at age 14 cutting his and his brothers’ hair.
Mobile barbering had been a service Beasley offered to clients in the past, but it required packing up a barber bag and driving his car to appointments. A self-contained trailer, like the one he has now, allows Beasley to offer his complete menu of services with the convenience of having all necessary equipment and products within arm’s reach while on the go. Now Beasley either pulls up his trailer in front of his client’s home or he will park in a general location and clients in the neighborhood will come to
Beasley found his 7-by-14-foot trailer at M Schettl Sales in Oshkosh and spent six months renovating it with the help of friends. It includes an entertainment station complete with an Xbox, Netflix and Disney+ for young clients. With only one hair cutting station, the mobile shop offers a more individual experience than his brick and mortar location.
“I wanted it to be more private, especially with COVID going on,” Beasley says. “A lot of my clients would rather do the mobile barbershop, especially clients in the health field.”
Salons and barbershops have been some of the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic, but Beasley says offering the mobile option has helped him thrive during this time. In fact, Beasley says he is serving more clients today than he was pre-pandemic.
“COVID brought down location sales at the beginning. People were booking less appointments, but it’s starting to pick back up,” he says. “In the last three weeks, I’ve gained 60 to 70 clients. I was surprised by how many clients I’ve gained by offering a private service.”
In addition to attracting new clientele, the mobile barbershop provides increased flexibility for Beasley to manage his day-today.
“Rather than being stuck in the barbershop all day, with the mobile shop I can move around between appointments,” he says. “It keeps me available to do all the other business stuff and I have more free time to be with my kids.”
Dog Gone Clean
When Pamela Case talks about her clients Mavis and Charlie by first name, they sound like the kind of people you’d want to know. Sweet. Gentle. Well-mannered. Except they aren’t people. They’re dogs.
A lifelong dog lover, Case owns Dog Gone Clean mobile dog grooming service in Appleton which she opened in 2005 after a career in telecommunications.
“I was showing dogs at that time, but wasn’t really not happy where I was at,” Case says. “My youngest daughter had just graduated high school and I thought now it’s my time to do something.”
Case became certified as a licensed dog groomer and spent the next several months working with a local Ford dealer to custom design her mobile rig. Today Case travels around the Fox Cities providing dog grooming services for pooches up to 55 pounds. (Dogs larger than that won’t fit in the mobile unit’s bathtub.)
Case’s 29-foot-long by 9-foot-wide rig is roomy enough that she can walk the circumference of her grooming table, which is helpful when grooming five to seven dogs every day. It comes with its own fully contained water source, but the rig does need to plug into an electrical outlet on location to power its lights and blow dryer. Everything else is fueled by propane.
Before COVID-19, Case says she was on the road with her mobile rig five days a week. These days, she is doing more work out of her own driveway with clients dropping dogs off for grooming.
One of the unexpected benefits of a mobile business is that it provides Case with an intimate view into her clients’ owners’ lives, particularly her elderly clients and those with disabilities.
“People share a lot of things with me. It’s fun when they tell me all their stories from Vietnam and they show me their medals,” she says. “I schedule a little more time because it’s not just the dog I’m visiting.”
Another advantage that Case sees to her business is how it benefits the dogs. She is able to accommodate nervous, older dogs or those with aggression in a way larger grooming companies can’t because sessions are conducted one-on-one without other dogs around.
“At some grooming places dogs sit in kennels or penned in areas. Here they go in and out,” she says. “The environment here is a lot less stressful.”
Dog grooming is very physical work that requires lots of lifting and standing all day, yet Case doesn’t see retirement in her near future.
“I’ll be doing this until I can’t see,” she says. “It’s very rewarding because you get to see and touch your piece of art when it’s done.”
Photos by Kacie Mischler Bass.
The Vintage Hitch Co.
Patrick Rothe and his wife, Bethany, are the owners of The Vintage Hitch Co., a mobile bar based out of Combined Locks that serves private events like weddings, birthday parties and graduations throughout Northeast Wisconsin.
The mobile bar is a side hustle for the Rothes, who both work full time in health care — Patrick is a nurse and Bethany is a physician’s assistant. Patrick, who had long dreamed of starting his own business, was inspired by his love of craft beer. He researched business ideas that involved beer and discovered similar mobile bars that existed in other parts of the country.
“I thought the idea was genius, so I spent months looking for a trailer,” he says. “When I found one in Madison, I snapped it up.”
The 1960s Shasta trailer, complete with shag carpeting, had been sitting unused in a field for over a decade and needed extensive renovations. The Rothes purchased the trailer in June 2019 and, with the help of family and friends, set about renovating it. Over the next year, they transformed the dilapidated ice fishing trailer into an Instagram-worthy event focal point. The trailer was finished in May 2020 and The Vintage Hitch served its first event in July.
The mobile aspect of the bar is as novel as it is convenient for accessing events in unusual places, from state parks to backyards.
“I like to be on the move. I like driving up to events and seeing the look on people’s faces,” Patrick says.
When a client books The Vintage Hitch, they can choose from various beverage packages — beer only, beer and wine, or a full bar. Due to state laws, the client must provide the alcohol and The Vintage Hitch provides everything else including bartenders, drinkware, garnishes and decor. The Rothes work with clients to create custom drinks for their event, if desired.
Patrick’s bartending experience has been beer-focused, so expanding into the world of craft cocktails has been a fun challenge, he says. For their first event, the client requested margaritas so the Rothes served versions of the cocktail in classic lime, spicy jalapeno and applewood-smoked pineapple.
“When we do a booking, it’s really just figuring out what the client wants,” Patrick says. “If they have ideas, great; otherwise, we can offer suggestions. I’ve bought a lot of cocktail recipe books.”
Opening for business during the COVID-19 pandemic has meant fewer events and smaller gatherings overall, typically anywhere from 30 to 60 people. While the mobile bar can accommodate events up to 275 people, smaller events offer certain perks.
“We love doing [small events] because we can actually talk to guests and bring that personal touch we want to offer people,” Patrick says.
Looking into the season ahead, Patrick says he has been receiving more inquiries in general and for larger events. Both will be key for growing the business in the long term.
“We would love for this to get bigger and more busy and get another trailer,” he says. “Eventually, we’d love to do this full time.”
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