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They bring their business to you

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  • Slideshow: Mini Me Spa Parties
  • Ditching the storefront and hitting the road?

    If you are thinking about going where your customers are instead of them coming to you, keep these tips in mind:

    Know the rules before you start: Some mobile businesses require permits and licenses, according to the Small Business Administration. If you plan to do business across state or city lines, you will likely need special licensing. Check sba.gov or business.gov for details.

    •  Determine your startup costs: Equipment for a mobile operation can ratchet up the cost, so do your research. Include estimates for insurance, employees (if you’ll have them), and marketing and maintenance.

    Know the tradeoffs: Unlike a brick-and-mortar business with fixed hours, many mobile businesses operate on an on-call basis. Mobile computer technician Mike Grabowski, who started Not a Geek, advertises on his site that he’s available on most holidays and weekends and can usually help within 24 hours of the call.

    •  Take advantage of mobile technology: Many Charlotte food trucks and auto repairmen use mobile-payment devices, such as Square, that allow them to process customer credit cards immediately. Some providers also depend on texting, as well as phone calls to make their service even more convenient.

    • Advertise creatively: Without a storefront and street sign, it’s important to embrace Internet marketing and get creative. LaSandra Grier-Jant, who started Mini Me Spa, donates spa parties to silent auctions and nonprofits. One free party alone brought her six new parties.



LaSandra Grier-Jant’s spa for young girls offers many of the typical services: facials, manicures, pedicures, fluffy robes for relaxation.

What sets her apart is she brings her one-stop-shop to you.

A licensed aesthetician, Grier-Jant founded Mini Me Spa in 2012, after years of throwing home pampering parties for her two daughters and their friends.

Now she takes her parties to her clients – at home and elsewhere, from hotels and churches to rec centers and neighborhood pools.

She’s an example of a growing trend in Charlotte: entrepreneurs – from car mechanics to pet groomers, chefs to computer technicians – who are adapting the traditional brick-and-mortar business model for a mobile operation.

This “we’ll come to you” model isn’t new; many businesses, such as landscapers and personal trainers, have long built that model into their business plan.

But now, many business people are forgoing the traditional storefront altogether and are hitting the road to make profits. And Charlotte-area entrepreneurs are finding their mobile services are in demand.

There are sacrifices to hitting the road, of course. Entrepreneurs must balance rent savings with fuel expenses, for example. And work hours can run beyond the typical 9-to-5 format.

It’s common for Grier-Jant to pack her red Ford Expedition with foot baths and bottles of nail polish up to three times a weekend.

It’s a great concept, Grier-Jant says. “When somebody can ... have it where they want, it makes it that much easier.”

The convenience factor

Mobile entrepreneurs say that in a world of smartphones, constant connectivity and workdays that extend well beyond the traditional 9-to-5, consumers are seeking businesses that fit in their hectic lives on their terms – not the other way around.

Going mobile “gives (businesses) an advantage over brick-and-mortar in some cases,” says George McAllister, director of the UNC Charlotte Small Business and Technology Development Center, which advises about 800 businesses a year. “It’s appealing to a niche that likes that convenience.”

Entrepreneurs opt for the mobile model for a host of reasons, McAllister says.

For some, it’s a financial move, as operating on the go saves thousands of dollars in rent money each month. For others, it’s a lifestyle decision.

McAllister says he once worked with a pet groomer who grew weary of being in the same location all day and wanted more flexibility.

With a storefront, business owners can’t run errands just because they have a two-hour gap between appointments, McAllister says. “Or, if you’re a repair shop, you can’t close it at 3 p.m. one day ... because your son has a baseball game,” he says. “(Customers) are expecting regular business hours.”

Tech on the go

To ensure his mobile computer-repair business is ready for nearly any tech meltdown, Mike Grabowski keeps the trunk of his red Prius chock-full of spare parts, hard drives, cables and routers.

It’s all part of Not a Geek, which he started eight years ago.

Grabowski, 65, worked in the corporate information-technology field for 25 years before he decided to start his own company.

“I enjoy the freedom,” he says.

But it’s a tradeoff, he says. He’s always on call, working from home until a distressed person needs help with their computer. Sometimes it’s trouble-shooting for computer viruses, Internet issues and equipment on the fritz. Other times, he’s shopping for customers and setting up their new computers. Grabowski charges about $75 an hour for on-site service, or a flat rate if he’s got to pick up the computer, take it home to his place and return it.

Most of his jobs last about two hours, he says. But the mobile gigs can be feast or famine.

“I’ve had weeks with as few as four clients, and I’ve had weeks with three people a day,” says Grabowski.

Growing your business

When Grier-Jant first started Mini Me Spa, she saw the mobile model as a temporary solution until she could afford a storefront.

But after more than 100 successful mobile spa parties, she and her customers are sold on the concept.

“We’ll set up in 20 minutes,” says Grier-Jant, “and when you come into your living room it looks (like a spa).”

At a typical party, Grier-Jant and her assistants (she has five now), will set out colorful bowls for the girls to soak their hands in, fluffy white robes for them to lounge in and tiaras to up the glam factor.

She uses all-natural products with a decadent flair, such as vanilla cake scrubs, chocolate lotion and strawberry-honey masks.

And she’s always restocking her glitter polishes and cucumber supply, a must for the young girls’ facials.

Grier-Jant recently had a gig in a suite at the Ballantyne Resort, where a group of teenage girls were having a sleepover.

Per usual, the spa party was a hit – so much so that the girls didn’t want them to leave.

“They wanted me and my staff to spend the night,” Grier-Jant says, laughing.

Over the last year, Grier-Jant also discovered that expanding her offerings could expand her customer base.

She started out with just facials. The she added manicures and pedicures. And now she offers stations for makeup, hair-styling (without heat) and dressing up, along with a camera for photos.

And as word got out, Grier-Jant’s spa parties are appealing to adults as well. She’s done demos at a women’s boutique opening, and last weekend, she hosted a spa for a wedding party.

“The more you have to offer, that’s growing your business,” she says.

McMillan: 704-358-6045 Twitter: @cbmcmillan
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