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Ladies With Trucks
Rachel Ward | Photo: Courtesy of The Petaler; Lauri Levenfeld and Mary Gonsalves Kinney of Style Army; Pretty Parlor A GoGo | May 14, 2013
A new wave of San Francisco entrepreneurs gets behind the wheel.
Rebekah Northway, a floral designer who calls her company The Petaler, dreamed about owning a mobile flower shop for years. She finally got her big idea up and running six months ago, and the enterprise has taken her on quite the ride. After purchasing her antique mail truck, she was devastated when it spent three months stuck in park until she could replace a now-defunct part. “I’d already poured so much time and money into it,” she said.
But now that she’s got the truck back on the road, it’s streamlined her daily onsite operations with clients such as Nopa and State Bird Provisions. (Before, she'd tie bundles of large branches to the roof of her car and struggle to keep plants watered and upright in transit.) And pop-up sales at Four Barrel and Sightglass Coffee have created buzz for her business. “I get lots of attention and questions from people from all walks of life,” she said.
Northway is one of a growing number of small business owners, many of them women, who have ventured to take their companies on the road.
Event planner Alicia Falango of Alicia K Designs found herself wishing for a mobile office during a particularly challenging project at a ranch in San Jose, where temperatures soared to 105 degrees. “I saw a picture of an Airstream and came up with the idea to buy one for my business. My family thought I was crazy,” she said. She and her team spent five months renovating the 1978 recreational vehicle. “We had to figure out how to paint on metal and work with 12-volt lighting. And then we had to learn how to drive it.”
The trailer, which she refers to as Argy, is a portable planning unit outfitted with a champagne fridge, linen swatches, rental portfolios, and flat-screen TV. Her team regularly pulls up to a slew of far-flung, high-demand locales, from Kunde Estate in Sonoma to Campovida in Hopland, where they spotlight their services. “Things are constantly recycled in the wedding industry,” Falango said. “We go to market our business in a fresh way.”
Sarah LaShelle, owner of the Mission salon Pretty Parlor, and her partner Misty Briglia started taking their new beauty truck, which they dubbed Pretty Parlor a GoGo, to big tech companies such as Facebook and Google last fall, where they offer services to employees. “We’d been talking about how cool it would be to own a mobile salon and decided to give it a shot before somebody else did,” LaShelle said. “Once we made up our minds, we bought a truck on Craigslist the next day.” She and Briglia celebrated with tequila shots and coordinating tattoos.
But obtaining a permit proved to be a hurdle. “The city didn’t know what to do with us; they kept sending us back and forth to different offices,” LaShelle said. They’re currently part of a group of roaming retailers working with the city to draft a regulation system, which would be the first of its kind.
“It’s definitely a labor of love,” LaShelle said of the undertaking. “The generator weighs a ton, and we have to take it in and out to charge it after every trip.” Even finding a space to park the truck in the city has proved a challenge. Yet the duo has pressed on, traveling to music festivals and teaming up with wineries and neighborhood businesses for events where they offer makeup, spray tanning, waxing, and occasionally nail art and hair braiding. “We get a lot of attention as cute girls driving a big truck,” LaShelle said.
All of these newly mobile entrepreneurs are enthusiastic about the creative possibilities of incorporating their vehicles into parties and weddings. Falango custom styles her Airstream to serve as a lounge, artisan pop-up market, or photo backdrop. Northway envisions passing out posies from her truck as a parting gift. But in the meantime, the florist hasn't lost sight of the bottom line, keeping a running tally to calculate the return on her four-wheeled investment.