How To Start A Mobile Salon

The Beauty SaloonBranding, Business

Have you ever dreamed of owning a mobile salon or mobile hair dressing business? As our lives become more hectic and our schedules more full than ever, busy working clients have less time in their day to squeeze in salon services.

There is currently a trend to bring goods and services of all kinds to these customers, evident in the burgeoning food truck culture and the rise of mobile boutiques. Depending on your state’s legal requirements, you could capitalize on this trend by bringing your hair, makeup, or nail services right to your client at their home or place of business. Providing beauty services for weddings, home parties, and corporate events are just a few of the possibilities when you take your skills and supplies on the road.

Some mobile or freelance cosmetologists perform services in client’s homes, which helps keep overhead operating costs low, but many beauty entrepreneurs have taken the whole salon to the streets. Susan Aflack of la laquerie takes her nail salon housed inside a pink Airstream to private parties and Google’s corporate headquarters, among other places.
Elizabeth Reames operates On The Go Hair Co. from her own gorgeous, silver Airstream trailer in Texas. And in Portland, OR, while not exactly mobile, Holiday Hair Studio‘s beginnings in the most adorable little vintage travel trailer are a wonderful example of what can be done in a compact space.

Where Should You Begin?

So, you love the idea of starting a mobile hairstyling, makeup, or manicure business, but don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place! The number one, very first thing you should do is find out about the legal requirements for salons according to your state’s Board of Cosmetology (or local applicable laws and ordinances, for my Dollfaces outside the USA). Mobile or freelance cosmetology is not legal in every state.
Once you know you’re within the legal parameters for your locale, the next step is to decide if your dream is to freelance in homes, carting your supplies along, or to bring a rolling beauty shop right to your clients. If you choose the latter, you’re going to need a van or trailer, and that will take money, of course.

 Financing Your Dream

Whichever option you choose, you’d be well advised to begin with a simple business plan, and if you find that you must secure financing for your dream, it’s a must. Here are some examples of beauty salon business plans. For assistance with business plans and other start up details, you can visit the U.S. Small Business Administration’s website.
With that said, if the latest recession has taught us anything, it’s that debt is not something to be entered into lightly, and that’s if you have polished enough credit to even be considered for a loan. There are ways to get where you want to be without shouldering a huge burden of debt, but you will have to work hard and think outside the box. Can you downsize your home or possessions to free up some start up capital? Save your tips? Cut back on treats and impulse buys? Barter goods or beauty services? If you already have an existing clientele or lots of supportive friends and family, perhaps you could turn to crowdfunding through Indiegogo or another platform. Be creative!

Hitting the Road as a Mobile Hairstylist  

Entering clients’ homes or businesses to perform your services will mean you’ll need to travel light. A rolling box or train case can hold the essentials. You may want to consider a portable shampoo bowl and a lightweight hair dryer. Try to choose items that can perform double duty, such as one waterproof chemical cape for shampooing, color, and cuts, and one everyday shampoo formula that works for many types of hair. When you’re toting your equipment around town all day, minimalism is key.

Takin’ It to the Streets 

If you choose to create a traveling salon, you have the option of either an all-in-one van or RV, such as the gorgeous Glam Van in Sydney, Australia, or a trailer which is towed behind a vehicle. The tow along trailer presents a uniquely cute (and likely more affordable) option, especially if your design tastes lean toward the vintage.
Used travel trailers can be found for reasonable prices, and since many will require some interior remodeling to become mini salons, you might find a fabulous deal on a vintage trailer that’s in less than perfect condition. Take a look at the Tin Can Tourists site for tons of inspiration, and check out their classified ads for vintage trailers for sale in your part of the world. Craigslist and ads in your local paper are always a good source for leads on used travel trailers, as well.
If you decide to go the tricked out trailer route, you’ll need to have a tow vehicle equipped with a towing hitch and an engine with sufficient horsepower. Consult your vehicle’s owners manual or your dealership with any questions about the vehicle’s tow capacity.

Insurance and Best Business Practices  

An extremely important consideration when researching and starting a mobile hair salon business is insurance coverage. Just like with a traditional brick and mortar shop, you should carry cosmetology liability insurance to protect yourself from litigation should your services cause injury to a client, or should an unhappy client decide to drag you through the courts. It’s also important to cover your expensive supplies and tools should they be damaged, lost, or stolen.
A mobile salon owner also needs automobile insurance. Speak with a licensed insurance agent for more information and to address your unique situation. Don’t skip this step! You do not want to find out after an incident has occurred that you aren’t sufficiently insured. It could mean the loss of your business, or worse. As with any business, the not so fun stuff like insurance, book keeping, and proper accounting are essential to your success. You can’t be the creative, professional artist you are inside, and hope to make any money if you haven’t laid a solid business foundation.

 Mobile Salon Design

This might be the part of opening a salon (besides the hair, nails, and makeup!) that gets creative types most excited, the all important design and decor. There are as many ways to decorate your mobile salon as there are perfectly coiffed hairs on your head.
You could go with a modern minimalist zen interior to offer stressed clients an oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic day. If you’re a barber who caters to men, you might choose to decorate with darker colors and classic barbering chairs.
A beauty shop in a caravan naturally lends itself to a vintage vibe. Birch paneling, fab Formica, and chrome details are hallmarks of both Midcentury beauty shop decor and travel trailer design. It’s a natural fit. Visit Vintage Camper Trailers for everything vintage camper and a heaping helping of inspiration. So much retro eye candy!
Follow The Beauty Saloon on Pinterest and check out my “Mobile Salon Ideas” board for more inspiration!
Mobile Salon DecorFor DIYers on a tight budget, take a peek and be inspired by Holiday Hair Studio’s process pics as they renovated their original salon, housed in a tiny vintage camper trailer. If you’re not experienced with construction, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help. You might even find a carpenter who is willing to barter for free haircuts and other services.
Beyond aesthetic beauty, you’ll also want to address function. After all, you’ll be working in a small space, so it’s important to plan the layout and storage options carefully. The floor plan you choose will depend mostly on your particular trailer or vehicle’s existing layout and dimensions. Don’t forget that your equipment and supplies will be bumped and jostled around as you travel from one beautification job to the next, so you’ll want to ensure that there is a place for everything, and that your tools and products are well secured.
At every step of the remodeling process, be sure that your renovations comply with all local codes and ordinances, as well as your state board of cosmetology’s salon licensing requirements. You wouldn’t want to make an expensive mistake. Just like in hairstyling, remember to measure twice and cut once.
Now that you’ve learned the basics of how to start a mobile salon, how will you begin working toward your dream? Are there any other questions or concerns that you have? Leave your thoughts in the comments!