Posts tagged road trip

Circus performers are mobile vendors, too

…and in the words of Stephen Colbert, so can you!

Here is a guide that I penned for Inc. on establishing a small, traveling circus. You may find that there are distinct similarities to the business aspect of operating a pop-up shop or taking a retail vehicle on a cross-country tour.

Fly Away Zine Mobile: zine mobile summer adventures -- call for collaborators!!

Are you interested in getting your mobile venture on? How about participating in the road trip of a lifetime? The Fly Away Zine Mobile is looking for co-conspirators for the Cross Pollination tour:

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PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD AND JOIN US!

Dear friends, comrades, strangers, family, collaborators, colleagues, lovers, and otherwise brilliant human beings (please pass along as you’re inclined to)

We are delighted to request the honor and joy of your participation in our upcoming collective…

Tin Can Studio.org

Food enthusiasts Ken Tsui and Ellen Lee are gearing up for another summer of Eat Together meals. The super-cool series of pop-up suppers hosted in the Tin Can Studio, an 18ft 1972 Streamline trailer lovingly transformed into a roving community art studio and sometimes restaurant.

UpendED interview series: Lauren Loomis of Lulu’s Local Eatery

"The start up capital that you need for a food truck is a lot lower than a brick and mortar. To put a whole lot of money into a building that we would just be renting didn’t make a whole lot of sense for us."


Lauren Loomis, 26, is the proprietor of a unique brand of food truck — the kind with a garden on top! Lulu’s Local Eatery launched a month ago in St. Louis and specializes in locally sourced, organic cuisines. Loomis and business partner/ fiancé Robbie Tucker, 28, used a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2,786 to build the garden and resourcefulness to fund the rest. Here’s the story of how their young enterprise came to be. See the continuing story as tweeted daily from @lulusfoodtruck.

How did the concept of Lulu’s Local Eatery come together?

Robbie Tucker, my partner, fiancé, and co-owner of Lulu’s, have been together for six years. He and I were living together in Chicago, decided we wanted to start our own business, but weren’t really sure what that would look like. Then we got into sustainability and wanting to learn how to grow our own foods. We packed up and went to New Zealand and Australia for about a year, traveled our way WWOOFing: staying with farmers in exchange for free food and accommodation, learning skills and the meaning behind caring for your meal, understanding farm to plate and how your meal gets to your plate. It was really meaningful for us.

When we got back to the states, we had a culture shock about there not being a whole lot of fresh food in the States, it being hard to get fresh foods at an affordable price. I have a passion for cooking and I’ve been creating my own recipes since I was a teenager. I really wanted to do a farm-fresh food on-the-go concept. We talked about opening a café at one point. We moved to St. Louis because the cost of living is so low and it’s such a great, vibrant city and the food truck scene was really getting started. There’s now about 31 trucks here. It’s really robust and the community is really great. So that’s what we did. Now we have Lulu’s. Lulu’s Local Eatery is about four weeks old.

Before you decided to go traveling, what were you both doing professionally?

I was working for a corporation in human resources and Robbie was a jazz drummer. He still is, but he was more like a full-time freelance drummer.

Regarding the truck, why did you decide on a food truck rather than a brick and mortar establishment?

The start up capital that you need for a food truck is a lot lower than a brick and mortar. To put a whole lot of money into a building that we would just be renting didn’t make a whole lot of sense for us.

What were your start up costs?

I’d say probably around $40,000 to $50,000.

For the truck itself?

Our truck was $30,000 and it got retrofitted and everything.

So that bumped it up to $40,000?

Yeah. With our starting inventory with the materials and equipment and everything,

Was there any resource that you consulted or any specific people that you asked to help you learn how to run a food truck?

Essentially, a food truck is a restaurant on wheels, so we consulted a lot of our restaurant friends, people who work in restaurants and friends who own restaurants. We sat down with them and picked their brains about what their monthly expenses, how to get in touch with distributors, all of those questions. We basically utilized friends and people in the community. We started sending out emails to people in the community, letting them know what we wanted to do and asking them to meet with us. We sat down with farmers, vendors, café owners. We utilized the St. Louis Food Truck Association, sat down with the president of the association, and talked to him about what the climate was like, and what the typical day in the life of a food truck owner was like.

I recommend for someone interested in starting a food truck to sit down with someone from their local food truck association or go to one of their meetings. Start making friends everywhere you go. Tell people what you’re doing and start making friends. People want to help you. You don’t realize it, but they do.

Where there any online resources that you used?

Not a whole lot, honestly. I guess we read articles, but they’re not a whole lot of resources available.

Did you have any issues with sourcing materials or ingredients?

Not really. Missouri has an incredible local food movement, especially in the greater St. Louis area. There are food coops and restaurants that offer great local food. There were a lot of resources for us. Because we’re local and that’s our thing, people really wanted to support us because it’s a passion project. They were like, “Oh, cool. You’re part of the movement!” So we just ended up being really fortunate on that. But obviously we’re in the Midwest and we get a decent winter here, so it’s a seasonal business from that standpoint. We can only do so much locally in the cooler months. So that’s a barrier. That’s a challenge.

Have either of you worked in food service before?

We both have worked in restaurants before. I don’t have any formal culinary training or anything.

Did having worked in a restaurant help you at all?

Oh gosh, yes. Absolutely. I think before you get into the food business, you gotta go work in a restaurant just to get a feel for it. It’s a whole different kind of work. It’s physical. It’s kind of emotional, too, ‘cause you’re putting your energy into the food and all that stuff. It’s good for a lot of people, but it’s not good for everybody.

How was the truck funded?

We had private investors and we ended up getting a loan as well, a small business loan.

Did you get a loan through a regular bank?

It was through the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Through the economic stimulus plan, they have a federal pool of money, and I think they dispersed it among the 50 states. I know the money is available in Missouri, but I don’t know about other states. But I know that it is from a federal economic stimulus program and the goal is to help small businesses. We went though a really intense, lengthy application process, but ended up getting approved. That was fantastic.

Were your other private investors friends and family?

Yeah.

Did you put up any of the money yourself at all?

Yes.

From the time you decided to launch until you got going, how long was the fundraising process minus the Kickstarter campaign?

I guess the time frame would be up to a year minus the actual launch; developing a business plan and then helping people understand what they’re investing in.

When going to friends and family for private investing, what did you find that they wanted to hear from you or see the most before they committed to investing anything? Did they want to see your business plan? Did they want to hear that you were going to give them something in return?

I don’t know, it would depend on the person I suppose. It definitely helped us to develop the business plan just to organize our thoughts. We sat down and were like, what’s our mission? What’s our vision, what do we actually want? What do we want our perfect day to look like? Once we figured out what what we really wanted and could see ourselves doing this for a long time, then we came to the table with the inspiration and the passion that we needed to convince friends and family. Friends and family, they love you. They want to support you, but they want to make sure that it’s the right thing. In the beginning we had a lot of ideas. But it wasn’t until we sat down and had these meetings and brainstorming sessions that we were able to develop the business plan around that inspiration and passion.  According to our financial projections (aka as long as everything goes according to plan), Lulu’s will make a profit within year one.

How long did it take you to develop the business plan?

Start to finish, I’d say probably two months. We had other part-time jobs we were doing, so it’s not like we were doing it day and night for two months. It was kind of like a working document for two months.

When did your Kickstarter campaign run?

It was in April. It ended mid-April. We achieved our goal and built the garden the next week. April 25th was our first day of running Lulu’s.

Did you mainly use Kickstarter for publicity, or did you really need the money to build the garden?

 We really needed the money. We couldn’t have done it without the Kickstarter.

How did you even decide to put a garden on top of the food truck? Had you heard of that being done before?

 I read an article online about Busroots when I was in Australia, and I was like, “Oh, God. That’s so inspiring!” It was really creative. I just love people who think outside the box come up with creative solutions, especially for sustainability. I was really interested in that work. When we started talking about a food truck it just popped into my head that it would be awesome if we could take that concept of Busroots and put it on a food truck. We’re local and how much more local can you get than getting food from on top of your truck?

Did the money from Kickstarter cover the entire build-out process of the garden?

Yeah.

What are your plans for the garden?

We’re going to extend it. So, right now, it’s just on the front of the truck. We’re going to extend it to the middle section. I don’t know how many square feet that is, but it’s  a pretty big area that’s going to be garden. We’ve already harvested some of it and we use it in our recipes and everything. That’s the plan, to just use it as we have been and get people excited about it. Just seeing people’s reactions as we’re driving down the street and when they walk up to the truck is just great.

What are you growing on it right now?

We have about 15 different kinds of herbs and we have greens and lettuces and a strawberry plant up there. With the second garden, I think we’re going to do even more greens this time. Probably a lot of kale and a lot of Swiss chard and arugula.

Did the publicity from Kickstarter help a lot in the launch of the truck?

Yeah. To be honest, most of the people who saw our Kickstarter were people we knew. But it ended up that a friend of a friend of a friend posted it and then it was passed on to a local news station and then they did a news story about the gardens and the truck and everything, so that ended up being a really great publicity opportunity for us.

So was Kickstarter a good experience for you in general?

My gosh, yes. I would really recommend it, especially for passion projects.

What’s a normal day like for you on the truck?

We’re required by law to work out of a commissary kitchen. We went to the commissary about 9 o’clock and then we had to load all of our stuff from our kitchen into the truck. We got to the spot around 10, and then we prepped ‘til about 11 and opened for lunch at 11.  We stayed open until about 2. Then we came back and had to clean the truck, do all of the dishes and everything and get it ready for the next day, and then we came home and did a bunch of administrative stuff, and now (at about 7:30) we’re about ready to go back to the kitchen and prep for tomorrow. We prep at night so that we don’t have to worry about it in the morning.

So you’re running roughly a 12-hour day right now?

Yes.

And is it just the two working on the truck now?

We usually have an employee. His name is Mike and he works with us on the lunch shift and sometimes during events.

Does St. Louis have a lot of problems with legal restrictions when it comes to vendors?

It’s definitely up in the air when it comes to St. Louis about what’s going to happen long term. We’re so new here, which is unique, I think. In other cities, it’s like food trucks have been there forever, but for St. Louis, it’s really within the last two years that they’ve popped up. They don’t have concrete laws put into place. There are separate permits for the city and the suburbs, so we currently only have a city permit. We can’t vend in a county in the suburbs. We’re forced to park 200 feet away from any brick and mortar restaurant or street vendor. We can’t park within 15 feet of a bus stop or a fire hydrant.

There are 31 trucks, so it limits the number of spots that you can park at. In St. Louis, there are lots of parking spots potentially, but it’s a lot different than New York. There’s a lot of unused space. There are empty lots and stuff that there are not any food trucks around, but you wouldn’t want to park there. It’s like the issue is now that there’s only a few select really good spots that food truck can vie for, so that’s why they developed the association. Everybody in the association posts their schedule in advance and then works together so that everybody kinda shares the business equally.

Tell me about your cuisine.

It’s basically a global, eclectic mix of dishes that focus on fresh, organic, local ingredients whenever possible. The most popular thing is the sweet potato falafel that we offer. We make everything from scratch, so it’s all really fresh and homemade.

How have you been marketing Lulu’s? What outlets have been the most helpful for you?

We’ve been utilizing social marketing a lot everyday. It is totally essential to this business. We’ve been tweeting our location, retweeting articles about urban agriculture and all that kinda stuff that’s important to us and our brand. People have been commenting about our food and Kickstarter. It’s been really wonderful. I can’t imagine doing this business without Twitter or Facebook.

How do you manage Twitter and Facebook when you’re working 12 hours a day?

I’m on my phone all the time.

What payment system are you using?

We use Square. I highly recommend it. We use it on our iPad, so we use it as an inventory system, like a register. You can charge sales tax and download reports. It’s really user-friendly.

Are you familiar with unschooling? This educational practice that ties traditional homeshooling methods with natural life experiences is an option that many progressive parents are considering for their children. Ani Lacy, designer, homesteader, and single mom to a young son, is attempting to purchase a used RV to take around the country whilst performing homeschooling duties and crafting works for her Etsy store.
Donate to her Roadschooling Adventure! mission at GoFundMe.
You can connect with her on Twitter for more information.

Are you familiar with unschooling? This educational practice that ties traditional homeshooling methods with natural life experiences is an option that many progressive parents are considering for their children. Ani Lacy, designer, homesteader, and single mom to a young son, is attempting to purchase a used RV to take around the country whilst performing homeschooling duties and crafting works for her Etsy store.

Donate to her Roadschooling Adventure! mission at GoFundMe.

You can connect with her on Twitter for more information.

I’m hell bent on finding out more about the independent mobile vendors of the carnival world. I wrote an article for Inc.com on small circus troupes, and that got me interested in the vendors that supply these companies. I’ll have more on these guys soon enough.

I’m hell bent on finding out more about the independent mobile vendors of the carnival world. I wrote an article for Inc.com on small circus troupes, and that got me interested in the vendors that supply these companies. I’ll have more on these guys soon enough.

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UpendED interview series: Debbie Rasmussen of Fly Away Zine Mobile

"It’s intended to be the first piece of a bigger caravan where there will be many mobile vehicles traveling around the country doing things that are related to free education, free skill shares, and free shows.”

Debbie Rasmussen started out as the associate publisher of Bitch magazine in 2003, and enjoyed a tenure as publisher from 2005-2008. After ending her stint at Bitch, she became the trucker she always wanted to be. The Fly Away Zine Mobile is less of a business and more of a mobile project that connects communities around the nation with ad hoc literacy workshops centered around 'zine curation and librarianship. Last summer, the first tour of the Zine Mobile (Orderly Disorder: Zinester Librarians in Circulation Tour) took it to nine cities with four participants, including Rasmussen. The Zine Mobile was recently featured in Flavorwire’s round-up of incredibly unique bookmobiles from around the world. Read on to discover more about the founding of the Zine Mobile project, why Rasmussen chose life on the road over office life, and how the Zine Mobile project continues to operate without turning a profit. Follow the Zine Mobile’s Tumblr for future updates.

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What do you do as your day job?

I don’t really have a day job, I guess. I’m trying to build this project. I’m very intentionally going in an unprofessional direction. I really don’t even know what to say. I guess I consider myself an organizer, a writer, an editor, an activist, and a music player. I feel like all those things are kind of equal. And with the Zine Mobile, I guess I’m a librarian, a driver, and a curator.

How and when did you come up with the concept for the Fly Away Zine Mobile?

My last day job was working at Bitch magazine where I was the publisher. I loved it. In many ways I felt like it was my dream job, but in some ways it wasn’t. I was missing the days of smaller projects, of self-publishing, and zines. We were going though a lot of questions, like any media organization, of how much to focus to put online, how much to put in print, and all of that. I feel like we were putting more efforts into online stuff which I thought was very important, but I also didn’t feel as excited about online as I did print when I thought about it.

Another piece of it for me is, when I was little, I wanted to be a trucker for awhile. My dad was into CB radios, fixing them and selling them. We always had CBs in our cars and around the house. My sister and I would often talk with truckers over the CB, so trucker culture has always felt familiar to me. When I got older, we also had a motor home. The nomadic culture was something that was always appealing to me and in my blood so to speak. The Zine Mobile project kind of came about as a intersection of those two things, trying to step back from this bigger magazine into the smaller world of self-publishing and also really wanting to be moving, seeing places. Not wanting to be in an office job anymore was a big part of it, too. 

 When was the project launched?

It was about a year ago. I though of it when I was at Bitch. I don’t know if it even says so on the website, but the Zine Mobile actually was intended to be the first part of a bigger project. I don’t mean to be evasive on your questions, but some part of the stuff, we’re still figuring out what it’s going to look like. But it’s intended to be the first piece of a bigger caravan where there would be many mobile things kind of traveling around the country doing things that are related to free education, free skill shares, and free shows. The idea is to revitalize community, bringing things back into our neighborhoods and doing things ourselves rather than going to the chain store down the street.

How did you choose the type of van that would become the Zine Mobile?

It’s a 1997 Chevy Astro van. I got it when I was in Minnesota last year which is where I grew up. I looked at many vans. My dad used to be the one who helped me select my cars because he’s way more mechanically inclined than I am. He died a few years ago, so this was one of my first ventures all by myself. One of the biggest pieces of advice that he gave me that I would also pass onto other people is to shop around. I looked on Craigslist for weeks and called on many, looked at many. The one that I ended up getting that I really like, I didn’t end up getting right away. I keep looking until I felt like I had done enough research.

I’m just starting the process of looking for a new vehicle — the Astro has been so reliable and is comfortable and easy to drive, so I was dragging my feet a bit. But it’s time — we’re maxed out in both space and volume. So looking for something larger, wheelchair accessible, and diesel or already converted to run on veggie oil.

What did you end up spending for the van?

I think it was about $4,700. The one funny thing I learned about looking for a van is, at least where I was looking, there are two kinds of vans — a party van and then the souped up family van. Early on, for me anyway, I wanted something that had a little more gadgetry. The Zine Mobile in the Astro van I got has track lighting and many different light switches that ended up being really helpful.

Did you have the interior custom retrofitted?

Not really. I live on the road, so this is going to be my home eventually. So for me, I was jokingly calling it the Zine Mobile on Training Wheels. I intentionally got something that I felt like I would need to do very few modifications. The van that I have has little cabinets inside so I can put little tiny zines in there. I did quite a few temporary modifications, but I didn’t have to do much in terms of the structure or overhauling it. That’s something that I think I would like to do later, but I don’t want to do that right now.

Did you have a business plan or some kind of template you were using for the venture?

Not really. Part of the work we’re trying to do is challenging capitalism, but obviously we’re all kind of participating in it. All of those things are so deeply complicated for us that a lot of our work ends up being really meta almost. When we get to the nuts and bolts of it, I’m like okay, we do need a certain amount of money to get going. I basically just asked people — friends and family — and said I would love to raise this much money to get the vehicle to start and get going.

How much money did you raise before you went out on the road?

I think I raised between $6,000 and $7,000. For the inaugural tour, I’d hoped to have enough money to cover the cost of the vehicle and gas, and I did. Gas will change when the next Zine Mobile is running on veggie oil, and people are always generous with food when we’re on the road because they understand what we’re trying to do.

Were you paid from this project at all?

I’m a volunteer. I don’t pay myself for any of it.

In that case, what do you do for money when you’re on the road?

Since leaving the world of full-time day job three years ago, I’ve worked as a caretaker/gardener at a feminist land project, a facilitator/advocate for a publishing non-profit in crisis, an animal house-sitter, a land/home/library/estate organizer, archivist, and caretaker, as a house painter and laborer, and as a barista at a coffee shop I worked at during grad school in Madison. I take on side projects or odd jobs when it makes sense, and when I’m in the right place at the right time. Sometimes the right place doesn’t matter, because it’s work that could be done from anywhere.

Who was out on the road with you? What was the structure of the tour starting off?

The Zine Mobile technically launched in Minneapolis where I was and where I bought the van, but it didn’t actually get out on the road until I drove down to New Orleans and met three other librarians. They were all there for the American Library Association Conference. They all flew in — John Stevens flew in from Australia, Celia Perez flew in from Chicago, and Jenna Freedman flew in from New York. I drove down from Minneapolis and we all met in New Orleans and then we went on a nine-stop tour over the course of the next three weeks. That was the inaugural adventure of the Zine Mobile.

You said you want to get a fleet going. What’s your ideal as to how that’s going to be structured?

In a practical way, what I’m hoping it would look almost like a train car…not a train car, but some combination of cars or maybe bikes or some kind of peddle-powered caravan of people and each piece in the caravan would offer something different. The Zine Mobile is the library and reading and writing area. I’m hoping to evolve it into a pen pal station, too, to help revitalize letter writing correspondence and offer alternatives to electronic communication. Then there would be a trailer or a truck that would have a healthy food offering and another one for movement or dance, and maybe another one about music. That would be a categorical system. It might be like a traveling carnival but more oriented towards ideals of cooperation and sharing and giving things freely but with a central tenant of fun and play. That’s the idea.

How many vehicles do you want to get?

I feel open. I think it would cool to get a core group of people who want to permanently live on the road. My own experience is that a lot of people are really excited about this project and want to come temporarily, which is also awesome. So having this core group of people — maybe five or ten vehicles — and other people plugging in if they want to along the way. Kind of wandering around the country, following weather patterns, and trying to be south for the winter and all that.

How do you see this model as being profitable, or do you?

No. [We’re] trying to bring ideas into focus other than profits. Things like cooperation and offering these things for free, trusting that people will donate what they can, if they can, or someone else along the way will cover it. That’s definitely been my experience with the Zine Mobile aspect so far. Sometimes I’ll stop and people will offer money for gas, and at other places they don’t, but in the end it all works out. For me, this isn’t about making a profit. It’s just sort of about living really simply in the world and trying to be an example that we would all benefit from if we were living a little more simply.

Do you see mobile businesses gaining traction? Do you see it as a thing that will gain popularity in the coming years?

I do. I think there’s this general trend, and I’m glad for it, of downsizing and simplifying and I certainly think one of the positive aspects of technology is making it much easier to be mobile. I have no statistics about home ownership and things like that, but it certainly seems like people are sizing down, if not sizing down to the point of being mobile. But I do think once we downsize and simplify, it makes it easier to be mobile, as long as you consider that choice.

I think as far as being permanently mobile, it’s been a really interesting experience for me this past year just seeing challenges present themselves, like this expectation that you have to have a home somewhere, you have to be in one place. From car registration to doing taxes, whatever, it’s like the system is set up against the idea of mobility.

How does the Zine Mobile operate? When the Zine Mobile goes to a city, what happens?

It depends. It’s a pretty flexible and open-ended project. A lot of times I will go and do open library hours at public parks or community centers or the parking lot of a public library. I often set up a little zine making station with a typewriter and paper supplies and writing utensils and all of that. When I was in Oakland, I was part of a zine show, and just pulled up outside of a café and kind of did the same thing. When we went on tour, we did a lot of zine readings in libraries and community centers and different kinds of places. I guess for the events, the common thread tends to be writing and reading and general literacy.

Did people actually go inside the Zine Mobile to participate in any of the classes?

Yeah. Because it’s an Astro van, it’s obviously very little. But the way that it’s set up is intended to be like a little mobile library and also a reading room. I’ve done special events where I’ve gone to someone’s house if they’ve requested it, where they’ve got, like, a poetry group. It’s an experience. You’re sitting in this little van surrounded by these really amazing zines, these little handmade magazines.

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Did you have issues with any regulations regarding vending? You’re not really a vendor because you’re not selling anything, but did you run into any problems regardless?

No, not yet. I guess the biggest thing for me is that since I live mobily also, the Zine Mobile is technically my home. I have to be somewhat aware of where I am if I am going to sleep in it overnight. But that’s something very different from mobile businesses, I’m sure.

Where do you stay when you’re on the road?

A third of my time I spend with friends and family, a third of my time I spend in the Zine Mobile, and a third of my time I spend doing house sits and animal sits along the way.

How else did you get the word out there about the Fly Away Zine Mobile tour? Did you utilize social media in addition to the blog?

We used Facebook quite a bit on tour. I got off Facebook about six months ago myself. I had the Zine Mobile page up for awhile and then I ended up taking it down. I used Twitter for a bit and I didn’t like that either. I tried to update the blog. If you’ve seen it, you know I was terrible at it. I used Tumblr, too. I feel simultaneously curious about these new types of media because my own background is in media. I feel a certain kind of expectation or responsibility to test them out. I do see how people find them useful. I myself am looking to spend so much less time on the computer that I just can’t get myself to spend a lot of time [doing updates]. For better or worse, the Zine Mobile often does end up being a product of word of mouth which is kind of nice because I appreciate keeping it kind of small and contained at least for now.

When will the next incarnation of Zine Mobile go out on the road?

I am talking to people now about summer plans that would start in June.

Do you have an idea of how long you’d like to stay out on the road when it goes out this time?

I think it’ll be another four months again. I think it’s interesting what happened this past summer. I got on the road and went to Oakland and ended up taking on this library archiving project that ended up consuming all of my time. I joked that the Zine Mobile went into hibernation, which it kind of did even though I was still doing some special events. That might be a general pattern where it’s a little more dormant in the winter and a little more out there in the summer.

What practical advice can you give to people who are launching a mobile business, either for-profit or non-profit?

The idea of using magnetic letters on the outside of the vehicle was so helpful to me. It’s sounds pretty basic, but it didn’t occur to me until late in the process.

I really loved it, and it’s a great way to not do anything permanent until you’re ready. That’s something I would have appreciated knowing.

Where do you get big magnetic letters?

My friend got be these big sheets of magnetic paper that I just cut out letters on. Totally low-budget, do-it-yourself. I think she just got it from an office supply store. She got a bunch of sheets for me for like $5.http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lnx1eqPJ401ql6q97o1_1280.jpg

UpendED interview series: Sister Moon

“I knew in the city food trucks were how a lot of people were making money and I was like, I can do the same thing, but with jewelry and fabrics and oils and other things.”

Some experiences in mobile entrepreneurship are more eclectic than others. Such is the case with Nicki D’Agnostino, aka Sister Moon, a 29-year-old hairstylist from Grafton Lakes, a rural town outside of Albany, NY. Last year, inspired by the popularity and mobility of food trucks, she and her business partner turned a 1975 Shasta caravan into a traveling, Arabian Nights-inspired clothing store. Here’s the story of how the Gypsy caravan store came to be, why it’s currently up for sale, and why her ride on a wave of SunshineAndMoonbeams was way more exciting than your average venture. You can follow Sister Moon on Twitter


When was the project started?

It was last summer. We were going to a lot of festivals and we wanted a way to be able to travel, have an amazing summer, and see all the music we wanted to see for free. We needed a way to make money to do that. So, we figured we’d take the caravan on the road.

When did you get the idea for the caravan? I thought it was so beautiful how you retrofitted the interior.

Thank you! You know, I just had this vision of it being a vintage trailer of sorts. I grew up on the road with my parents and we had a cool conversion van that was always towing something along. I had this idea that whatever it was, it needed to be towed. At first it started out that we were going to get a VW bus. We looked at so many different kinds of vehicles, with an engine and pulled — we looked at everything. I found this 1975 Shasta camper and I just fell in love with it.

Let me get a little background. Did you have a store before?

No, I was a hairstylist for many years, and I traveled and did fashion shows. I also studied color and I painted for a long time. It was just sort of the next phase of what I could create. I collaborated with another woman, Sister Sunshine, and the idea came about between the two of us.

What was the name of the caravan store?

The store didn’t really have a name. We called it The Sisters of the Light. It was just supposed to be an essence, a movement, not a store.

 

What was the path of the tour?

It was unknown initially. And, like I said, we knew when we started that we wanted it to be a journey. What happens on a journey is that you just flow with it. So we were seeing where it was taking us rather than us planning anything. Our first outing was the Furthur Festival in Saratoga Springs. We got a really amazing group of talented artists together and piled in my van and drove the caravan up to Saratoga and camped out for the day. So many people wandered to our space. We’d just set up and it didn’t look like a store. As soon as they came into the caravan, they saw gems glistening from the windows and beautiful Brazilian bathing suits and paintings from local artists. It’s really cool inside and you kind of just want to hang. So you sit and talk with people and they want to look at your wares and talk about them, and you eventually, hopefully, make a sale because you gotta make some money.

From idea to first outing, what was the timeline on the launch of the store?

It happened really quickly. I came back from Mexico in February. We went to Coachella in April. From May to June, we did complete renovations on the Shasta and that took us about a month. We were on the road right after that.

How long were you on the road?

We did a whole summer, up until October.

Did you adhere to any sort of business model?

It really wasn’t legitimate at all. I don’t want to try and say that I did things by the book. The whole concept of the way we ran our store is illegal in New York. You can’t actually sell anything out of an RV trailer and call that a business. It’s completely illegal. Fortunately, our initial idea wasn’t ‘let’s have a store on wheels!’ It was more like more like, let’s do something to generate a positivity and beautiful love and magic and do what we like doing all at the same time.

How did you get the stuff to sell?

Sister Sunshine is an amazing bikini bathing suit designer. She’s worked in New York City for many years. She and I met, and we just started collaborating, making jewelry, and book and crystal hunting. She made all of the bathing suits that we sold. She’s also a collector of beautiful things from all over the world. I’ve collected vintage for many years, so I had already had everything that I needed to sell stashed up and she did as well.

From what you said earlier, I was thinking that you had wares from a collection of local artists.

We had local artists paint on the inside of the caravan and another guy who’s a metal artist made all of the hanging racks and our dressing room.

You had a dressing room in there, too?

Yeah, it was cool. He made a circular metal piece that we attached to the ceiling and put these beautiful draperies around it. It was kind of like a shower circle ring.

That’s amazing. What is his name? I’m curious about his work.

His name is Matt Hart.

Tell me more about the elaborate décor inside the caravan.

We are obsessed with gypsies of sort. Moroccan gypsies, Indian, you name it. We spent a lot of energy just researching those places and the fabrics and the colors. Sophie (Sister Sunshine), just from being in the city and running all over collecting beautiful swatches, had so much fabric and we needed to put it to good use. It became our ceiling, which was the main attraction of the whole caravan.

The year before, I had worked really hard at my business as a stylist. I did everything under the sun. Photo shoots, fashion shows, private work at a salon, you name it. I did everything and I just saved a bunch of money. All of a sudden I had this money that I wasn’t really doing much with it, and then the idea for the caravan came about. So I had earned just enough money to purchase the trailer and then do the renovations on it.

Do you mind talking about the purchase cost of the trailer and the renovations and retrofitting costs?

I really didn’t keep track of that. I probably spent about $1,000 because we already had our material for the inside. We already had all of our wares. Really, it was just sort of transforming…creating a sort of smoke and mirrors of what we wanted to be a gypsy caravan.  There is no lighting. It’s completely skin and bones with the most amazing veneer. I reinforced it the inner shell of the caravan. The thing was rotted to hell. It’s a 1975 model.

Did you get the Shasta off of Craigslist?

I’d been typing in the type of trailer that I wanted for a long time and I was looking all over the place. Finally it brought me to this guy on Craigslist and that lived about an hour and a half away in Amsterdam. I show up there and he comes out and shakes my left hand — he’s got one arm — and basically this was his carton trailer. It had just been sitting there forever. But the outside of it — the paint, the old-school striping— just everything about it was exactly what I needed. I didn’t care what the inside looked like. I knew I could change that.

Are you saying that all of your expenses amounted to $1,000 or that the caravan was $1,000?

I’m not really discussing how much right now just because I’m trying to sell it. But I can tell you that my initial investment on that 1975 Shasta camper was not even half of what I invested. I was pretty smart about it. There was no other was I could get one within my means.

I guess what I’m interested in are the retrofitting costs (i.e. the metal work).

That did cost a bit of money, but because we’re old friends, we help each other out.

I think it’s more about him (Matt Hart) being about to generate his love and his respect for what we were doing. He cared about the cause very much.

For someone who wanted to launch a venture similar to yours, what would you say to them with respect to money?

Get your friends together that are talented and collaborate some energy that’s amazing in this world. It can’t always be about a money factor. I can’t borrow money, I have no credit, I live off the land. I don’t pay taxes. It’s that sort of thing.

In general, what would you suggest that someone budget for a project like this?

I would say, budget what you feel is credible to your lifestyle. You have to be respectful of money. You can’t count money that you don’t have. You have to be a smart person, but at the same time still be passionate, and it’ll come to you. You many not have it initially, but someone will see the passion of what you want to do and the universe will grant that to you if it’s meant to be and then you accept its gift.

How many festivals did you make it to with the caravan?

Last year, I think we did seven to ten venues. For all of October, we were at Saratoga Apple Farm for the entire month. It was amazing. People come from all over came through. They come from the city and they brought their families, so it was our most lucrative spot financially. On weekends, we made more money there than we did anywhere else. We definitely got a lot of chicks to buy our bikinis at the festivals. That was huge. We went with things that we knew people would like. We also did face painting and tarot cards. There was a lot that was involved.

All inside the caravan?

Yes.

Would you take the caravan back out on the road?

I kind of see it as a stationary at this point, having people come to me. I’ve taken it a lot around the Albany area where I live, where I know a lot of people. I still see people being able to come to it. I recently moved up right next to the peace pagoda in Grafton Lake, so there’s a lot of people that come from all over the place to visit the peace pagoda. So I’m hoping, if I don’t sell it, it’ll be a part of this other bit of land.

Why do you want people to come to you now instead of taking it out on the road?

It’s money. I can’t afford the gas. I have a 1982 conversion van. It’s a dual gas tank vehicle. I’m not generating enough income to do that kind of traveling again. We sold off everything, all of our collections. What we had is gone. So, at this point, I don’t have any way of generating that gas money to move it around.

Have you have any legal vending troubles (fines, police, etc.)?

We never took it into Brooklyn, although we had many invites from a few artists that wanted us to come down with it. But we never took them up on it because, honestly, I couldn’t see driving that thing down the Westside Highway. I would be really scared for it. It would be out of its element in a way. But when you’re in more of a rural outskirt, outside the city area…we never ran into any trouble. We never even thought about it, actually.

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