Mobile businesses — throwback to yesteryear

In a high-tech world where mobile apps and mobile Internet are the talk of the town for small businesses, there are a few in Colorado Springs who embrace the retro meaning of mobile, delivering their services right to the customer’s door.

They have wheels, and will travel — mobile hair stylists, dog groomers, car detail shops and mechanics — recalling the good old days when a friendly neighborhood teenager delivered the week’s groceries.

Businesses on wheels are still popular, said Dr. Kenneth Geohegan, a veterinarian. And he ought to know: He’s been driving his 26-foot mobile vet’s office around the city for 17 years, seeing one pet-patient per hour, five days a week.

“It mostly boils down to convenience,” Geohegan said.

He started his mobile business, All About Pets, after working at other area animal care offices. He remembers all the calls that came in: “‘Can somebody come to my house?’” they would ask. “I knew there was demand in the town.”

Geohegan took out a loan and ordered the specially designed van, which has a surgical room and dentistry table. In addition to shots and checkups, he can spay or neuter pets and perform surgeries, including cancer surgeries, right in his office-on-wheels.

The mobile veterinary business was so popular right from the start that Geohegan broke even within two months and paid back his five-year-business loan in two years.

He says it makes sense for clients who can’t get away from work, but who can bring their pet to the office, where he can see his patient. Other clients have children, or they have no way of transporting the animal; and some people want pets seen in their own homes, especially if they have to be euthanized.

“A lot of people don’t like sitting in the waiting room,” Geohegan said. “Most people will try me for convenience but then they stick with me because of who I am — they like my style of medicine.”

Home delivery

It’s not unheard of to see a Royal Crest Dairy delivery on your neighbor’s doorstep. But Debbie Brookham, pet owner, had a different idea. In 2002, she opened Furry Friends, and home-delivers her own brand of nutritional pet food.

“Just like getting milk and water delivered, who wants to go and grab a 40-pound bag of food,” said Tracy Brookham, Debbie’s daughter and co-owner of Furry Friends. “When you go into the pet store there are hundreds of different kinds of food.”

Debbie worked with a pet nutritionist to develop Furry Friends’ own brand of dog food, which is made in Texas at a plant that only works with private labels.

“Her whole thing was, so many people have pets but don’t understand the nutrition,” Tracy Brookham said. “We’re taking the guesswork out of it.”

Furry Friends delivers the food for free, which has been a popular service. Then, in 2006, when news hit about a recall on pet foods made in China, Furry Friends found new and loyal customers who were searching for nutritional pet food, Tracy Brookham said.

“That’s when people came to my mom — we use only USA source products,” she said.

Furry Friends has 2,000 clients and makes about 600 deliveries per month. In 2013, the company plans to expand its delivery service into Denver. They’ll start with one truck and expect to have two trucks and 500 clients in Denver by the end of one year.

“More and more families have two working parents. They would rather spend their spare time together rather than going all over to get groceries and then dog food,” Tracy Brookham said. “This is old school — everyone loves the customer service.”

Business comes to you

Patty Hobdy started Patty’s Mobile Notary Service in 2004 to make a few extra bucks. She had been a notary public — which means she serves as witness to the execution of certain documents — for a few years and was asked very often if she could travel to a client’s home or business.

She learned how valuable being a mobile business is for clients, especially those confined to nursing homes or their own homes, she said. She admits that she has left clients’ homes feeling emotional.

“They appreciate someone coming to a nursing home, for example,” she said. “The reward for me, is not just money, it is the feeling that I helped someone.”

Hobdy, who is a certified notary signing agent, will travel to just about any part of El Paso County. Rates start at about $30 for travel of 15 miles or less and go up depending on the distance and number of documents. Lately, most of her work has been with mortgage and refinance companies — and she is often surprised how many other small businesses use her service.

There is no indication that businesses on wheels are on the rise. Instead, there is more emphasis on how small businesses can reinvent their models and adapt to mobile-device delivery. But Hobdy believes there still is a place for businesses that will travel.

“Mobile businesses are the way to go,” she said. “People are busy — if you can find the right niche, you can do very well for yourself.”