DURHAM, N.C. — As the LoMo Market parked its white truck and trailer, a line of customers formed.
Two LoMo crew members got to work setting up vibrant lilies, a cooler filled with North Carolina seafood and a checkout table.
Inside the trailer, the pair straightened up the small store filled with local goods, including fruits and vegetables, sweets, meats and coffee by the neighborhood’s Beanpeace Roastery.
The mobile marketplace — which includes businesses such as vets, health-care services, car washers, dog groomers and computer-repair services — is a chance to expand a customer base beyond one set location, reduce overhead expenses and differentiate a business, said David Grant, chairman of Raleigh, N.C., SCORE, which offers free counseling to small-business owners.
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“The fact you can bring your job to the customer, instead of your customer coming to you, that is a big differentiator,” Grant said.
The LoMo Market, which celebrated its first year in May, is taking the concept of mobile retail to a new level — one that marries farmers-market fresh with convenience.
The business has set up three markets in truck and trailer combos that circle the Raleigh area weekly and deliver goods from about 30 to 40 vendors. LoMo sells products from about 75 different companies throughout the year.
The weekly stops, which will hit 41 by the end of the month, include wellness centers, neighborhoods and businesses.
The business model consists of creating visible, accessible, safe stops and a reliable schedule that allows customers to incorporate LoMo visits into their weekly routine, said Guenevere Abernathy, 40, who founded the LoMo Market with her husband, Michael Lemanski.
“You can go through and pick up a few things, and 30 minutes later, you can have some local food on your table,” Abernathy said.
The mobile concept can also build flexibility into a business schedule, cut out corporate red tape and expand capacity confined to a standard location, small-business owners said.
Heather Moeser, 38, started Downtown Mobile Vet in Raleigh in 2010 after working in a clinic for two years. The veterinarian said the clinic hours kept getting longer and the workloads larger.
“I was tired of seeing 40 patients in a day, and I felt like the quality just wasn’t there,” Moeser said.
Moeser, who works out of her minivan and uses her cellphone as the office number, chose to open a mobile practice because it was affordable and flexible, she said.
She has to meet the same requirements as other vet practices, including inspections from the N.C. Veterinary Medical Board.
“Basically, you are using the owner’s home, where the pet is most comfortable. You are using that as your exam room, and you bring all the tools that you need,” she said.
If a patient requires surgery, Moeser picks up the animal, does the procedure at a local clinic and drops off the animal when it’s convenient.
The caseload is limited by time, she said.
“You have a really good day if you saw six patients,” she said. “It just takes everything down to a slower pace. I feel like I am a creative person, so you have to think outside of the box.”
Moeser, who has about 200 clients and one part-time employee, plans to expand and bring on another vet.
Karl Murphy, owner of Carolina Auto Spa, said he tested a mobile arm of his car-washing and detailing business after he had to turn customers away because weekend appointments at his two North Carolina locations were booked up.
In 2011, Murphy started experimenting with mobile services and added one truck to provide washing and detailing at customers’ homes and workplaces.
Customers, who typically brought their car into the store once or twice a year, were seeking the mobile service eight to 10 times a year, Murphy said.
“People have more money than time,” Murphy, 45, said.
Murphy also sought out companies such as used-car dealers that might need regular detailing services — along with offering the service at office buildings and in neighborhoods on certain days.
He also has incorporated property-cleaning services into his offerings.
The first year was hectic, Murphy said. It required him to create and monitor complex systems to ensure quality and efficiency.
He chose senior employees to handle the mobile jobs.
“Once you leave your location, the level of complexity is much higher,” Murphy said. “The quality is critical.”
Now Carolina Auto Spa has seven trucks on the road, and the role of running a mobile truck has become a sought-after position.
“Our mobile staff is a position of honor and a promotion path for our team,” he said.
In 2012, Carolina Auto Spa’s revenue increased 60 percent, Murphy said, a third because of the addition of mobile services.
“This year we are forecasting about another 30 percent growth, of which half will be mobile,” he said.