So You Want To Start A Mobile Bike Repair Business: Get A Good Truck
I started running a mobile bike repair shop 2 years ago and after this nice profile, I've received a lot of messages asking me for tips and advice. Since, I'm often asked the same questions, I decided to start writing out what I've learned, starting with the truck. I also started this google+ community as a forum for more questions or discussions.
I'm a small-local-business type of guy. And my notes speak to that. There are, at least, a couple of mobile bike repair franchises that you can google and become part of, if that is more of what you are looking for. But if you are interested in starting your own mobile bike repair business from the ground up, these notes may help.
This might seem obvious, but get a good truck. I've seen a few mobile businesses in town completely de-railed, because they skimped on the truck. If your truck is in your driveway or at your mechanic's, then you can't make any money. It doesn't matter how pretty the paint job or how many tools you have, if you can't get to your appointments or events. Spend a little extra money to purchase a good, working truck rather than a fixer-upper. It'll save you money in the long run.
If you don't already know a lot about box trucks (or whatever type of truck you intend to buy), get a friend or trusted mechanic that does. My father was a Chief Engineer at FedEx and has been an invaluable resource. He helped me figure out what I wanted and needed, as well as drove with me to Kentucky to make sure the truck I was buying wasn't a lemon.
There are a few factors in figuring how much you will need to spend on your truck. There is the cost of the truck, of course, the cost of the inside-set up/build-out, the cost of branding design work, and the wrap (or paint job). The branding I'll talk about in another post. It's important and shouldn't be overlooked. And branding and marketing is just one of the many costs you will need to build into your business plan, but for right now I'm just talking about the truck.
Based on my start-up budget, I bought a used truck. And it's served me well. If you have a large start-up budget, go ahead and buy a new truck (and I'll be jealous of your stereo system), but in my case I didn't have the budget and didn't need to. As a completely unscientific rule of thumb, I wouldn't recommend buying a truck under $10,000. You may find a truck that rides like a dream for $600 and needs no new parts. But I think that is the exception not the rule.
When you know how much you can spend, you can make a list of your criteria. Below are some things to think about and decide for yourself.
Do you want diesel or gas? How much driving and what kind of driving do you intend to do?
What size do you want? Would you rather get a large van?
How many repair stands do you intend to fit in it?
Do you want a roll-up door or "barn" doors in the back?
Do you want a window in the side of the truck for customers?
Do you want the whole truck temperature-controlled?
Do you want the roof to be tranlucient for light to come in? If not, what is going to be your light source?
Are you going to need or run a generator?
Do you want an automatic or manual transmission?
What year truck do you want?
How many miles can it have on it?
How far can you travel to buy it?
You should prioritize this list of criteria, because you might have to sacrifice something lower on your list. So know ahead of time what you can live without.
A word to the wise: I'd avoid buying a truck from a place like U-haul or UPS, since they probably only sell their trucks when all the good truck juice is squeezed out.
How to Find Your Truck
There are probably as many ways to find your truck as there are trucks. My wife found my truck on the internet, simply by searching the parameters of my criteria. It took her a month, but she found just what I needed. She found it on a site specific to used box trucks, but you can find trucks on ebay and craigslist, and a lot of other places.
A friend with a fashion truck used a family connection to find a truck right outside of town. I was very jealous, since the first time I drove my truck was a 6-hour drive in the snow back from where I bought it.
And you can buy locally, put the word out, and go see local dealers. Talk to some food truck truck owners, because they tend to know the scoop in town. Again, I would either learn a lot about trucks or bring a friend who does with you to check out a truck to buy.
Allow yourself a lot of time to find the right truck. You need to get a good truck, so this is not a decision you want to make in just a few minutes. Not only is the truck going to be your new workspace, but it is also a giant billboard advertising your new business.
Here is the google+ community to join and keep the conversation going.