For most small businesses, going mobile means optimizing a website for viewing on a smartphone. But for the founders of LoMo Market in Durham, North Carolina, going mobile means loading up the trucks with farm-fresh goods and taking them straight to consumers.
LoMo has just celebrated its first anniversary as a market on wheels; it typically makes more than 40 scheduled stops during the week across four counties. LoMo has three tractor-trailers that pull up to businesses, neighborhoods and schools to give customers the opportunity to buy fresh ingredients from local vendors.
A Portable Farmers' Market
"Everybody wishes they went to the farmers' market every Saturday but they don't always have the time," says Guenevere Abernathy, who founded LoMo Market with her husband Michael Lemanski. "We wanted to make local food more convenient for people."
The 75 vendors whose goods are found on the LoMo Market trucks provide everything from spicy pepper relishes and goat cheese to homemade desserts and produce. "There are all kinds of food entrepreneurs out there that need access to larger markets to create sustainable business for themselves," Abernathy says.
And she adds that the traditional farmers' market model isn't always ideal because markets can only hold so many vendors and many are open the same hours, which limits how many places a seller can be. "And not everything gets ripe on Friday night before the market," Abernathy adds. "Things get ripe all week long."
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Abernathy says shoppers who check out her mobile markets begin at convenience and stay for quality. "We do have people coming out of their offices and they can pick up a half gallon of milk and some bread so they don't have to go to the store," Abernathy says. "Then they get exposed to things like free-range eggs and kale picked yesterday and we can build on that over time."
Sprouting Brand Ambassadors
Among LoMo Market's vendors is Jennifer Bonchak, founder of the Slingshot Coffee Company. Bonchak's a veteran iced coffee fan who sells brewed artisanal coffee that she handcrafts from seasonal beans.
"The people who staff each truck have done a great job at being the bridge between me and the person who is either trying Slingshot Cold Brew for the first time or the dedicated fan who is coming back for more," Bonchak says. "I love being out in the public interacting with folks telling them more about Slingshot Coffee Company, but I can't be everywhere at once. By being able to connect with LoMo's team from the beginning, telling my story, hosting a tasting with them, it makes me feel like I have ambassadors in LoMo's staff who know me personally and can offer insight about my coffee by connecting with people even when I don't have the opportunity to be there myself."
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Abernathy's LoMo Market is enjoying startup success while planning for more growth in the future. She'd like to add two more trucks by the end of the year, expand the number of spots and partner with more local food growers and producers.
She says her willingness to jump in and get started was the thing that got the business going. "We spent six to nine months on our business plan and that was very important. I had no retail experience. I was just a food consumer," Abernathy says. "I could have gotten hung up on the homework, but I encourage people to jump in and figure it out as you go."
Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist with a passion for money matters and the stories behind the world of small business and personal finance.
Photos from top: David Spratte, iStockphoto