By Michelle Stark
Tampa Bay Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With low overhead and an ability to move where the actions is, mobile businesses are trending as a convenient way to connect shopper and retailer.
When Stephanie Newton first started Posies Flower Truck, a mobile flower shop housed in a blue vintage Volkswagen, she thought her clients might be middle-aged woman who like floral arrangements. Nearly two years later, Newton said, Posies’ Tampa Bay customer base is largely millennials into the self-care practice of building flower bouquets — and documenting what they’re doing via Instagram.
Once you’ve seen the truck, it’s not surprising. It is adorable, and Posies is one of a growing number of mobile businesses wheeling around the Tampa Bay area, usually in refurbished vintage vehicles that peddle a certain charm alongside their owners’ wares.
A recent Vintage Round Up event at the St. Pete Side Lot featured trucks like these, offering a wide range of goods: flowers, wine, ice cream, all sorts of clothing and whimsical accessories.
Along Winthrop Main Street in Riverview, Airstreams often line up near the Winthrop Arts Art Factory, anchored by Remi’s Minis, a doughnut truck. Mobile businesses are mainstays at many of Tampa Bay’s markets, and pop up at everything from coffee shops to office buildings.
Newton said it’s no accident that these kinds of businesses are trending.
“Mobile businesses are super photogenic, and our social lives are so driven by pictures at the moment,” she said. “Plus, they’re convenient for both the shopper and the retailer.”
Low overhead costs don’t hurt either, especially when compared to the rising rents on brick-and-mortar spaces across Tampa Bay.
Newton and other mobile business owners like Carlos Velez, who owns the Clara Rose Ice Cream Truck, said that their growth has been pretty organic.
“Our marketing through Instagram has helped create a buzz,” Newton said. “People follow the truck, and it helps that they can’t just always walk into a store. It creates more of a mystique around the business.”
“I haven’t had to do much advertising,” said Velez, who works out of a bright teal 1964 Jeep Willys. “I did a Girl Scouts party for my sister-in-law, and things just snowballed from there.”
Here are seven Tampa Bay-based mobile businesses worth checking out.
Clara Rose Ice Cream Truck For Carlos Velez, ice cream provided a way out. The father of five children was working as a sheriff’s deputy in a maximum security jail and needed a better work-life balance. He quit in March 2016, and when thinking about what he should do next, arrived at an unarguable truth: “Ice cream would be great.”
“I couldn’t do a regular ice cream truck though,” he said. “They can be a little creepy, with those melted, contorted Sponge Bob bars and stuff. I wanted to do something that would stand out.”
He started looking online for a vintage vehicle and came across a 1964 Jeep Willys, a fleet van originally made for the United States Postal Service in the 1960s. These days, the trucks are super rare; Velez eventually found one in Orlando. It was owned by a pastry chef who had an idea for a similar mobile business but wasn’t able to get it off the ground. Velez bought it, got rid of the “Raisin Bran-looking flakes coming off the sides”, and painted it teal.
Velez sources his ice cream from the Chocolate Shoppe in Madison, Wis., keeping it simple with standard flavors and waffle and cake cones.
He lives in Gulfport with his family, and they’re pretty involved in the business. Clara, his 7-year-old, helps out often on the truck.
“For some reason, she she always seems to be in charge of the money,” Velez said.
Posies Flower Truck Stephanie Newton, a stay-at-home mom for 14 years, got the idea to start a roving flower company when her daughter went to high school a couple years ago. Running her own business felt like a safer bet than trying to get back into the corporate world she once worked in, she said, plus she thought the Tampa Bay area could use a little whimsy.
She found three flower trucks in other parts of the country via social media, even going to Tennessee to meet with one of them. If they could find a way to get a truck, she thought, Posies could work. Six days later, she found the vintage VW she wanted on Ebay.
“It was perfect green lights all the way,” she said.
Newton sources different types of seasonal flowers and sells them right from the truck, each in their own little buckets and priced per flower. The idea is that customers can build their own bouquets, though Newton is happy to help as needed.
“This is one of the only flower-buying experiences you can have that you can totally control and get creative with,” she said. “It makes it feel that much more special.” posiesflowertruck.com
The Tipsy Trotter When Krysten Strauser of Seminole was planning her wedding a couple of years ago, she was looking for something unique to have at the reception — a mobile photo booth, food trucks, that kind of thing. She especially wanted a mobile bar, something she dreamed about on Pinterest but couldn’t actually find in Tampa Bay.
She had an idea. With a background in events management, hospitality and bartending and a family fully of entrepreneurs, she decided to start the Tipsy Trotter. A couple weeks after her wedding, she bought a little horse trailer, “gussied it up” and officially launched a mobile bar in February.
“If I wanted it and couldn’t find it, I figured other people probably wanted it too,” she said. “We booked some weddings before we even launched.”
For now, the bar is mostly available just for private events, and Strauser travels all over; this month she has been in Gainesville, Orlando and Brooksville. The Tipsy Trotter will come to your wedding or your business party or even your child’s birthday party. It’s a “dry bar for hire,” meaning customers provide the liquor and Strauser makes the cocktails and serves them. She does not carry a liquor license, so she can’t supply the alcohol, but she is licensed to serve it.
“I showed up to an 8-year-old’s birthday party once and it was a total surprise,” she said. “I thought it was a party for the husband of the woman who booked me.”
Strauser does do some public events, mostly partnering with nonprofits; the Tipsy Trotter will be at the Stadium of Screams Haunted House and Fall Festival at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg on Friday.
Her background in bartending comes in handy, as Strauser develops unique menus for each of her clients — and makes all the bar’s juices and syrups from scratch. The menu is customized based on a customer’s preference, and so are the prices, which vary a lot depending on what you want. thetipsytrotter.com.
Eleanor’s Ice Cream Another new, wedding-ready mobile business serving Tampa Bay. Husband and wife Marcus and Alexa retroverted a little camper, painted it white, and named it after their young daughter. The little ice cream shop, which they dub “Florida’s sweetest vintage ice cream caravan,” opened in 2019 and mostly does private events. Find them on Instagram @eleanorsicecream.
Remi’s Minis Opened in 2017, this doughnut shop selling treats and coffee out of a converted 1963 Airstream trailer has become a staple in Riverview’s Winthrop Town Centre. It was started by the Chambless family of Riverview, and they’re slinging mini doughnuts in a wide variety of flavors, like pink sprinkle, maple bacon, Nutella berry, peanut butter chocolate, and a version topped with Fruity Pebbles. They also do fun seasonal flavors and offer coffee from Tampa’s Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters. A large, pink doughnut-shaped sign tops this mobile shop’s trailer, and in the middle is the shop’s mascot, the dog that inspired the whole operation: the Chambless’s beloved Remi.
Ashe Couture This boutique does have a storefront on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, but recently started taking its clothing and accessories on the road in a 1963 Airstream trailer. Larger than some of these other vehicles, you can actually walk into the mobile store, the inside outfitted with hardwood floors and the same hip, vintage, bohemian vibes you can find at the flagship store. Bonus: It’s air-conditioned for more comfortable browsing. ashecouture.com.
Feathers, Fate and Steel This mobile shop describes itself as “a wayward boutique,” selling clothes, jewelry and other accessories out of a vintage travel trailer. Regulars at the Royal Palm Market in St. Petersburg and Indie Fleas in Tampa and St. Petersburg, their signature items include funky sunglasses and silk caftans. They refer to their vibe as selling an eclectic mix of handmade items and those sourced from travels around the world. feathersfatesteel.com.
DJ Hello Darlin’ Records Arielle Stevenson runs this St. Petersburg-based mobile record store out of a 1972 Volkswagen camper bus. She sells curated vintage vinyl records and other vintage goods. The bus also doubles as a DJ booth. Established in 2018, DJ Hello Darlin’ Records is available for private events but also roams to a variety of local markets. hellodarlinrecords.com.
Gypsy JunQue This mobile boutique from Elke Lockert lives inside a Chevrolet school bus painted with a groovy design painted by muralist Derek Donnelly. The boutique is stocked with bohemian-style wares like upcycled jewelry, clothing and accessories, many of them made by Lockert. The mobile business has been around for a handful of years, and recently Lockert got a second bus that will be outfitted with another boutique. facebook.com/gypsyjunQue.
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