Beauty Businesses on Wheels
Bath Petals beauty products are sold in 30 Whole Foods supermarkets around the country, but the brand's flagship store--the only place selling all of its 116 offerings--sits on six wheels and blows bubbles onto the street.
Since Julie Warnock's family-run business launched its beauty truck early this year, the 11-year-old business has received all kinds of attention: Retailers want Warnock to park the truck outside their shops; tourists take photos with it; movie producers have asked to feature it in films. "It's really hard to break through the noise and get attention," Warnock says. "We wanted to create excitement." So far, it's working. Circulating through the Los Angeles area, the Bath Petals beauty truck has opened up a new sales channel for the beauty products manufacturer, helping to increase overall sales by 15 percent and promote the brand to retailers.
Bath Petals is one of a growing number of small businesses jumping on the beauty truck bandwagon to differentiate themselves, says beauty products expert Jennifer Walsh. "Beauty in the past few years has become kind of stale. This concept really goes to where the customers are, instead of waiting for them to come."
It isn't only the extra attention that makes the beauty truck trend appealing to entrepreneurs. As they expand their brand's reach, here is a look at four benefits of going mobile – and what you can learn by taking your business on the road.
1. Save the expense of a lease. Operating a retail shop on wheels can be cheaper than leasing commercial space. When the rent for his Bronx, N.Y., spa and tanning salon doubled in 2007, Claude Pierre decided to find an alternative. He used his experience in auto customization to outfit a 22-foot truck with a toilet, sink, lighting, air conditioning, heating, a gas fireplace and flat screen TV. Operating such a massive vehicle presents a new set of challenges--from maintenance to parking--but Pierre likes the flexibility of where and when he works. While he was initially taking the truck out daily to attract business, the high cost of gas these days has made him focus more on private events like bachelorette parties or showers where business is guaranteed. The Mobile Spa also gives Pierre more control over his work schedule. "It's in my control how much business I am doing," he says. "Whenever I take out the truck, that's when the phone starts ringing."
2. Test products faster and easier. Beauty trucks also can provide a convenient test market for new products. When Warnock developed a line of bath salts earlier this year, she equipped her beauty truck with a bar area where customers could sample them. After a successful trial run, Bath Petals installed similar bath-salt bars at seven Whole Foods stores. "It's allowed us to test out new items before bringing them to a retailer," Warnock says. "We've already got customer feedback and worked out the kinks."
3. Make a more personal connection. For some beauty businesses, a mobile shop means traveling from coast to coast--something Harold Zimmerman, founder of Votre Vu, has already done five times with his Airstream, the vuBAR. Zimmerman launched Votre Vu in 2009 in Sugar Grove, Ill., selling the skincare and cosmetics products online and through direct salespeople he calls brand ambassadors. To expand the brand's reach, he decided to try a mobile strategy. Admiring the sleek Airstreams he drove by en route to his lake house in Wisconsin, he bought and refurbished one with an L-shaped bar and sofa. He has used the Airstream to promote his products at street, wine and food festivals across the country and attract new brand ambassadors, increasing the direct sales force from 100 in 2009 to 4,000 today. The vuBAR Airstream has "become iconic with our brand and a symbol for our brand ambassadors to get behind," says Zimmerman, who put $129,000 into refurbishing the vehicle.
4. Go where the market is. Elline Surianello, CEO of New York City-based LeMetric, finds taking her business on the road much easier now that she has a van equipped with a consultation space and stocked with her treatments for thinning hair. Ten years ago, Surianello started getting calls from across the country after her business was featured in Ladies' Home Journal and on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America." But traveling with all of her beauty equipment made long-distance appearances difficult. As a solution, Surianello decided to recreate her New York studio inside a 10-by-17-foot van last January. Now, she can go on the road once a week without the hassle of repacking all her equipment each time. "You can go where the market is and not worry about the market coming to you," she says. "That gives you incredible flexibility."